• Saturday, Jul 11, 2020
  • Last Update : 09:33 pm

‘We heard them shouting and screaming inside’

  • Published at 09:22 pm May 28th, 2020
United Hospital
The fire engulfs the makeshift Isolation Unit of the hospital on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Accounts of families and relatives of the patients burnt to death at Covid-19 unit of United Hospital

Andre Dominic Paul, 33, never thought his father would die in such a horrific incident. When the fire broke out, he along with other relatives present at the hospital premises sought help to rescue his father but to no avail. They were helpless. 

Andre is the son of Vernon Anthony Paul, 75, one of the five patients who died in the fire at United Hospital on Wednesday night.

Talking to Dhaka Tribune, the only son of the deceased said that his father was admitted to bed number 3 of the isolation unit at United Hospital with pneumonia on May 25.

He said: “My father had a stroke inside the bathroom on May 17. When he went for a shower, he fell in the bathroom and lay there on the wet floor. We did not know about the fall. In about an hour, he came to his senses and came out of the bathroom on his own and informed us that he had blacked out. Having been lying on the wet floor for so long, we suspected that he had contracted pneumonia.”

“We received a report of negative results while testing for Covid-19 with the IEDCR. He was still rejected by several private hospitals on grounds of his pneumonia. In the meantime, he had a second stroke. United Hospital agreed to admit him with the condition that he would stay in the isolation unit, though we showed them a negative test result. We agreed to take the risk, just because this was the only private hospital agreeing to treat him,” Andre added.

He also said that they got the second Covid-19 test result conducted by the United hospital on May 27, just a few hours before the fire.

“Around 5pm, we went to the hospital and tried to convince them to move my father, but the doctors in the isolation unit said they have to wait for the hard copy of the results before they can process the transfer,” he said 

Around 9:40pm, while Andre was waiting outside the isolation unit with his wife and sister-in-law, he saw a spark in the air conditioning unit. “We heard them shouting and screaming inside.”

Andre said: “I opened the door and I saw a spark in the AC. I called maintenance, and nobody responded. A minute later the AC sparked again, louder. I was seeking help but nobody heeded to me, all the staff came out of the room. If the fire was controlled from the very beginning, my father’s life and the others’ could have been saved. My sister-in-law tried to make a path using a fire extinguisher but the flames were huge.”

"Around 9:45pm, my sister-in-law, Ronald Mickey Gomes, called 999 to reach out to the Fire Service and in 10 minutes they came," he said.

Earlier on May 26, I was talking with my father via phone. He was not willing to take his meal. At last, I convinced him to take food and I said: "I love you, papa."

Vernon Anthony Paul, born in 1945, was a freedom fighter who was a part of the Air Force during the 1971 Liberation War and was a prisoner of war in Quetta, Pakistan. 

He retired in 2003 from DHL. He left behind a wife, a son, and a daughter.

According to a family member, Vernon's funeral will be arranged on Friday at Chittagong.

Relatives waited for Khodeja Begum’s release

Alamgir Hossain, son of another victim, Khodeja Begum, said his mother had a fever and cough. There was also slight shortness of breath. So she was admitted to this hospital one day before Eid. They thought that this was a large hospital and she would get better support. But they lost her mother.

Three of her reports came back negative. The family wanted the patient’s release. But, the hospital authority asked them to contact after two hours.

When contacted later, the hospital authorities said to come the next day, he added. Nobody was allowed in the Covid-19 unit and it was raining. So the family went home.

No one from his family was present when the fire broke out. They saw it in the television’s news ticker and quickly rushed to the hospital. But in the meantime the damage was done, he further added.

Riazul was Covid-19 negative too

Haji Shahid, maternal uncle-in-law of deceased Riazul Alam, was resting in his car in the basement of the hospital. Suddenly he heard that a fire broke out in the isolation unit.

He rushed to the scene and saw the fire was already ablaze. 

“I was stunned, I lost my child right in front of my eyes,” he added.

He said Riazul was just admitted to the corona unit around 4:30pm. And around 8:45pm, the family was assured that his health condition was improving and he took his meals. “Knowing that we took some rest at that time.”

Riazul was Covid-19 negative, but that did not save his life, he added.

Riazul was the country director of a foreign buying house. He resided in Dhaka’s Shyamoli area with his wife and child.

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