On April 24 at 3:22 a.m., a doctor in Delhi’s Guru Tegh Bahadur hospital sent an urgent plea via Whatsapp to a colleague. She had just finished her shift at the COVID-19 ward in the hospital, where her mother was also undergoing treatment. A patient was in critical condition when she finished her shift. If he died, she asked, could his body be sent to the mortuary immediately?
It was an unusual request, she admitted, but these are unusual times. The doctor’s own mother was in a bed next to the critical patient, and she feared that his corpse might be left there throughout the night. Mortuaries throughout the Indian capital are overstretched, the doctor says, and bodies sometimes lie around uncovered among the living till the muscles harden and rigor mortis sets in. If that had happened, “I don’t know if my mother would have been able to survive the trauma,” she tells TIME, requesting anonymity because of fear of reprisal from the hospital administration or the government.