This account by a Wuhan woman Qingqing (as told to Li Yuamu) who suddenly lost her mother after surgery when the coronavirus epidemic suddenly erupted with no prior mention in the local press is very popular on Chinese social media today. Chinese title 妈妈在武汉隔离病房去世 One might imagine if news of the epidemic had been allowed to spread when eight Wuhan physicians were severely reprimanded for mentioning it on social media, her mother wouldn’t have had this elective surgery and perhaps would not have passed away. The answer lies somewhere in the intersection of public health, dissemination of information to the public about potential threats, and Chinese politics of course the Chinese Communist Party’s laser-like focus on social stability and suppressing “rumors” that might make the public uneasy.
Mama Passed Away in a Wuhan Hospital Isolation Room
by Qingqing as recounted to Li Yuanmu
I contacted Qianqian on the 29th of the lunar month. At 10 AM that same day, Wuhan was sealed off because of the new type of coronavirus pneumonia. She was anxious since her mother and father had been put in isolation in different hospitals. Her mother was in serious condition and her father had a mild case. My brother was also diagnosed with the coronavirus but the hospital did not admit him. He was isolated in a hotel room. Qianqian worried athat her frail mother would get little care in the isolation ward.
When we spoke again on the eve of the Lunar New Year, she was feeling more cheerful. Her mother had told her that a nurse had been found for the isolation ward. She spent a day running around to buy some immunoglobulin for her father. She rushed all the way and ran home from Hankou, where she had bought medicine. At 12 o’clock that night, Wuhan planned to close the bridge over the river.
At noon on the first day of the Lunar New Year, she sent me a WeChat message to tell me that her mother had died. She cried, “I don’t have a mother, I don’t have a mother, what should I do?”
The River City (Wuhan’s nickname) is cold and rainy. On the first day of the Lunar New Year, Qianqian ran around and said farewell to her mother. The outbreak hit the family suddenly. The one must to blame was her father. Worried about a small tubercle in his wife’s lungs, he had her undergo an operation in mid-January. She was then infected with the new coronavirus while at the hospital.
In just a few days and nights, the epidemic suddenly became severe. Noisy Wuhan gradually came to a stop. According to official statistics, as of January 28, 100 people in Hubei had died.
The is what Qian Qian told me.
Mama is gone. Everything seems so unreal.
On the morning of the first day of the Chinese New Year, my father called and asked me to get him medicine. I left home with ten bottles of immunoglobulin to give to my father and mother.
I left the medicine in a spot in the lobby of the isolation building and walked away. Dad came and got the medicine. Before leaving, he shouted “Mama might not be able to make it.” I was shocked. Later, he sent a text message and said that the hospital called ten minutes ago to inform his mother was in organ failure and was getting emergency treatment. I worried. I wanted to contact my mother’s nurses but couldn’t reach them.
I texted my dad again to comfort him, “She couldn’t be having organ failure. They will certainly be able to revive her. Mama is very strong, we must believe in her.”
He replied: “I am afraid not. The revival attempt is really just a routine procedure.”
I asked my Dad for the phone number I could call to get information. I called and the person who picked up the phone hinted that my mother wasn’t going to make it. All I could do was cry and beg “, “I don’t want anything for myself. I don’t care how much it costs, please use the best medicine and the best equipment to save my mother. I can’t live without my mother.”
Within a few minutes, the phone rang again. The doctor solemnly introduced himself. I knew it was over. The doctor said that the funeral home had been notified and the mother’s body would be taken away in a moment. I begged the doctor to wait for me, saying I’ll be right there. He agreed, but did not let me get close to my mother.
After making my first phone call to the hospital, I called my elder brother. I pretended to be relaxed, and as usual asked about his progress. My brother had gone to the hospital at 5 AM to stand in line waiting for a check-up. This was the third day. My elder brother didn’t get to see the doctor until half past two. I resisted telling him about that mother was getting emergency resuscitation. My brother loves Mama very much.
After getting the second phone call from the hospital, I cried for a few minutes and then thought for a few more minutes. I felt that my brother should know about this. Besides, I was at a loss. I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid I couldn’t manage it.
I called my brother and asked him, “Would you like to come to see Mama?” He asked what’s wrong. After having spent all morning in line, he was now afraid it would all be wasted.
I told him word-by-word, “Brother, you have to be calm, you must not get too excited. We have no mother now.” Brother was frightened. He didn’t believe it. I don’t say anything. I couldn’t open my mouth, I would start to open my mouth but then I would start to cry. For a moment I cry when I open my mouth. In just a moment, my brother collapsed and wept terribly. He had never cried like this before. I wanted to cry too but with my brother like that, I didn’t dare cry. I kept soothing him.
