For 14 hours, 15-year-old Firdos’s body lay under a red bedsheet in a tiny paint workshop in Bandra’s Bharat Nagar slums as his father Kasim Ansari ran from doctors and civic officials to the police and ambulance owners for documents to travel 1,900 km back home to Giridih, Jharkhand, where his teenage son will be buried.
“How is this lockdown saving lives? It’s taking away lives,” mother Fahima said as she wept beside the body. The Ansaris came to Mumbai for treatment of their son for a congenial heart problem. Instead, they got stranded in the lockdown.
Firdos suffered from a congenital heart ailment requiring a total aortic arch repair surgery. The family reached Mumbai on February 7 with just Rs 23,000. The surgery was scheduled in Wockhardt hospital on February 9 but got postponed. The hospital helped the family raise funds up to Rs 5.75 lakh and fixed March 31 for the operation. But the nationwide lockdown that began on March 25 led to cancellation of several surgeries. The hospital indefinitely postponed Firdos’ surgery. “We were stuck here, we came by train and everything was shut. So, we started living in this workshop with a relative,” Ansari, a farmer, says.
The family spent three months in the workshop, stepping out only for food and to use public toilets. Firdos required an injection of Benzathine Penicillin every 21 days. “We could not find the injection anywhere. His last injection was 25 days ago. No chemist had it,” said brother Afroz.
On Monday night, Firdos watched videos on mobile phone and played online games. Till then, he was able to talk, and even continued to observe the Ramzan fast. By 5 am, when the family woke up, his body had turned cold. If there was no lockdown he would have survived,” said Kasim.
On Tuesday, the police asked the family to get a death certificate. Kasim found a doctor who declared the teenager’s death due to cardio-respiratory failure. “Did he have COVID-19?”, “Do you have COVID-19”, “Does the ambulance driver have fitness certificate?”, were a series of questions he tried to answer everywhere he went to get permission to travel. For Kherwadi police, this is the first instance travel permission was sought to transport a non-COVID patient’s body under a lockdown.
“We are not sure what documents police in other states will ask the family to produce on road. In a pandemic, protocols have changed,” a police officer in Kherwadi said. To reach Jharkhand, a private ambulance will drive for 36 hours through Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, charging Rs 35 per km.