No place for the dead: At PIMS mortuary, the dead are made to sweat

Bodies brought for autopsies being kept under a fan while filthy conditions plague the autopsy room

Arsalan Altaf August 04, 2017
A scene of the medical equipment at the PIMS mortuary. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: For some, it seems death would provide some respite. Unless of course, they end up at the mortuary at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims).

The chillers at the mortuary of the federal capital’s largest public hospital have not been working for almost a year now, effectively rendering the facility unusable to store bodies.

The situation was exacerbated in the immediate aftermath of a plane crash near Abbottabad. Bodies of victims from PK-661 were brought to Pims for identification, but owing to lack of space, they had to be sent to a cold store in Rawat for storage.

A Pims official explained that owing to dysfunctional cold stores, the hospital had no other choice but to send bodies brought there to the Polyclinic Hospital for storage instead.

Pims Medico-Legal Officer Dr Farrukh Kamal confirmed that the mortuary’s refrigerators, which have a capacity to store up to 10 bodies, have not been functioning for almost eight months now.

He added that they had raised the issue with the hospital’s air-conditioning department time and again but nothing has been done so far to repair the refrigerators.

The situation is so dire, that a fan in the room is now the only appliance which keeps air circulating around any bodies brought to the morgue.

Hampering investigations

The lack of cold storage facility at the tertiary care hospital has drawn the ire from the police.

“The bodies we take there for autopsy and other medico-legal formalities are kept under a fan,” a police officer grumbled while talking to The Express Tribune. “They start decomposing within a day.”

According to him, Polyclinic Hospital can accommodate seven to eight bodies but with PIMS’s morgue non-functional, the total capacity for storing bodies at Islamabad’s public hospitals had reduced drastically.

“This is why the bodies and remains of PK-661 crash victims last December, when brought to Islamabad, were kept at a cold storage facility in Rawat because space in the mortuaries at the public hospital was not enough,” the officer explained. The lack of storage space at publicly-run mortuaries becomes even more of a problem whenever an unclaimed or unidentified body is found. Police said they routinely come across such bodies, mostly victims of road accidents or drug addiction.

Sometimes, the officer said, it takes weeks and months to identify a body and locate their family.

In this scenario, shortage of space in mortuaries means that the police have to sometimes bury the bodies temporarily.

“The duration for which we keep the body and wait for its identification and locating their family depends on the available space in the mortuary,” a homicide investigator told The Express Tribune, adding that a lot depends on the state of the body when it is found.

“Sometimes, we can keep a body for a few days, at other times we have to bury it within a day or two.”

A picture of neglect

The autopsy room of the Pims mortuary presents the scene from a horror movie.

A recent visit to the room, which is supposed to be as sterilised as a hospital’s operation theatre, revealed a sorry state of affairs.

Surgical equipment – scalpels, scissors, cotton, gauze and sutures – used during autopsy were laid out in the open air, while stained and dirty clothes removed from bodies were piled in a corner in the room – a waiting health hazard.

The dissection table seemed unclean, while the stretchers had stains of clotted blood. The stench in the room was unbearable and one could not stay in there for a few moments at a time.

Cleanliness is clearly not being ensured in the morgue, a hospital worker pointed out.

According to Pims MLO Dr Kamal, a small budget had been allocated for the mortuary’s renovation and that work was currently under way.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2017.

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