Caracas, Venezuela – In Venezuela’s hospitals there are no medicines and supplies for the living and no dignity for the dead.
On Oct, 5, an unbearable stench kept doctors, patients and their families away from the Emergency Room of the Hospital Universitario Antonio Patricio de Alcalá (Huapa) in Cumana, a city of 825,000 in eastern Venezuela.
They said toxic gases and odors coming from a decomposed body that had “exploded” in the morgue right below forced them to move stretchers and wheelchairs to the hallways. The ER is located next to the morgue.
This morgue, which serves an entire state the size of Connecticut, operates with scant amounts of formaldehyde – the embalming chemical needed to preserve corpses. And the bodies are kept in filthy rooms too warm to keep them from decomposing. Sewage water often seeps into the room.
Autopsies are no longer performed. So if there is a suspicious death, it’s anyone’s guess how the person died.
"We get corpses up until two days after death occurred,” said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous. “Many times, when we receive the bodies, they are already in a state of putrefaction.”
The day of the ER incident, the two bodies had arrived 48 hours after death and had been lying in the morgue five and seven days, respectively. They collapsed.
“Everyone thought that the bodies had exploded, but no. The smell reached the hallway because we don’t have good enough ventilation [in the floor]. People would not even let us open the door to the morgue because they said they were asphyxiating,” said the worker.
Without adequate treatment, corpses fill with gas and internal organs inflame to the point that, indeed, they can explode. While it wasn’t the case this time, Haupa employees told Fox News Latino it did happen on several occasions this year.
In the Huapa morgue, doctors work in subhuman conditions. They have only one refrigerated chamber to store bodies coming from all over the state of Sucre. As for the freezing chamber, it was finished seven years ago by the Barrio Adentro government mission, but it broke down after just six months.
On top of this, running water is not always guaranteed, so autopsies have to be performed using water in buckets. The sewage is constantly overflowing because of the residues of corpses keep clogging the drain.
"The refrigerated chamber fits six bodies. On weekends, when the number of deaths increases, the bodies are left outside, at room temperature,” the employee said. “We don’t have Formaldehyde either, we currently have 1.3 gallons left for autopsies," the morgue employee told FNL, adding that it is unclear when and if the hospital will get any more.
The grim situation in Cumana is seen in almost every hospital in the country, even the top ones located in Caracas.
In the Hospital Periferico of Catia, a populous Caracas area, corpses are often left in the hallways, one on top of the other, without any refrigeration or preservatives, said a resident doctor there who requested anonymity to avoid jeopardizing his job.
"Two months ago a body was in a state of putrefaction and the entire hospital smelled of sewage. The body had five days without refrigeration and CICPC (Department of Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations) had not removed the body," he said, explaining that crime-related corpses can only be removed by law enforcement.
When death occurs for medical reasons, the process is through a funeral home and is much more expeditious.
In the Vargas Hospital, one of Caracas’ largest, the morgue is nothing more than a storage room for bodies — no autopsies are performed there anymore due to lack of staff, damaged autopsy tables and because the area in general is not suitable, a source at the hospital told Fox News Latino.
"There is only one operative chamber, so there is no enough space for bodies. After a busy week, it can smell really terrible," he said.
María Emilia Jorge M. is a freelancer journalist living in Caracas, Venezuela.