Four operations and a will to live
Let’s go up holding hands. If we die, we will die together. — Jewel Sheikh

Jewel Sheikh (32), Phantom Apparels, Fourth Floor, Ironman

© Asaduzzamn Rasel

10 April, 2014

Translation Moyukh Mahtab

I used to work as a finishing ironman in Phantom Apparels on the fourth floor of Rana Plaza. After sewing, the clothes used to come to ‘quality’. From there, the clothes would come to us — we would do the finishing work by ironing them. From us, the clothes would go to another place to be packed. From there, to another place where they would be packed in cartons. I worked in the garments industry for 7 years. I had been working for three and a half months in Rana Plaza — I joined on the 1st of January in 2013. When I joined, I took a leave of 15 days. On the month when the building collapsed, I had enjoyed 15 days of leave. I joined the factory on the 15th, worked till the 23rd. I was owed for overtime work. They told me, “You will get the overtime on 25th, since you were absent, we can’t give it to you now.”

On the 23rd, going to the building, I saw there were cracks in three places. Those of us who were standing near the factory speculated, “Maybe a fire broke out.” Later, we were allowed to leave work at 10. We were told, “Come back at 2.” I went back home; I didn’t feel like going back to work. When I wanted to go back, nobody would let me. They said, “You can go tomorrow.”

On the 24th, I came to the office at eight-thirty in the morning. On arrival, I saw that everyone was standing at the open space downstairs. Some of the bosses were upstairs — others were down with us. The workers were standing outside. Someone from the water-tank upstairs was saying, “If you all do not come inside, your month’s salaries, overtimes — none of these will be given to you.” I thought to myself, I rent a house — if I cannot pay the rent for a month, that would be a problem. A friend of mine was with me. His name was Polash. I told Polash, “Let’s go up holding hands. If we die, we will die together.” In this way, both of us went upstairs and started working.

While working, the electricity failed at around a quarter to nine. After the electricity went out, we heard a noise — the noise that comes with earthquakes. People were screaming. We tried to run, but someone had pushed us and we fell in the line. We had no idea who pushed us. When my consciousness returned after a while, all I could see was sand. Everything was dark, we could see nothing. There was no air. I was wearing a t-shirt. I took that off — my hands were free. A beam had fallen on my stomach and a machine had fallen on my feet. I started pushing and shoving — maybe I could save my right leg. But the roof had fallen on top and I could not move the machine. I started screaming, I cried. There was no one around.

The army arrived at 12 in the night. They carried out their rescue works from the top and gradually reached the bottom. Hearing them, we started screaming. There was four of us together. The army gave us water and dry biscuits. But we didn’t want to eat any biscuit — all we wanted was water. They gave us a lot of water. The army managed to take out two of us from the rubble. The other two were confined and they could not rescue us. They tried their best. The other boy and I said, “Sir, if our legs were cut from where they are stuck, we will live.” They replied, “We are forming a medical team.” They kept going away and coming back, and asking us, “Where do you live? Where is your village?” They wrote down our names-addresses. They went away again, and came back again. At 5 in the morning they told us, “Out duty has ended.” Hearing this, we became extremely disheartened. We held each other’s hand and started crying. I said, “Bhai [brother], we won’t be seeing the world again in this life. Even the army has left.”

The next day, at 6 in the morning, 3 normal people came. They had white clothed tied around their heads. They said, “We have come to save you.” We replied, “You cannot save us.” They assured us saying, “Do not be afraid.” We asked them why they were wearing white clothes on their heads. “We have tied kafon clothes to our heads. We will either live or we will die.” There was a tana holding up the roof. The army had told us that we would live as long as that remained; otherwise the roof would fall on us. We told them, “Please do not cut that tana.” They again assured us saying, “If you guys die, we will die too. Have faith in us.” We told them, “Do what you think is best.” They cut the tana, but the roof did not collapse. There was a grill, which they cut with a drill machine. Then they first rescued that boy. The place where I was, was not smooth. They told us they would take us out the stairs. There was no system to take us out. The boy could get out by lying down. I knew my hands were still there — if my legs were there, I had no idea. I told them, “Bhai, I have no strength in my legs.” I was thinking how I would get out. Then, someone held my hand and pulled from the front, someone pushed me from the back. I was rescued.

