It was the week before Christmas and COVID-19 cases and deaths in Trinidad and Tobago were reaching record highs.
On average, 27 people succumbed to COVID-19, with over 700 new cases daily.
At the time, the Delta COVID-19 variant of concern was ravaging the population, sparing no community.
In the predominantly agricultural village of Rio Claro, a month-long horror began for one family after their matriarch fell ill.
Out of an abundance of caution, she sought antigen testing privately, which returned a negative result for COVID-19.
One family member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the doctor told them she had a bout of pneumonia because the mother was asthmatic.
The doctor gave them medication to self-treat and sent them home.
However, the medications hardly helped.
She was fully vaccinated.
Overnight, she battled persistent breathing problems, forcing her to seek treatment at the Rio Claro Health Centre early the next day.
She was tested, treated and this time, her family was told she tested positive. Because her situation was not improving, doctors at the health centre decided to transfer her to the San Fernando General Hospital.
According to the family, that is where the real nightmare began.
It is a situation many people and families have faced in the last two years of the pandemic.
A seemingly healthy person rapidly deteriorates before their eyes and is taken away by an ambulance, not knowing whether they would see them again.
COVID-19 procedures prevented family members from being in the ambulance, so they followed closely behind.
When they arrived, the mother was rushed into the San Fernando General Hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department while the family camped in the parking lot.
They waited for hours, hoping for good news. None came that evening. Not even from her cell phone. Family members called for almost nine hours, but she never picked up, not thinking they would never hear her voice ever again.
After waiting since midday, around 9 pm, according to one relative, “Somebody come out and tell them ‘aye, your mother dead.’ They were like ‘What?’”
According to the relative, the family was not placed in quarantine, nor were they told to get tested.
As the family dealt with the trauma of losing a loved one, another battle arose – how do they get their mother’s body back? One doctor at the San Fernando General Hospital told them, “It is so bad here. The safest thing I’ll tell you to tell them to do is to police the morgue every day. Go every morning. Go with a picture, go with the name, and tell them you and what you’re looking for.”
It took two days of doing just that for the family to have their mother one last time.
Unfortunately, because of the surge of COVID-19 deaths prior to Christmas last year, their situation was not unique, but it did not lessen the grief.
Compounding the family’s tragic story at the end of 2021, more of them tested positive.
One was fortunate enough to walk out alive and is resting at home. The other is still battling the disease at the Arima General Hospital.