The autopsy table at the Ga East Hospital

Peeping through the windows of the autopsy room at the Ga East District Hospital; now designated as the centre for the treatment of coronavirus patients, I could see the brave and highly experienced Pathologists; Colonel Dr. Seth Attoh of the 37 Military Hospital and Dr Roxana P. Segborwotso, Head of Pathology at the Ga East District hospital neck-deep in the disembowelment of two bodies.

Even from the outside, I could see the heavily stained surgical gloves of these heroes and two others, Michael Nii Ashittey, and Asar Ayare, the senior mortuary attendant, also playing their part as the team took the single but giant step in the coronavirus war; the first on the African continent.

Exclusive report from Covid-19 autopsy room - JoyNews' Latif Iddrisu shares experience

Just as surgeons go about performing the procedure on the living, the pathologists together with other members of the team, carefully sorted the organs that have been removed from the disembowelled bodies.

How all of this started?

It all started with a late-night call from the Director of Institutional Care Division at the Ghana Health Service, Dr Samuel Kaba Akoriyea.

The man, who is highly revered among his peers in the West African sub-region haven played a major role during the Ebola crisis, has not only become a trusted source but a brother.

On this occasion, however, he wouldn’t go further than saying ‘I have a scoop for you tomorrow at 6 am. Can you make it?’ When I tried to ask for details, he said ‘I won’t tell you. I want it to be a surprise to you’.

With that, I had no chance of conducting any research whatsoever. It was like walking into a fight with zero information about the battlefield and the enemy.

Like how the world got off the mark in the war against the coronavirus; it caught us ‘naked’, exposed, and ill-prepared because we had acutely little knowledge about this particular strain of coronavirus; a classical example of my abysmal state of preparedness when Dr Kaba’s call came through on April 29, at approximately 9:55 am.

Just like any other chamber reserved for post-mortem, it felt cold, and the cocktail of smell that emanated from it could be felt yards away as one approached the door which had been left open; a precautionary measure by the facility to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Eventually, when yours truly and my camera technician Solomon were ushered into the chamber, I saw the blood-stained tools used to disembowel the deceased resting on a designated plate in a room enveloped in a nauseating smell. And as a Muslim observing the Ramadan fast, it then dawned on me that I had bitten more than I could chew…I wanted to quickly wrap up the piece to camera and interviews before I involuntarily nullify my fast by forcing a vomit.

The blood-stained tools used to disembowel the deceased were being disinfected and carefully arranged onto the designated plate. The floor of the room was heavily stained with blood and the room itself was enveloped in a repulsive smell.

The Pathologists, who were still wearing their blood-stained scrubs were busily packing out whilst the mortuary attendants went back into the chamber to stitch the disemboweled bodies to be wheeled back into the deep freezer.

You may be wondering, and asking why someone would take such an insane risk to conduct an autopsy on a coronavirus infested body. Or to put it bluntly, you’re wondering why one would want to diffuse a bomb which is wired with all red cables.

But because we are not in normal times, someone has got to do it, because it is our best bet if we really want to understand the language of the dead to inform any adjustment in the treatment of coronavirus patients still battling for their lives in the ICUs.

Again, as the positivity rate of the virus moves into another gear; and with projections showing the numbers are going to surge exponentially, the world requires a science-backed, smart, proactive, and common sense approach, and Ghana appears to at each step of the way, be among the continent’s finest, taking small, giant, and minor steps to get ahead of the pandemic.

And the autopsies on the two male bodies; one in his 40’s and the other in his 50’s, falls within the category of a rare, but giant step being taken by developed and ambitious nations.

This West African nation is certainly not developed, but it has shown in this pandemic that it has some brave and ambitious professionals who are ready to risk it all to beat the monster of coronavirus.

Apparently advocacy for autopsies on Covid-19 bodies had been ongoing ever since Ghana recorded its first coronavirus fatality in March. But a lot of push backs didn’t make it happen, at least not until Dr. Kaba pushed a lot harder.

What was left was who would step forward to conduct the autopsy as Pathologists at the country’s premier hospitals and well celebrated and resourced facilities, had treated with disdain and shunned away from the idea of carrying out the procedure.

It took Colonel Dr Seth Attoh and Roxana P. Segborwotso of 37 Military Hospital and the Ga East District hospital respectively, to fight off oppositions within their families and convince them of taking the requisite precautionary measures to stay safe.

I remember Colonel Dr. Attoh telling me ‘I could not sleep the whole night knowing what I was going to do today’. Dr. Roxana also told me about how family members flooded her inbox with messages and phone calls to talk her out of it and or find out if she is certain about walking into the danger zone.

Thank God these heroes stepped forward to start a journey that will help case managers listen to the language of the dead and better appreciate the disruptive nature of the virus to unleash the appropriate arsenal to disrupt and eliminate the virus from the shores of the country and possibly the world.

“I’ve learnt something new from this autopsy,” Those were the words of Colonel Dr Seth Attoh of 37 Military Hospital when I interviewed him moments after stepping out of the autopsy room.

The expectation is that the learning curve experienced by Dr. Attoh in this unprecedented autopsy will shape the future of Covid-19 case management in Ghana.

God bless our Homeland Ghana.

To the frontline workers I say sannu-ku da aiki, nii tuma, mia we d)w)m, ayekoo, nye tsum kaa, muchas gracias.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.