Living with the dead to save the living | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 21, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 07:28 AM, June 21, 2020

Living with the dead to save the living

DMC mortuary staffer staying in morgue since mid-March to keep his family safe

His workplace and home are 150 yards apart, a distance that takes no more than five minutes to cover.

Yet for Sikandar Ali, a mortuary assistant at Dhaka Medical College, the morgue has been his home since mid-March.

He has not been going home to protect his family from being exposed to coronavirus.

"Sometimes I feel an intense urge to see my little grandchildren but I remind myself I should not be the source of infection for my family members," Sikandar said.

To prevent his family from getting exposed to coronavirus, Sikandar has been living in a room at the mortuary for the last three months, sometimes enduring the acrid smell of decomposing bodies.

Sikandar is well aware of the risks at his job. He knows he could be infected anytime, as he examines corpses sent from different parts of the country or while talking to relatives of the deceased.

The protective gear given to Sikandar and his colleagues are not nearly adequate enough.

They have to reuse them after a wash, increasing the risk of the infection, said some staff members.

"My wife is a cardiac patient. Her heart valve was replaced seven years ago during an open-heart surgery. Apart from this, there are also four kids in my house," said Sikandar.

Just opposite Dhaka Medical College Hospital's entrance, close to its new building, Sikandar's wife, a son, two daughters and four grandchildren live. "Whenever I talk to them, my grandchildren ask why I don't come home."

His family members make him meal packets and leave it near the door after receiving a call from Sikandar. A man has been tasked with bringing them to Sikandar every day.

"I can go and collect the food. But if my grandchildren somehow end up seeing me, they will definitely rush towards me and I won't be able to keep them away," Sikandar said.

Sikandar was appointed a morgue assistant at the age of 18. He has assisted in autopsies on thousands of bodies at the forensic medicine department at DMC.

Working at the morgue for almost four decades, blood, gore and mutilated bodies do not scare him. But this pandemic has gotten the better of Sikandar and he eagerly awaits the day when he can reunite with his family.

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