SRINAGAR — As the COVID-19 pandemic tightens its noose on Kashmir with positive cases showing a tremendous spurt, the ambulance drivers of various Srinagar hospitals are risking their lives by ferrying corpses of COVID-19 victims from hospitals to their homes.
Sajad Ahmad, an ambulance driver at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital in Srinagar, says that the drivers are always at risk of contracting the virus while ferrying the COVID-19 patients to either hospitals or their bodies to the burial sites.
“If anyone dies of COVID-19 in a hospital, his body is usually moved to a mortuary before an autopsy takes place, and, later, we often carry the body to the ambulance from hospital as most of the patients have a few attendants along,” Ahmad said.
He said, “We have been helping almost all the attendants in carrying the corpse of a COVID-19 patient. We have seen that very few close relatives of the person who dies of COVID-19 come forward. Many are afraid to touch the body.”
Ahmad said that the ambulance drivers at SMHS hospital ferry nearly 25 patients from the hospital to Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial (JLNM) Hospital Rainawari or Chest Disease (CD) Hospital.
“In some cases, we have to pick COVID-19 patients from their respective homes, and we often tend to help the positive patients with serious infection so that they reach the right hospitals on time,” he said.
Ahmad also says that in small ambulances, while ferrying the COVID-19 positive patients, there does not remain much distance between the driver and a patient.
“In SMHS hospital, we have 10 ambulances and 13 drivers. In the first COVID-19 wave last year, all of the drivers tested positive,” he said.
Ahmad said, “Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, the ambulance drivers of SMHS hospital have ferried nearly a thousand bodies from the mortuary of the hospital to different graveyards.” He said that though it is their duty to ferry the patients, they are “playing a bit more than what they are supposed to do, just for the sake of humanity, with a hope that they will get a reward from Almighty.”
He said that some attendants of the COVID-19 positive turn unnecessarily violent as if they are responsible for the infection.
Meanwhile, another ambulance driver at CD Hospital Srinagar, Abdul Rashid Khan, said that their fraternity sometimes even offers the funeral prayers of the COVID-19 deceased.
“Ambulance drivers sometimes join in performing the last rites of COVID-19 deceased, and, in some cases, we offer funeral prayers to the deceased of whom family members or relatives are not present,” Khan said.
Khan said, “Last year, drivers panicked and feared ferrying the infected patients after the first patient, a 65-year-old man, died of COVID-19 on March 26 at Chest Disease Hospital in Srinagar.”
“The fear was at a level that drivers were crying of the trepidation, but we didn’t step back and continued ferrying COVID-19 positive patients.”
He said that in CD hospital, at least three ambulance drivers tested positive last year. “We have only three ambulances and seven drivers,” Khan added.
“On average, we ferry nearly a dozen COVID-19 positive patients from the OPD ward which is on the ground floor to the ICU that is merely 300 meters away. The patients have to be ferried through ambulances as they can’t walk to reach ICU wards because of the uphill route,” he said.
Khan also said that the ambulance drivers also ferry nearly 20 infected patients to Kashmir Nursing Home on daily basis. (KNO)