When lungs turn to charcoal
For the 16 arson victims, who died in the burn unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital, it was almost like breathing fire until they finally gave up, say doctors.
"During the attacks, they had to inhale a lot of heat that burnt its way through the breathing tracts, damaging the lungs," said Shah Alam, in-charge of DMCH burn unit's Intensive Care Unit.
Medical sources stated that almost all the burn victims of the recent hartals and blockades had sustained inhalation injuries, as they had remained trapped in burning vehicles for a considerable amount of time.
"Petrol bomb explosions produce a large volume of carbon monoxide gas leading to damaged lung tissues and inhalation injuries," said Sanowar Hossain, chief of Bomb Disposal Unit Additional Deputy Commission.
For those who died of injuries from petrol bombs, every gasp of fresh air was unbearable pain shooting down the throat.
According to physician Alam, the victims' lungs had swollen and got infected. Water also had got to their lungs.
Monir, the 14 year old boy who sustained 95 percent burns from an arson attack on his father's covered van, had suffered intensely from respiratory problems for more than three days until he breathed his last early on November 7.
His father Ramjan Ali described his dying moments. "He woke up and all of a sudden started twisting and thrashing. He cried and sat up, trying to pull the tubes out and jump out of bed."
Ramjan held the boy, who then died in his arms.
According to DMCH records, the teenager died from inhalation injuries.
Similarly, Nahid Morol, victim of the November 28 bus arson in Shahbagh, died from 52 percent burns. Doctors at the ICU told The Daily Star of the horrifying tale of how he had suffocated to death.
"The muscles of his throat had swollen, slowly choking his breathing tract. He suffered from massive inhalation injuries," said Hussein Imam, a doctor at the burn unit ICU.
He had held on to his brother, Russell, and cried out to him, "Please save me, brother!" before going under forever.
Nahid's cousin Robin, who sustained 59 percent burns in the same incident, died two days later. His cries of pain during the hours before his death could be heard from outside the unit.
His face had swollen to twice its size, with the lips so inflamed that he could not even close his mouth.
"The struggle for breathing is often more difficult and critical than the surface injury," said doctor Alam.
Nevertheless, an autopsy revealed that arson victim Hasan, a 90 percent burnt teenager, died of the pain racking his entire body. Sohel Mahmud, assistant professor of forensic medicine, who conducted the post-mortem, told The Daily Star that the boy had gone into a state of shock.
"The skin of his entire body had almost turned into ashes and was crumbling off," said Alam, adding that when the boy had been brought to the hospital a strong smell of burnt skin was coming from his body.
Hasan's mother, who could not see her son alive, described her experience of seeing the boy in a charred state. "His eyelids had swollen and turned inside out … there was no way I could have recognised him as my son."
On November 14, just a day before another arson victim Mantu Chandra Pal died, The Daily Star encountered his wife Sanchita rushing out of the ICU sobbing, as she could not bear to see him writhing in pain.
She said he had sustained 90 percent body burns and there was not an inch of his skin that had not been scorched.