By Vishani Ragobeer
It’s just before 18:00h Monday, May 22.
Nine unfamiliar people, all parents, are gathered in a meeting room, sitting across from a team of officials from the Ministry of Health and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).
They were flown into Georgetown on Monday afternoon, following that deadly fire at the Mahdia Secondary School Female Dormitory the night before.
From the bulky bags resting at their sides, it is evident that they wasted little time getting to the hospital once they landed at the Eugene F. Correia International Airport, Ogle.
Their blank expressions are difficult to decipher until the officials start telling them what section of the hospital they will be going to, to visit their children.
Some of the young patients, their daughters, are in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), others in the pediatric High Dependency Unit (HDU). One girl is said to be in the burn unit resting, after receiving much-needed treatment earlier in the day.
It is evident that these parents are worried, anxious and filled with despair- all understandable feelings, reverberating across a mourning Guyana.
One woman turns her head to the side and hurriedly tries to wipe away her tears. Her attempts are futile because in seconds, she is sobbing.
One by one, the parents get up and follow the hospital staff to various parts of the compound to see their children.
They carry along their bulky bags; some take out their phones to send WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger updates to their relatives.
Once they get to the unit where their children are receiving treatment, the parents remain there until it is time for them to leave the hospital for the place they will spend the night while in ‘town’.
Until now, the hospital has taken steps to ensure the identities and images of the young patients are protected.
No cameras or recorders have been allowed into the wards or near the patients and parents.
By the time the parents were reunited with their children, about 18 hours had elapsed since dozens of girls found themselves trapped inside the female dormitory while it went up in flames.
And by this time, it has been confirmed that 19 persons- 18 girls and one boy- perished in the fire. The survivors grapple with burns about their bodies, breathing issues due to significant smoke inhalation and an unimaginable amount of trauma.
Mahdia is a hinterland community about 126 miles away from the city, a distance covered in about an hour by aircraft.
For the girls worst-affected by the blaze, treatment at the GPHC, Guyana’s main referral hospital, was necessary.
Nine of the survivors, in sets of threes, were airlifted to Georgetown so they would receive critical care there.
The first six were brought to the hospital before 08:00h.
Of the three girls who first arrived, a 14-year-old, was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and her condition has been listed as critical but stable. The two girls, aged 13 and 14, received minor burns, but are “stable and conscious.”
The next three girls, aged 12, 13, and 14, were taken to the hospital’s critical bay receiving medical care. The 12-year- old eventually underwent a successful limb-saving surgery; she needed this because of the extent of her burns.
Later in the day, Ministry of Education officials who were on standby at the hospital got word that another three girls were being airlifted to Georgetown too.
A woman who visited the hospital walked past the News Room team waiting for the arrival of these girls.
“Still covering the Mahdia story?” she asked, before adding, “Such a sad thing.”
She didn’t wait for a response, and continued walking across the hospital compound.
Finally, the last three girls arrived around 15:00h.
They had burns about their bodies and were battling serious breathing problems due to smoke inhalation.
These last three girls returned with Dr. Shilindra Rajkumar and Dr. Christopher Heywood, two of the GPHC doctors who travelled to Mahdia in the wee hours of Monday to help with triage and the initial health response.
“It was quite chaotic when we got there 3’clock this (Monday) morning but over the last 12 hours, we managed to get things under control,” Dr. Rajkumar told reporters at a briefing held at the GPHC shortly after his return.
With all the survivors assessed in Mahdia, Dr. Rajkumar said he doesn’t believe any of the other girls affected by the fire will require critical care in Georgetown.
So, attention has been turned to getting the nine girls the best possible care to guarantee their sound recovery.
That also means caring for their mental health is paramount.
Dr. Rajkumar said the girls are likely to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), so counsellors have been called in for the patients, their parents and other relatives.
In Mahdia, similar efforts are being rolled out for the patients and families there.