Two bodies were placed unattended on the tile floor. The next morning, the body count in the room rises to three. Flavio Ramos is dead.
More than a month later, his family still hasn’t buried Flavio Ramos. They can’t if they try. Because immediately after his death, Arturo Ramos said hospital authorities lost his body.
“We need a place to say, on Sunday let’s go to put flowers in my father’s grave,” said his broken-hearted son. “Nothing, nothing you can do.”
His death and disappearance illustrates how the health care system in Ecuador’s second-largest city, about the size of Chicago, collapsed in a matter of weeks after the outbreak exploded in March.
Corpse at the hospital
Guayaquil is very unprepared to deal with the corona virus.
Three doctors in Guayaquil, each working in a different hospital, described a similar scenario during March and April to CNN: Hospitals were completely overwhelmed by a pandemic that quickly descended on an ill-prepared health care system, leaving no opportunity for really help people, let alone provide patients with a basic level of care. All spoke to CNN anonymously for fear of losing their jobs.
“People are scared and scared,” said a doctor about the worst few days. “A really sick person comes to the hospital, dying. You tend to do one, do what you can, then that person dies, and you move to the next, and that person dies, and so on.”
“At one point there were dozens of corpses between the hospital room and the morgue waiting to be taken away,” the doctor said. “There are no body bags left.”
The death rate far exceeds the capacity of the city morgue and funeral home. A second doctor told CNN that he usually saw three or four bodies lying on the floor every day in the hospital. “We have nowhere else to put it,” he said.
In a video obtained by CNN, a family is seen pulling the body of a loved one from their car and putting it in a hospital parking lot, unsure of what to do next.
Nobody wants to accept it
In January, Flavio Ramos celebrates his birthday, surrounded by family and friends.
During the last week of March, he began to feel sick. On the 31st, his breathing became so difficult that 24-year-old Arturo Ramos had to take action.
He drove his father to the nearest hospital, expecting the engineer who was seriously ill to be treated immediately and get the help he desperately needed. But when he arrived, the hospital staff informed him that the facility was full.
“The doctors said, ‘There is no bed for patients,’ and that’s it,” Ramos told CNN via video phone from his home in Guayaquil. “If you stay at the door they say they will call security to send you away.”
Undaunted, he tried again at another hospital, and another, and another. After four hours of driving, Ramos said his father was being treated at Guasmo Sur General Hospital. It was the 11th facility that he tried.
Ramos recalls that his father spent his last time in a room with two patients who had died.
“The two bodies are on the floor,” he said. “One is wrapped in a black bag, rather a garbage bag, and the other is dead on the floor. Nobody is taking care of them.”
Ramos was discharged from the hospital around 9:30 am on April 1 to take breakfast. He said he was gone for about 15 minutes. When he returned, his father was dead.
“Nobody was with him when he died,” his son said. The hospital declined to comment on this case.
“If you keep him here, he will die.”
Arturo Ramos told CNN that the hospital was like a war zone. Ana Maria, 38, who refused to give her last name, said the same thing about her experience.
He said he took his 67-year-old mother to the local clinic because he had symptoms of Covid-19. An x-ray was soon after and the treating doctor said Ana Maria needed to take her mother to the hospital immediately – she had severe pneumonia, the doctor said, probably because of Covid-19.
When Ana Maria arrived at the nearby Los Ceibos Hospital on March 26 to seek treatment, her mother’s lips turned blue and she could barely walk. They waited inside for almost 24 hours for the bed to open.
But when he observed the patient in the next room and nearby hallways, and heard the cries of sadness from their loved ones, he thought twice about keeping his mother in the hospital.
He took decisive action after speaking with a nurse.
“He said, ‘If you have money to care for your mother at home, do it,'” Ana Maria recalled. “‘If you keep him here, he will die.'”
He brought his mother home, hired a private nurse to treat her, and she survived. But most people in Guayaquil do not have the financial means.
Before Ana Maria left the hospital, another patient’s daughter spoke to him in their hospital room. “He cried and said to me, ‘Your mother will be saved because you have money. We don’t have money.'”
Key officials in President Lenín Moreno’s cabinet have publicly apologized for the government’s poor response to the pandemic, saying health officials were not ready for the plague with a shocking number of deaths.
According to government data, 533 people died from Covid-19 in Guayaquil in March and April, combined. However, during the same time period, the government recorded at least 12,350 total deaths in the city – far more than 2,695 and 2,903, respectively in the same period in 2018 and 2019.
In Guayaquil, the number of deaths related to Covid-19 may be more than 9,000 deaths, according to three Ecuadorian-based epidemiologists speaking to CNN.
Esteban Ortiz-Prado, an epidemiologist at the American University in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, said there was no way to know for certain how many excess deaths were directly or indirectly related to Covid-19, but the pandemic was the only way which makes sense to explain this year’s sudden surge in the total number of deaths. “For me, that’s Covid [deaths] until proven otherwise, “he said.
The government has acknowledged the actual number of victims of coronavirus is higher than the official number but said the actual number will never be known because of its inability to test more people.
“We can’t say the government is lying,” said Marco Coral, an infectious disease researcher also at the American University. “But what we can say is that the government has not done enough tests on the people,” an irreplaceable part of every effort to identify the true number of cases and deaths from the corona virus.
Fortunately, the number of deaths in Guayaquil has decreased. Since the first week of April, when some of the highest total daily deaths were recorded, the total number of daily deaths every day has dropped dramatically – at least 69 total deaths were reported in the city on April 30, far below the peak seen previously on the moon.
The steps of social alienation, now slowly subsiding in the country, seem to have succeeded.
But when the number of daily deaths goes down, attention turns to finding those who are already gone.
Lost the right to say goodbye
In the midst of increasing agency chaos, disorganization has caused misplaced placement and misidentification of those who have died.
Many families cannot say goodbye to their loved ones.
When Arturo Ramos returned to the hospital the day after his father died, authorities said they could not find his body.
The only way he could try to find it, officials said, was to go to the morgue and look for the remains that were not known.
“[Inside the morgue] there are corpses piled on top of one another, “Ramos said.” Going into that room, it feels like hell. ”
He said the bodies in the room were separated by those who had been identified and those who were not.
He went through body after body for an hour searching for his father, accompanied by a hospital employee who, after they failed to find his father, told him to return the next day.
For four consecutive days, Ramos estimated he saw about 250 bodies, both inside the morgue and in shipping containers that had been prepared outside to handle the overflow.
The video container on the grounds that Guasmo Sur General Hospital was given to CNN by the person who shot it. The corpse is seen in a container piled at least three high, rot in various types of body bags.
Ramos said only a part of the morgue and one of the shipping containers was cooled.
“I’m not lucky,” Ramos said. “I never found it.”
The problem of missing bodies is so widespread that the attorney general launched an investigation last month about mismanagement of bodies in hospital hospitals.
CNN asked the government for exact figures about how many were still missing, but at the time of publication, had not heard from.
More than a month after Flavio Ramos’s death, his name search launched a pop-up window that only read: ‘No Results Found.’
Ramos mourned his father alone today. He was separated from his family for their own safety.
Last week, he was tested positive for the virus.
Ana Maria Cañizares of CNN Español in Quito, Ecuador contributed to this report.