‘Photos of bodies stacked at hospitals are real’: Malaysia undertakers struggle as COVID-19 deaths soar
KUALA LUMPUR — Undertaker Muhammad Rafieudin Zainal Rasid now handles as many as 30 Covid-19 funerals a day. Last year, he handled one such funeral a week or possibly one every two weeks.
The number of Covid-19 fatalities in Malaysia began multiplying in April, rising to a record 207 on Monday (July 26) and also Tuesday.
This figure is projected to escalate further in tandem with the surging number of daily infections in Malaysia, which recorded 17,045 cases on Sunday, the highest since the pandemic began.
The health crisis has seen hospitals and Covid-19 assessment centers flooded with patients in recent weeks, and ambulances rushing about the city ferrying Covid-19 patients have become a common sight.
Mr Muhammad Rafieudin said: “It is a risky job. When I get home at around 10pm each night, I make sure I shower first before I meet my family. Sometimes my children miss me and they want to hug me but I have to be careful.”
He was infected with Covid-19 last month – a harrowing experience.
“I didn’t need oxygen but I couldn’t hold my breath for more than three seconds. Sometimes it felt like I was underwater. It was painful. I thought to myself, so this is what Covid-19 feels like. This is what all the bodies I handled went through. I imagined my own funeral and wondered if it would be carried out the same way as for other Covid-19 bodies, and I shed tears, thinking that I have so much work left unfinished in life. But thank god I survived.”
While undertakers are also at risk of stress and burnout like many people on the front line battling the disease, Mr Muhammad Rafieudin said his job is what keeps him going.
“Even though I don’t get enough sleep, I am happy to help the families. Sometimes they call me in tears saying there are delays of two or three days at the hospital. So I try to speed up the process. They are grateful and I am very happy because I get to help them.
“They could not take care of their loved ones who were sick with Covid-19, and then when their loved ones die, they cannot even carry out the final rites for them. Then there are delays waiting for the burial. So I try to give them peace of mind,” he said.
For the living, he had this advice: “Covid-19 is real. Please stay safe. I know everyone is stressed from being under lockdown for so long, staying at home. But we have no choice. We have to do this while waiting for everyone to be vaccinated.”
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.