When the family members of Deon Baptiste learnt of his death in an unfortunate accident two Sundays ago they never imagined the ordeal that was awaiting them.
Nothing short of a nightmare, their story is not theirs alone but is shared by families throughout the hinterland region of North West District. When they lost their brother, Inez Cappell and her brother, Glenn Baptiste, were understandably shocked but they were determined to do what they could for their brother by way of a decent burial.
A little over a week ago Deon Baptiste was one of the unfortunate passengers in a lumber truck that toppled over and pinned him under the cargo. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the Matthew’s Ridge Hospital along with two other men who were also passengers.
His brother, Glenn Baptiste, who lives in Port Kaituma made his way down to Matthew’s Ridge the very next day and identified the body as his brother. Upon observing the condition of the Matthew’s Ridge Mortuary which sits aback of the hospital, he sought to take possession of his brother’s body to have it properly attended to in Georgetown.
He was told by the authorities however, that it was impossible for him to take his brother’s body until an autopsy had been performed.
Unfortunately, the Matthew’s Ridge community like so many others in the hinterland does not have its own resident pathologist. As a result one has to be flown in to undertake autopsies and sometimes the wait is a long one.
Ordinarily, a week’s wait in a regular mortuary might not be a problem but the issue at Matthew’s Ridge is that there is no refrigeration system at the facility; instead relatives need to ice the body down every day at their expense. This can become quite an expensive prospect.
Even though Deon Baptiste’s body had made its way to the mortuary on Monday, the post mortem was not undertaken until Thursday. By that time however, despite the best efforts of his brother, Deon’s body had already begun to decompose.
By this time Inez had made her way up to Matthew’s Ridge and she was appalled at the conditions of the mortuary. She said that aside from being surrounded by bushes, the odor was loathsome. She also described the distressing state of the bodies of the father and son who had died in the accident. They were lying on the ground in a corner of the room simply decaying in the absolute heat.
She learnt from persons in the area that there is no running water in the mortuary and that the only water comes from a black tank at the back of the mortuary which stores rain water.
Others in the area stated that “this is a norm” because whenever the area records a death, the family of the deceased has to spend money on ice to ensure that the body is in good condition until the post mortem is conducted.
“This should not be. If it (the mortuary) was working as it should then we won’t have to spend so much money. We already does have to spend a lot of money on funeral preparations,” said one man.
Another man told this newspaper that the doctor only visits the area when there are a number of bodies there to have post mortems conducted. If there is one body lying in the mortuary the doctor “would not fly in until there are more bodies.”
Kaieteur News further understands that if this one body is in the mortuary and there isn’t another death until a week or two later, the family of the deceased would have to “keep buying ice until the doctor comes” and until another body joins the first at the mortuary.
The harsh reality is that there is a shortage of pathologists. The few are hard pressed to conduct post mortems in the city and in Berbice.
“To leave the city to head to the interior to perform one post mortem would result in dozens of bodies being left in the city,” one doctor said.
For those who cannot afford to ice down their dead until the Post Mortem, the only solution is to “shallow grave” the bodies.
Inez related that after the Post Mortem the condition of her brother’s body was such that the only option available to them was to transport the body to Port Kaituma Burial
Ground that very evening. At the gravesite a few words were said for her brother before he was interred.
She said that she wanted the public to see what was happening, that the people of the community have reported their concerns to the authorities many times but no one hears their voices.
Such was her concern that she even visited the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs to lodge a complaint. There she was told that “a note has been made” and that the Minister would be informed of her concern.
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