From housewife to hero: Karmini is moved to drive COVID-19 patients and victims

Ahad Kliwon, 18 Juli 2021 10:47 WIB ∼ 98 Komentar (0)

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When much of the world is seeking to avoid the onslaught of COVID-19, not many are willing to be in close contact with infected people, let alone drive the deceased to their funerals.

While the situation makes it understandable, this is not the case with Karmini, a 46-year-old mother from Bantul, Yogyakarta, who volunteered to transport deceased COVID-19 patients near her home in Balong Kidul village.

Prior to the pandemic, Karmini was a homemaker for her husband and two children. She was also active in local social activities, like elderly home care programs and the Disaster Mitigation Forum (FPRB). She also served as the chair of the neighborhood women’s religious studies group.

When COVID-19 struck Indonesia in March 2020, the government mandated large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) across the country. Citizens were advised to stay home, avoid crowds and limit their mobility.

“When COVID-19 started, access to and from the village was locked down under strict control. The people were scared, and the situation was tense. Every arrival was sprayed with disinfectant, subject to a temperature check and made to wash their hands. They were also forbidden from certain areas if they had no pressing matters,” Karmini recalled.

No one in the village of Balong Kidul dared to venture out of their homes for fear of infection, until the first cases came nonetheless.

A family of four was suspected of having COVID-19, as they showed symptoms such as coughing and fever. While the entire family was required to undergo PCR swab testing, no one in the village wanted to drive them to the testing location in Bambanglipuro, a 30 minute drive from the village.

Karmini then stepped up to the job. While no one else was willing, she wanted to help. “Some of the male FPRB members declined to drive the family, saying that they had small children at home, were busy with work or other reasons,” she said.

After the eventful drive, the family tested positive for COVID-19. Karmini was beside herself with anxiety as she was in the same car as the COVID-19 patients.

“I was really worried when I heard the news, as I also worried about my family and the situation was really scary. Many thought coronavirus was like AIDS.

” Even so, Karmini forged on, with the commitment to protect herself and her family. As the months rolled by, she continued to drive COVID-19 patients to get swab tests at the local community health center (puskesmas), as well as to quarantine facilities.

As the pandemic rages on, the number of deaths has steadily increased across the country, including in Balong Kidul village. In May 2021, Karmini was appointed a hearse driver victims of COVID-19, as once again, no one dared to accompany the deceased, with only the neighborhood unit (RT) planning the funeral.

Karmini, who has been a skilled driver since 2008, was tasked with driving the deceased to a newly built cemetery for COVID-19 burials during the night, a journey made even more challenging because of the unfriendly nature of the route.

“There was a COVID-19 patient who passed away while undergoing self-isolation at home. Their house was near my village, and I was the one who drove them,” she said, noting that none of the deceased’s neighbors had ventured out from their homes to pay their respects while she was there.

Even the drive to the cemetery was treacherous. Located in the middle of a forest, Karmini and several village officials had to travel down a forest road in the middle of a downpour. Even the grave site was flooded.

“It was really hard, not to mention that I, as the driver, had to really master the terrain. Access was still limited, as it was a newly built site just for COVID-19 patients.

” It was only after she got back home that Karmini told her husband about the experience.

“He was quite shocked and even said to me, ‘Are you even brave enough?’ Even so, he was quite supportive,” Karmini said, adding that her younger sibling had expressed fears about her volunteering.

“I just told myself that I have to go home as clean as possible. Alhamdulillah [thank God], God still gave me a chance to help, and our family has always been healthy despite the pandemic,” she said.

One year on, Karmini has never had COVID-19, thanks to her strict adherence to health protocols and a steady dose of vitamins and supplements each day.

“I always consume a traditional drink called kamplong, made from young coconut. It is drunk warm with tea and brewed with boiling water,” she explained, adding that coriander was an acceptable substitute.

As time has gone on, Karmini’s struggles have been alleviated. In November 2020 some male drivers began transporting the deceased for COVID-19 burials. In January, she also received help in the form of a car, loaned to her by Agus Putut, a fellow volunteer at Human Initiative.

“Even though it’s an old car, I feel comfortable driving it. I always use the car to drive patients for their PCR tests as well as the deceased to the cemetery.

” In one day, Karmini can make two burial trips, either from a home or from the hospital. For PCR test trips, Karmini will only accept trips for the elderly, pregnant mothers or children, including those from out of town.

Outside of what she’s doing, Karmini’s hope is that there will be additional COVID-19 task forces, as in the past few months, there have been only two task forces for two villages despite the rising number of cases.

After her experience, Karmini is saddened that some people still do not believe in the existence of COVID-19. For her, silence is better than spreading hoaxes.

“To be honest, it hurts me when people still do not believe in COVID-19 because they haven’t had it. They can say that only God can know when death will come. It certainly is true, but so is COVID-19. Don’t ever underestimate this disease,” she said, adding that she sympathizes with the plight of medical professionals tirelessly fighting the pandemic.

“My heart goes out to the doctors who have fought so hard and even given their lives. As a volunteer, I am totally against this. You only have one life, so please love yourself.”

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