After that, it was one hospital after another. Four times the hospital was changed, there were four operations. First I was taken to CMH. After spending the whole day of 15 April there, at 3 in the night, they operated on me. They told me there were blood clots and so they made cuts on both my legs. That night, they started taking me to another place by ambulance. I asked them, “Bhai, where are you taking me? You are taking me to another place, I have no guardian with me.” I was told, “We will figure that out.” Someone from the army told me that I was being taken to the Pongu Hospital. But I was taken to Dhaka Medical. I was lain in a big bench in the veranda of Dhaka Medical. No one was there, just me alone. I had nothing on me except a short pant. I kept crying. Many people took my phone number. They talked to my wife. My wife did not know where Dhaka Medical was. She didn’t have any money with her either. We knew that out overtime would be paid on the 25th — we were relying on that. Our landlord’s father was there; he gave her a thousand taka. With that, she came to Dhaka Medical. The police were there too. The police asked me, “What is wrong with you?” I told them, “Sir, I am patient from Rana Plaza. I have no guardian. The army had brought me here and left me. They did not explain anything to me.” The two policemen took me to a ward. They paid for an injection. When my wife came, they explained these things to my wife and left. After the police left, I made acquaintance of people from BGMEA. After that the treatment began. Till the 26th, I had no idea what treatment was, no one came to me. Then, a doctor started my treatment. They operated on the part that the CMH had operated on the 26th. They said that the operation that was done before would not work. I said, “Sir, please anaesthetise me before operating so that I don’t feel anything.” They did not though, they just operated on me. They took me to a room with an A/C. It had a door but no windows. I kept screaming, I told them to numb me before operating. They told it wasn’t possible. They made cuts again where the previous cuts were made. Afterwards, despite trying, they could not stop the bleeding. On the tenth day, my body swelled due to water. I talked to the doctors, my wide talked to the doctors, to the people from BGMEA. My wide said, “If he is kept here like this, he will die. Many people are dying. His body has swollen up, he will die. Please try to arrange for his transfer.” There was a man from BGMEA; he was called Shamim. He said, “Talk to journalists. Otherwise you won’t be given a release.” Later, my wife told the doctors, “The treatment here isn’t going very well.” In reality, infection had set in on my legs. When the infection and the swelling of the legs would not go down, they sent me to Birdem. At that time no one would want to come near me. I could not understand why. In truth, a horrifying stench was coming from the infected area. So that other patients around me had left. Only my wife was there. My wife received many phone calls at that time, but she was afraid to go anywhere else. Where would she go alone? She stayed with me. I said, “If you go, there would be no end to my troubles. There is no need of going out alone.” I kept her beside me saying these things.

Afterwards, the doctors at Birdem discussed and decided to cut off the right leg. But, they ended up cutting the left leg first. This was 29th of May. After I recovered a bit, they sent me to CRP. There, I had my fourth operation. The cut part of my leg had been infected again. On 2nd December, the operation took place. Due to the constant operations, I had become very weak.

After the operation of 2nd December, a wound had developed in the cut part of the leg — it used to ooze pus. I met the doctors, they said a lot of irrelevant things. I asked them, “What kind of treatment are you doing? Is the wound supposed to increase or get better after the operation?” We kept debating in this manner. They said, “Look, we are trying our best to make you better using antibiotics. It’s not like we are not trying at all. But, we can’t even say what has happened to you. We are continuing our treatment.” I said, “How much longer will I keep suffering like this? I can’t move around, pus oozes out on slight pressure.” Later, taking the medicine I realised that pus did not stop flowing. I could not even drink tea. Seeing tea, I would think I was staring at pus. A fear had engulfed my mind.

They had given my wife antibiotics during her delivery. I went to the centre hospital with that prescription. I went to the hospital and asked, “Is there medicine for healing of open wound here?” They say the prescription and said, “Yes, there is an antibiotic for that.” I told them to give me 12 tablets. After those 12 tablets, my wounds healed completely. I took my wife’s medicine on purpose. I remembered the wounds she had were the same as mine. If her wounds were healed, so would mine. But, the troubles did not stop then. Later, the doctors from CRP changed the medicine again. I am better than before now. In the meantime, on 27th December, my second child was born. I named her Jannatul Ferdous. I used to gain courage from looking at her face. I also used to fear that the leg would decompose and I would die. I am not too bad now. I think about the future.

Jewel Sheikh (32)
Phantom Apparels, Fourth Floor, Ironman
Mother: Hasina Begum, Father: Supta Sheikh, Wife: Suraiya Begum
District: Gaibandha

Collection of commentary: Ritu Sattar
Transcription by Rina Amena
Former student leader and member, Garment Sramik Songhoti