We wanted to go see Mama one last time. My sister-in-law and Dad kept calling to tell us not to go because it was too dangerous. But we had to go.
Caption: ■ The lower building on the right is where my Dad’s isolation ward. I had to travel two hours each day back-and-forth to get him his medicine.
I was the first to arrive at the hospital, my hands and feet shaking. My brother arrived a while later. With only a mask to protect himself, he rushed to the ward. I couldn’t stop him. Mom was still warm. Elder brother leaned over Mama’s chest and shouted, “There is still a heartbeat, doctor, there’s still a heartbeat.” The doctor looked towards the monitor and with two zeros on its screen. There of my mother’s friends were in the room, wiping their tears. On the table was the meal that we had brought for her that day, untouched.
My brother cried until he was out of breath. This was an infectious disease ward. Worried about his safety, I pulled him out of the room.
The doctor was reluctant to tell us anything. He gave us a death certificate stating that the direct cause of death was “respiratory failure” caused by “new coronavirus infection”. He said that if there was a problem, we could contact the hospital. Now Mama’s body had to be sent to the funeral home.
All we could do was leave and wait outside in an empty parking lot. It had started to rain. Half an hour later, someone pushed out a corpse bag. After confirming that it was my mother, we followed them to the morgue. My brother and I have knelt at the door and kowtowed in respect. That area hadn’t been disinfected place hasn’t been disinfected. Worried about my brother, I got him out of there.
The funeral home called. I begged them to wait for us. We sped all the way and arrived in twenty minutes. They handed us a pledge to dispose of the remains. The document noted that “the deceased was suspected of having or died of severe pneumonia.”
The people in the funeral parlor did not allow us to go in. They had us sign our names and leave. They complained that the place was all packed inside. The situation was much worse than we thought.
Several cars were parked there. We identified the one Mama was in, knelt down, and kowtowed in the direction of the car. Next to us were three or four men beside, also kneeling and crying.
The car drove away. I ran behind. It went faster and faster, I couldn’t catch up so I stopped and stood there, panting. It’s cold and I feel hopeless and alone.
My brother couldn’t stop crying. I calmed down and said calmly to him, “Let’s go now, we have to hurry to get Dad his medicine. I kept telling him that “The rest of us have to get better. We can’t afford to lose anyone else.”
In mid-January, Dad worried about Mama’s health and called him back to Wuhan for surgery. My mother had been out of town with her mother-in-law. I never imagined that the virus would infect her after her surgery. The hospital did not give her any special care. We got very worried.
During the half-hour drive to see my Dad, I kept telling my brother that you can cry with me, but you can’t cry to with Dad and sister-in-law. You also can’t be getting excited over every little detail. If you blame yourself, Dad will blame himself even more. None of us did anything wrong. We wanted mother to have the operation so that she would be healthier. There hadn’t been any news reports. We didn’t know that that there would such a serious contagious disease.
Dad came down but stayed far away from us. He didn’t say anything. I suppose that if he had opened his mouth, he would have cried and just broken down. My brother kept yelling, “Dad, take off your face mask so we can see you.” Dad ignored him.
We put the things on the table and walked away. Then Dad came to pick things up and left. After Mama’s diagnosis, he had always kept me away from him. The two of us could only meet by staying 20 meters apart. I would take a step closer and he would take a step back. He would very gruffly order me to leave. If I don’t leave, he would get all agitated and make me nervous so that I would hurry up and leave. I have always been very attached to Dad. He had never treated me that way before.
Dad also loves Mama. After the operation on the 17th, my mother was in a lot of pain every day. She couldn’t sleep day or night. My father took care of her and didn’t get much sleep himself either.
On January 21st, my brother and I had driven a long way to see my maternal grandmother. As soon as I arrived, I received a call saying that my mother was suspected to be infected with the new coronavirus. We were surprised since my mother’s hospital was not in Hankou and our family had never been to the South China Seafood Market.
We quickly drove the two hundred kilometers back to Wuhan. But Dad insisted that we not see them. That afternoon, they moved from a triple room in the inpatient department to a single room. The diagnosis was confirmed on the 22nd. At noon, the doctor said that he would be transferred to Jinyintan Hospital. Three hours later, when I went to see him, he told me that he couldn’t be transferred since Jinyintan Hospital was full. I panicked. The doctor comforted me and said that this hospital will also be supported by experts from all across the country.
