The hospital first told her that he died, then told her that he hadn’t. Finally they said he had been cremated.

A woman wearing a mask amid the coronavirus pandemic in IndiaImage for representation
Coronavirus Coronavirus Thursday, May 21, 2020 - 18:09

Alampally Madhavi, a resident of Vanasthalipuram in Hyderabad, has been distressed for more than two weeks now. Only a few days before, she was discharged from Gandhi Hospital, the nodal centre where COVID-19 patients are being treated in Telangana.

She took to Twitter on Wednesday to allege that her husband, who also tested positive for the coronavirus last month, was 'missing'. Officials of the state government then said that he had died on May 1 and that they had performed his last rites.

Taking to Twitter, Madhavi tagged Telangana Minister KT Rama Rao and said that there were several discrepancies in the information provided to her about her husband, Madhusudhan, alleging that his last rites had been performed without informing the family.

"I am not upset that we tested positive. It hurts that they did not let us see him for one last time," she told TNM. 

Madhavi and her 42-year-old husband have two children and while he worked in a rice mill, she ran a grocery store near their house. The entire family tested positive in the last week of April.

In a series of tweets, Madhavi said that her husband was admitted to King Koti Hospital on April 27 and was shifted to the Gandhi Hospital on April 30 after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Speaking to TNM, she said, "My husband's brother was the first person to test positive on April 26. They took my husband from our home on April 27. He was doing fine but quickly developed a cough and his condition worsened. Within a few days, he was shifted to an ICU."

Madhusudhan's father, who also tested positive, passed away on April 29.

"On April 30, they took me to King Koti hospital as well. That same evening, they shifted him to Gandhi Hospital. On May 1, we got a call in the evening that he had died. I was in shock, but I remained strong as by then, I had also tested positive and had to fight the virus," Madhavi says.

On May 2, Madhavi says that she was shifted to Gandhi Hospital and had spoken to the authorities there about the final rites of her husband.

"I told them that I wanted to see the last rites. They said that I had to first get treatment and asked me to speak to them when I was being discharged," she added. Madhavi tried asking the hospital many times after that about the last rites, but got no clear information.

Flip-flop on death

However, she alleges that hospital authorities later told her that her husband was in fact alive and undergoing treatment.

To back her claim, a phone call recording, purportedly recorded on May 16 as she and her family members were being discharged has also surfaced in the media.

In the recording, a voice allegedly of Gandhi Hospital's nodal officer for coronavirus, Dr Prabhakar Reddy can be heard telling Madhavi that Madhusudhan was still alive. 

"We can all go home together, because we will have to be in home quarantine for 14 days once we reach home and we may not be able to see him," Madhavi is heard saying in the call. 

To this, the doctor is heard saying that Madhusudhan is yet to recover and says that he will discharge him in a few days and asks her to go back home.

"The mistake we made was that we didn't doubt them when they made multiple claims on whether he was alive or dead. We saw in some instances of people we know, where they were shown the last rites of their family members who had died. As they had not called us, I had a doubt that he may be alive," Madhavi said.

Authorities deny allegations

In a statement, Dr M Rajarao, Superintendent of Gandhi Hospital denied the allegations and said that Madhusudhan was in a serious condition with bilateral pneumonia and Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

"In spite of our best efforts, he could not be saved and passed away on May 1 at 6.03 pm. As per procedure, the family members were informed and as a protocol, the dead bodies of COVID-19 patients are handed over to the police. In this case also, the body was handed over to the police and the signature of the concerned officer was also taken. On enquiry, it was found that the body was later cremated by GHMC," he said.

Stressing that all due procedure was followed, he added, "We sympathise with the family but it is wrong to defame the hospital, doctors and other staff  who are treating hundreds of coronavirus cases risking their lives."

However, this version has been contradicted by the Telangana Health Minister Eatala Rajender. When pressed for answers by reporters at the sidelines of an event on Friday, the minister admitted that the state government had hidden the news of Madhusudhan's death, but said that they did it with 'good intentions'.

"We can't hide deaths. Since all his family members were in the hospital, given the circumstances, some of their known people said that his wife might go into shock on hearing the news. Therefore, we did not immediately inform the family members at Gandhi Hospital, but we informed the police and administration," Rajender said.

He went on to defend the move, further adding, "There are many cases like that. If the family is in hospital, then GHMC has done the last rites. Healthcare workers have to take such difficult calls sometimes."

Moreover, protocol for COVID-19 deaths clearly says that ‘viewing of the dead body by unzipping the face end of the body bag (by the staff using standard precautions) may be allowed, for the relatives to see the body for one last time.’

All Madhavi wants is closure. 

"We are not saying that the doctors are wrong or did not give us proper treatment. But it was not right to lie to us and say that they would discharge him when he was dead. I strongly suspect that he is alive. If not, they have to show me evidence that he is dead. There must be CCTV footage or any evidence," she says.

"They didn't even approach the family and get a sign from us as per procedure. We want justice. I want to see with my own eyes that my husband is dead only then I can go ahead with my life," she adds.

With inputs from Shilpa Ranipeta

Read: Ostracised by neighbours, chided at shops: Many COVID-19 survivors battle stigma