Nightmare ride with father’s dead body on bakkie

Neither the police nor the state ambulance was willing to transport the body of a man who died of Covid-19.

21 June 2021 | Health

Henriette Lamprecht







WINDHOEK

A woman whose father died of Covid-19 at home in Okahandja was forced to transport his body – covered in a sheet and packed with ice – to a mortuary in Windhoek on the back of their bakkie.

Despite getting a call at 06:00 in the morning that her father had died, the woman was only able to find him a spot at a mortuary in the capital at 16:00 thanks to a Good Samaritan.

The mortuary in Okahandja was full and the woman – who preferred to remain anonymous – was sent from pillar to post for hours because both the state hospital and the police refused to pick up the body.

According to Marie Smith*, both her mother and father tested positive for Covid-19.

When she got the call that her father had died, she immediately called a private ambulance service and an emergency number, neither of which were willing to help her due to the strict protocol that has to be followed with Covid-19 cases.

“I called the state hospital and they told me that the ambulance isn’t there for dead people. They said I should call the police. My father also had to be declared dead.”

A private funeral director also did not want to help, she said.

"My mother is also positive and I also have to protect myself and my husband and there was literally no one who wanted to just help move my father's body," a distraught Smith said.

Begging for help

According to Smith, she made about 30 calls, begging for help.

"I was sitting at home with a Covid corpse, but everyone was sending me around. I just wanted to get the 'kit' and do everything myself, but nobody - literally nobody - wanted to help."

According to her, she later drove to the state hospital herself after the Covid team stopped answering her calls and a nurse took her to the matron who told her that it’s “not their problem”. She told Smith to "run to the chief of police just like you ran to me”.

“I begged them to just give me a body bag and personal protective equipment, but the matron said ‘I will give you nothing’. According to her, it was a case for the police.”

Meanwhile, a constable at the police told her he didn’t have airtime or transport, and if she bought him airtime, he would do her a ‘favour’ and call the Covid team.

According to Smith, the head Covid nurse first refused to help, and then later agreed to come to her father’s house with two men and four sets of protective gear. A stretcher and transport were not part of the deal, however.

"My husband, who has no physical or emotional training for such a task, had to go into the house together and help with the process. My father was wrapped in three body bags and put on our work bakkie and covered with a sheet," Smith said.

70 bags of ice

However, the nightmare lasted for several hours more while they were forced to stay at the state hospital while Smith called various morgues in a desperate search for room for her father’s remains, which was still on the back of the bakkie.

"I later went to buy 70 bags of ice at a service station to put it on top of him. As we waited at the state hospital and called and searched for a place, we moved the bakkie from shady spot to shady spot," she said.

According to Smith, at one stage she considered simply burying her father on their family farm.

"I started calling excavators out of desperation."

In the meantime, she also had to obtain a death certificate at home affairs, which was closed between 13:00 and 14:00 and where she was forced to wait in line again.

Saving grace

Smith is full of praise for "angel Elizabeth" at the Windhoek state mortuary who let her know that they could bring her father before 16:00, which was when her shift ended for the day.

"At 15:10, I got the death certificate, so my husband and I had to rush to Windhoek to get my father’s body there on time. Our biggest fear was that when we got there, the morgue would be full again.

According to Smith, no one - from the hospital to the police - is equipped to handle Covid-19 deaths at the moment.

"In Windhoek, there was no petrol for the mortuary bakkie and the petrol card did not have money on it to fetch bodies. According to Elizabeth, we were very lucky to find a place for my father," she said.

[email protected]

*Not her real name

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