I was still very anxious and wanted to go see them. I had a feeling that I had to go see Dad and Mama to make sure that they were there. I just didn’t know what was going on. We had only been gone for a day and things had already changed so much. When I thought how I wouldn’t be able to see my mother when she was in isolation, I became very afraid that I would never be able to see her again.
I begged the nurse if I could get closer and look through the glass into the isolation room. The nurse was kind. She kept reminding me that I couldn’t go in, that I couldn’t stay long, and I needed to be well protected. I saw my Dad though the glass door. He was very angry, gesturing to me to hurry up and go away. Mama’s bed was against the wall so I couldn’t see her clearly. The nurse helped her up, and she waved to me very weakly.
I keep on crying, my father kept on driving me away. I could only go, crying and telling them to take eat well and take care of themselves.
We later learned that Dad had not been diagnosed with the coronavirus then but he took the initiative to accompany Mama. During those days, we faced cruel choices every day. If dad was not infected at the time, could we allow him to take care of Mama? How could we decide? After Mother had just had the operation, if Dad did not take care for her, she might not be able to go to the toilet or eat. After mother was quarantined, the hospital stipulated that it could not accept take out food and could not provide food. If brother sent food, he would be at risk of infection. If we don’t then Mama will get hungry.
We can’t worry about that. We can only give my brother the maximum protection possible. When he brought food he would wear a disposable raincoat, a face mask, shoe covers, and medical rubber gloves and then tape all the gaps in his clothing.
There were four patients in my mother’s ward, and my Dad had nowhere to sleep, so we bought a stool that was integrated with a commode, which he would sit on overnight. On the night of the 22nd, Dad took the test.
The next afternoon, the infectious ward would not let my Dad stay to help Mama. Dad took the test results and sat in the hospital building, not wanting to leave Mama. I I told him that I would get him a room in the hotel just opposite the hospital. From he could look and see Mama’s quarantine building directly opposite two or three hundred meters away. I went to the hotel. They told me that they were closed.
Dad read the test results and said the result was negative. I want to drive him home to rest. He didn’t want to take my car because he was afraid there might be some virus on him. We could only drive one after the other. On the way, he sent me a text message saying he hadn’t read the results right. It turned out that he had tested positive.
He was very sad and was even more afraid to live with me. He kept asking me what to do and where he should go. I panicked too. I didn’t know where we should go.
First, I gave him a 500 ml bottle of alcohol that I had bought at the pharmacy that morning. I also had bought a bottle of spray toilet water. My Dad poured the toilet water out of the bottle and then poured alcohol into it, Then I could use it as a spray can. But I had only bought one bottle, and my Dad insisted that I share some alcohol. Our car was parked in a dark alley, one left and one right. When I walked over, he brought down the window and didn’t speak, using his eyes to carry his meaning as I reached out. I guessed what he meant. I took off the rubber gloves. He sprayed alcohol into my two hands and then handed me the remaining alcohol bottle. He had sprayed the bottle all over. After handing it to me, he sprayed the alcohol on the place where he had touched it. With his eyes, he indicated that I should hurry.
Back in the car, we continued to talk on the phone, spending half an hour discussing what to do and where we should go, and just over half an hour. I later told my friends that we were so close to each other and so apart. We could only sit in two separate cars. I didn’t know where to go. It was really sad.
Dad finally decided to go to the hospital. He lined up at a hospital in the middle of the night. At dawn, he was given the test. He delivered breakfast to Mama that morning and then he went back to that hospital to be admitted.
Dad took his medicine and a bucket of salted mineral water and walked away. My brother and I shouted to him “Good luck, Dad. Stay strong!”
He looked back to look at us but still didn’t speak.
On the way back from the hospital, I felt very upset. Several times, my brother had to remind me to put on the brakes. We decided to let him check out the hotel and return home. Mama is gone, we need each other.
When we got home, we threw out all the clothes we had worn that day. Fearing that someone would come along and take the clothing, I took out some scissors and cut them up.
At 9:30 in the evening Mama had gotten her diagnosis, my brother went in for a check alone. He drove home at 3 AM and slept alone in the parking lot overnight, fearing to infect his sister-in-law and nephew. The next day, his diagnosis came out, but no hospital would accept it.
I said to my brother, if we live together, I can cook for you. I will be able to eat well too. We need to be strong, we can’t give up.
The next day I cooked for my brother. There was no more oil in the oil drum. I rummaged out a bottle of olive oil that my mother had given me. I live alone and so she would often visit me. When she visited me in November last year, she bought me a lot of spices, left me a note telling me that I should carefully plan ahead to live a good life. She also helped me throw out some baking flour that had expired flour. My mother is really beautiful.
