BLOG: Death in the time of coronavirus
Our emotions have never been so mixed. These are the confusing days of the Corona Time, an era that began few months ago, around the first few days of 2020.
Most of us have seen the most unbelievable picture on social media of an Italian man begging authorities to come help him with his deceased sister. The man took a selfie, showing his sister’s dead body on her bed. His name is Luca, and the story went viral on social media and was picked up by news networks around the world. In a television report, the man said his sister, who was reportedly age 47 years, had epilepsy and was at high risk for contracting the novel coronavirus. She reportedly started feeling unwell and died 1 week later. She was not tested for COVID-19, despite requests by her family. The man expressed regret about not being able to give his sister a funeral.
"The institutions have abandoned me," he said in the report.
Thirty-six hours after Luca's appeal on social media, coroners reportedly came to collect his sister’s body.
Each of us must have heard some sad stories on his or her social media networks, or from friends and relatives. On March 22, a colleague of mine in another state, a classmate from our medical school class of 1984 from Jordan University, wrote on social media that her community lost their first patient to COVID-19 — the father of her friend and neighbor.
“He spent the last week of his life alone in the ICU,” my colleague wrote. “The rest of his family were self-quarantined at home. He was one of the ICU patients that my daughter, Ghadeer, a senior medical resident, took care of. He passed away this past Friday, before Ghadeer came to her night shift. Ghadeer’s friend, Dr. Christina, another senior medical resident, described to Ghadeer the last moments of his life. Again, he died alone; only Christina was with him, and she put his family on Skype. His son sent Christina a link to a Quran recitation which Christina could not open on her cell phone. She had to look for another source for Quran recitation. She did find one on her phone on YouTube. Christina described to Ghadeer how the room was so peaceful, the sun was shining through the window, and how she felt the spiritual moments, the Quran, the virtual presence of his beloved family, his son and grandchildren with him via Skype.”
My colleague noted that there was no Aza — the Arabic word for condolence arrangements — so the family had to give condolences over the phone.
“They are our neighbors, we could walk to their home, but we can’t during this time,” she wrote. “I drove by their home. There were no cars; no one to comfort them in person. I just cried and cried — and prayed.”
The Imam of my colleague’s local Islamic center called her husband, who is an infectious disease specialist, to consult him about the safety measures regarding a funeral. It was mutually decided to abandon the religious funeral ritual: From the hospital, the body was sent directly to the Islamic Cemetery. There was no funeral. Just a few people, 6 feet apart, who prayed next to the grave.
Death during this time is so painful. It is true that we are not seeing man-made gruesome killings, typical of scenes from wars or battlefields — which are very painful and heartbreaking. Thankfully, we may have seen a transient ceasing of such cruel scenes, we hope, where humans kill humans. Let us all pray that this ceasing will last forever, where humans live in peace forever. Let all humans learn that we are now in a new era, an era where all humans all around the world have fallen vulnerable to a very little bug. It is not even a cell, just a mere, tiny thing without nucleus, with a few chains of molecules — a merciless killer virus, called COVID-19.