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Jakarta Post

The faces behind the numbers: Remembering COVID-19 victims

  • Rizki Fachriansyah and Tri Indah Oktavianti

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, May 11, 2020   /   01:29 pm
The faces behind the numbers: Remembering COVID-19 victims Family members of a COVID-19 victim mourn at a funeral in Jakarta on March 31, 2020. (AFP/Bay Ismoyo)

For many people in coronavirus-stricken Indonesia, tuning into the government’s daily press conference detailing the latest data on confirmed cases and deaths linked to COVID-19 has become a mundane ritual – an exercise in news consumption amid great uncertainty.

For some others who have lost their loved ones to the disease, however, the constantly updated statistics signify a void left in their private lives.

Behind every number that illustrates the magnitude of the current health emergency is an intimate story of resilience and perseverance in the face of a crisis.

Relatives of several COVID-19 patients who succumbed to the disease have spoken with The Jakarta Post. Below are their faces and stories.

Bambang Sutrisna

Prof. Bambang SutrisnaProf. Bambang Sutrisna (Courtesy of University of Indonesia's School of Public Health/-)

Leonita Triwachyuni felt that it was only a matter of when, not if, her father would be infected with the deadly virus.

This was because her father, University of Indonesia scholar and epidemiologist Bambang Sutrisna, had made it his mission to treat sick individuals at his clinic despite the inherent risk of infection.

“Papa was a hard worker. He truly cared for others, particularly his patients and students,” Leonita said, adding that her father had kept his clinic open to the public amid the outbreak.

The 29-year-old woman, who has been following in her father’s footsteps to become a doctor, said she had always harbored concerns for his well-being, especially as the outbreak escalated in mid-March.

Bambang received a visit from a patient suffering from symptoms typically associated with COVID-19 on March 12, and for some time after the encounter he still seemed healthy, Leonita said.

However, five days later, he began to complain about severe headaches, high fever and a dry cough – known symptoms of COVID-19. She began to wonder whether her worst fears were about to become a reality.

“Papa never complained about anything. He was a tough soul, so him suddenly complaining about his illness was a real cause for concern,” said Leonita, adding that she and her mother started to exhibit similar symptoms soon after.

Despite his deteriorating health, Bambang initially refused to be taken to the hospital, saying he couldn’t miss his online teaching session, she recounted.

Realizing the gravity of the situation, Leonita asked her husband to drive her father to Persahabatan Hospital in East Jakarta, one of the COVID-19 referral centers in the capital, for immediate treatment on March 22.

Bambang succumbed to the disease the following day. He was 70 years old.

“My father was a lifelong medical practitioner. He dedicated his life to ensuring the public's well-being,” Leonita said.

She went on to say that she was lucky to have been able to witness her father’s funeral along with other family members, as the burial procedure for COVID-19 victims was not yet as strict as it is now.

“Please, don’t let my father die in vain. He had a much more difficult task: treating his patients. Surely the rest of us can help by complying with the PSBB [large-scale social restrictions]. Let the number [of casualties] serve as a real warning.”

Read also: Doctors die as hospital crisis looms

Dr. Ketty Herawati Sultana

Dr. Ketty Herawati SultanaDr. Ketty Herawati Sultana (courtesy of Instagram/@kathyhera)

As the number of cases and fatalities related to COVID-19 in the country continues to increase, concerns have been raised regarding the safety of health workers, including doctors and nurses, especially given the lack of protective equipment available at hospitals across the country.

As of last month, 25 doctors had died of COVID-19, according to data from the Indonesian Doctors Association.

Dr. Ketty Herawati Sultana, 60, was among the fallen ones. She was one of the medical personnel treating Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi at Medistra Hospital in South Jakarta after he tested positive for COVID-19 in March.

“I was away on duty in East Nusa Tenggara when I got word that my mother was ill and had been taken to an emergency unit on March 27. I heard that she was experiencing shortness of breath and had diarrhea,” Ketty’s daughter and medical trainee Meggy Oktaviani said.

Meggy, 29, immediately booked a flight to Jakarta upon learning about the unfortunate news. However, it was already too late by then, she said.

Ketty’s oxygen levels kept depleting, while her overall health condition continued deteriorating. Meggy braced herself for the worst-case scenario.

“She most likely contracted the virus from patients at Medistra Hospital. She had told me that many patients with COVID-19 symptoms, such as diarrhea, had been admitted to the hospital,” Meggy told the Post.

Ketty passed away on April 3. Unfortunately, health authorities had by then imposed a stricter burial protocol for COVID-19 victims, forcing Meggy and other family members to miss the physician’s funeral.

“We were only allowed to pray in front of her coffin. We watched her cremation via video call afterward,” she recounted, calling it “a difficult experience”.

Meggy called on the government to ensure a steady supply of protective health gear since the lives of many doctors were at stake amid the outbreak.

“Those working on the front line like my mother deserve protection. They’ve been working tirelessly to save lives. It’s the least the government could do,” she said.

Read also: Alone on their deathbed, how COVID-19 keeps families away from loved ones

Drs. Tenang Malem Tarigan

Tenang Malem TariganTenang Malem Tarigan (Courtesy of /Christianto Tarigan)

Christianto Tarigan never thought he would not have the chance to say goodbye to his father in his last moments. Yet, he had no choice but to confront such a reality when his father, prominent Medan State Polytechnic scholar Tenang Malem Tarigan, died of the coronavirus disease.

“My mother and father had contracted the disease. My mother had been hospitalized since April 18, whereas my father and younger brother only underwent rapid tests,” Christianto said.

He added that the results of the rapid tests came back negative, but the subsequent results of swab tests revealed his mother and father to be COVID-19-positive.

Tenang was then promptly hospitalized at Bina Kasih Hospital in Medan, North Sumatra from April 18 to 22. He passed away at 62 years old on the evening of April 23, just as he was about to be transferred to Martha Friska Hospital.

“My father experienced shortness of breath when he was being taken to Martha Friska Hospital. He couldn’t be saved,” Christianto said, adding that his father had diabetes and high blood pressure prior to the COVID-19 diagnosis.

He said his family was heartbroken they could not pay their last respects to Tenang due to the strict burial protocol.

“He passed away at 8:15 p.m. and was laid to rest at around 1 a.m. My brother, who witnessed the burial, could only see our father’s face for one minute when he was already wrapped in a body bag. It was devastating,” he said.

In the days that followed, Christianto tried to come to terms with the situation by upholding his father’s motto.

“He used to tell me: ‘Don’t cry in the darkness, light up a candle’. It’s an embodiment of his spirit,” he said.