My Mama really is very pretty. She was famous in the hospital for her beauty. My friends all envy me for having such a pretty and loving mother.
I want to keep this bottle of olive oil and go to the supermarket to buy another bottle of oil. On a shelf, I saw my mom’s favorite hot and sour powder, knelt down and cried.
On the evening of the 23rd, her mother sent me a WeChat message saying she wanted to eat hand-ripped bread with hot and sour noodles. I went right out to get it, but the supermarket was closed. I was felt very worn out. Mama was weak and but even so managed to ask for something to eat. But I couldn’t get her what she wanted.
All I can do every day is to constantly call the Mayor’s hot-line to explain my mother’s special situation. But no matter how many times I make a call, they will only say that they will inform their superiors get back to me as soon as possible. I called for three days but never got any response.
After my mother passed away, I learned that she what she had said that finding a caregiver was a lie. After she was isolated, we worried and asked everywhere for help. Once when I called my mother, she was moaning, crying that the wound hurt, and begged the nurse to help her open the lunch box. The nurse spoke to her harshly. My mother is very kind, she always tole me that there is only one doctor and one nurse for twenty more than twenty patients. They also suffer a lot and have a lot pressure on them.
Before I took my Mama for granted. But when I couldn’t have her ever again, it was like a quilt had been ripped off me in a dark night and I was exposed to an endless snowstorm.
These pas two days, I often secretly listen to my mother’s voice. One time my elder brother walked by from behind, heard it, and gave me a hard slap on the back of my head. But I know that he himself was crying secretly at night.
On the night of my mother’s death, my Dad kept sending me and my brother messages telling us the bank card password, mobile phone password, and what insurance they bought. He explained a whole mass of things very carefully. Sometimes when he suddenly remembered something, he left me a long voice mail. I really had a breakdown. I’m particularly afraid that Dad will blame himself. They were deeply in love.
They also loved me very much. After my mother was diagnosed, she would not let me approach her isolation ward. On the morning of January 24th, I wanted to give my mother torn bread and hot and sour noodles. My sister-in-law got very excited. She was determined not to let me go. She said that she already had some symptoms of discomfort, and if I was isolated, I had to help her take care of her children. What if all five adults were to get infected? What would the children do?
Finally I told her that I also had a fever of over 37 degrees Celsius. She broke down and kept on crying. I started calling various places to find out what the government has to help. I finally got through to the Mayor’s Hot-line. They said that they had made a record and would report to their superiors. I called the Women’s Federation where there was only one person on duty. He was also not sure. The Red Cross phone number could not be reached. The health and health committee also said that have the right or the authority to intervene. They all told me to call the Mayor’s Hot-line. We panicked so much that we even called the 120 and 110 emergency numbers. All my phone calls that morning were useless.
My sister-in-law spent all day from morning to night disinfecting our home with 84 disinfecting solution. She sprayed alcohol at home all the time. When feeding my nephew, I had spray my hands. The back of my hand got red from some allergic reaction.
The little nephew, who is only six years old, doesn’t understand anything. He is very happy that it is the winter vacation. My sister-in-law used to be very strict with him and didn’t allow him to watch TV. But these days he can watch as much TV as he wants. If the child comes close to her, the sister-in-law avoids him, saying keep your distance.
I have been spoiled sine childhood. This is the first time I feel that this family needs my support. I feel that I am the last line of defense. I want to protect my sister-in-law and nephew. If I were to have a breakdown, my sister-in-law and nephew would have to take care of everything. I don’t want them to face these things. My sister-in-law is really thin.
When speaking to them, I will pretend to be relaxed or tell them some good news, such as what experts have came to Wuhan and how many people have been cured. But after hanging up the phone, alone in my apartment, I often cry myself senseless.
On the evening of January 24th, I bring hot and sour noodles and bread to the lobby of my brother’s hotel. He brought it over to Mama. Then I drove to Hankou to buy immunoglobulins. The market price of one bottle of immunoglobulins has risen to 800 RMB.
Time is running out. I drove fast so I could cross the Suojiang River bridge before it closed. On the way back, I called my brother and asked him where he was. It just so happened that one of us was on an elevated highway while the other was down below. I looked at my watch. It was exactly midnight. I just realized that the Year of the Rat is here.
In Wuhan there is no Chinese New Year atmosphere at all.
I said Happy New Year to my brother. I looked at the back seat of the car and felt very happy. I thought that we had had a good year. My Dad wanted that medicine that was so hard to buy. I had bought a lot of it and my mother said she had told us that she had found a caregiver.
I think our family will reunite soon.
Shared on January 29, 2020