Indian Express Stories of Strength

Facebook and The Indian Express bring you a series on those at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. From healthcare workers to government officials to innovators — a look at their day at work, their struggles and challenges.

Handling the dead 12 hours a day, 40-year-old says it’s service he’s doing by choice

Yellaiah has seen it all: family members who faint when a body bag is opened, or run out of the mortuary or even refuse to look at the body out of fear they too will get infected.

July 16, 2020 8:41:19 pm

HYDERABAD: P Yellaiah says he is not worried. That’s a very brave space to be in for a ward boy attached to the Covid-19 mortuary at Hyderabad’s Gandhi General Hospital. The Telangana health department figures suggest at least 386 persons have succumbed to the viral infection as of date; a majority of them at this nodal centre for treatment of Covid-19.

But when he was moved to mortuary duty in April, Yellaiah says he didn’t have a second thought about the importance of the task at hand. “I am in this profession out of choice. This is a service to humanity and I am sure my family will benefit from the blessings of patients who recover and leave,” says the 40-year-old who is otherwise attached to the burns ward. A school bus driver in the past, Yellaiah has been working at the Gandhi Hospital since 2004 as an ‘outsourced staff’. His present salary is Rs 10,340.

Yellaiah and his three other colleagues work 8 am to 8 pm shift every day. It is this team that puts the bodies in bags and moves them to the mortuary after doctors declare a person dead and prepare the death summary. A message is then sent to the family of the deceased informing about the death while directing them to identify the body at the mortuary.

But despite all the protective equipment there is nothing that can shield you from the mental trauma such a job presents. Yellaiah has seen it all: family members who faint when a body bag is opened, or run out of the mortuary or even refuse to look at the body out of fear they too will get infected. “Even the family members of the deceased are scared to come close and identify their kin. Once a woman collapsed just as I opened the bag, many have run out. Some people refuse to take a look at their kin inside the body bag, fearing the transmission of the virus. It has all become routine now with more and more bodies at the mortuary,” says Yellaiah.

His job ends when a body is identified and the municipal corporation staff come to shift it to crematorium or graveyard as per the protocol. “When I go home and spend time with my children, I forget all the hours spent donning PPEs and masks at the mortuary. I sleep peacefully hugging my children. I am not scared,” says Yellaiah.

His dream, for now, is to see his son as a doctor. “My older son has passed intermediate. He is very good at studies and wants to become a doctor. Since I am in this profession, he feels more motivated to pursue his dreams,” Yellaiah says. His second son and daughter are in Class 8 and Class 5, respectively.

However, Yellaiah is well aware of the risks that come with his job and ensures he takes all the necessary precautions to safeguard his family. There is a fresh pair of clothes to change into after his shower before going home every day.

“My family fully supports my job. After the day’s work, I always look forward to spending time with them, listening to their stories, and having dinner together. These are small pleasures of life,” he adds.

He is also mindful of the fear and apprehensions in the minds of his neighbours. “When I am confident about safeguarding my family, what is there for the neighbours to worry about, I keep telling them. The whole country is in the grip of coronavirus and people like me are at the frontline fighting the virus,” he says, adding that he reminds them to wear a mask wherever they go, use hand sanitiser and maintain social distancing.

“They should do these things. It is their responsibility now. I ask them to eat good food, spend some quality time with family, and take good rest.”

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