SRINAGAR: In a place where life itself has become precarious and mutilated bodies appear in orchards like fallen autumn leaves, it does not come as surprise that the government mortuary would be a sight of utter disgust.
The one-room mortuary, located at Panthachowk, reeks of the dried-up blood and dust. Cobwebs show that it is rarely cleaned. The windowpanes are covered with silt, a relic of last year’s great flood. The rim of the stainless steel washbasin is covered with a thick layer of dust.
While there is a washbasin, there is no tap, not to speak of a toilet or bathroom. The staffers walk to nearby Jhelum to fetch water.
The paint has come off the walls, both inside and outside. Stray cattle often venture into the lawns. Dogs sleep on a mound of rubble.
According to Yusuf, a nursing orderly who assists on-call doctors in conducting post-mortem, the mortuary lacks a proper table. An ordinary examination table is used for autopsies. There is a rusty freezer, in which the bodies are bodies are kept in case they need to be stored for a longer period.
A blood-stained apron looks out of place in such a rundown place. Probably, it is there because health minister, who is very particular about aprons, might come on a surprise visit and pull up the staff.
“Dealing with dead bodies all the time is not a good sight in itself. You often have nightmares. But the condition of this place makes it worse,” says Yusuf.
“When bodies are brought to the place, the people accompanying them are in an agitated state. Hence the place is guarded by a security bunker. But that doesn’t prevent an odd curious passerby to sneak in through the broken wall and peep through the window when we are examining a body. That doesn’t look good,” he added.
Head of forensic department at SMHS hospital Dr Farida Noor said that a post-mortem facility can be a health hazard for the doctors and the staff if not properly equipped.
“We are conducting autopsies with ordinary blades. We don’t have specialised post-mortem tools. A person might have a communicable disease and the staff can get infected. There is no protective gear, not even the basic water facility. We bring a bottle of sanitiser along whenever we conduct an autopsy,” she added.
How does the staff manage to conduct autopsies when the facilities are so scarce?
“We use chisel and hammer to open the head when the world over doctors use an electric saw. We don’t have an inch tape to measure bodies nor do we have jars to keep organs. The attendants are supposed to get the jars,” said Dr Noor.
A medical officer who conducts autopsies, requesting anonymity, said, “This mortuary should have been in the government medical college because the forensic department is there. A majority of cases we come across are poisoning, burn and accident cases. The job would be easier if it were in the GMC.”
The officer candidly admits that he has no knowledge of forensic science. He has a diploma in radiology.
“Twenty years ago I studied forensic science for two weeks and I am doing autopsies now. This is the job of forensic experts but who will make the authorities understand,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
Director health Sameer Mattoo said, “Because of my tight schedule I didn’t get time to visit the mortuary. So I cannot comment on its condition, but will do something.”