CHAPTER 1: Hart Island March 31, 2020 It was a drizzly and cold rainy day. Samantha was sent to Hart Island for observation during the forensic pathology rotation in her third year of residency. She was dragging her feet as she was asked to report to Hart Island a day early before her rotation started on April 1. She had never been to Hart Island. She was already regretting her decision to be a pathologist, and in residency training during the pandemic with COVID-19. With her luck, her autopsy rotation in April is when the death rate is expected to have a surge. She had several choices for her autopsy rotation, and she chose the Long Island Hospital associated with the coroner’s office because her friends in residency said it was the least busy morgue and it would be easier than going to any of the other New York City morgues where the death rates were at least 10 times higher. This estimate was during the non-pandemic time. If she had a choice to switch her rotation schedule now, she would jump on it in a heartbeat, but the schedule was done in June of 2019 for the entire year. No one in her class would switch their autopsy rotation with her during the pandemic. Who would have guessed last year that in April 2020 there would be a surge in death rates due to a pandemic in the US? The boat ride was only three miles, crossing under the Pelham Bay Park Bridge and the City Island Bridge, but it felt an eternity. The boat she took had only five other people, and the captain. They all appeared to be physically fit, rough looking men. She felt out of place. The boat was open without any roof to avoid dreadful rain, so she stood the entire time holding on to her parka hood over her head. Her hands were getting so numb with cold even though she had gloves on. It was dreadful to even think to sit on the cold and wet iron seats in the boat. She had no idea who these men were in the boat with her. They were watching her uncomfortably, likely wondering why an attractive young female was going to Potter’s field, a burial site. That was the same question Samantha had in her mind as she rode in a run-down old peeling-green colored boat with rough looking guys who are probably going there to dig burial sites. Why did she have to go there when she signed up to attend the Long Island Hospital coroner’s office? What would she learn about autopsy there? Would she have a decent and safe place to stay? Where would she stay; in a decrepit old prison? Would she be able to meet her attending doctor from Long Island Hospital? Who in their right mind would ask a pathology resident to join them at Hart Island for training? In fact, no one should do autopsies on the dead due to COVID-19. Why a week there? Why did they summon her a day earlier? No one in her residency could help prepare her or answer her questions because no one had ever gone to Hart Island for an autopsy rotation. The assignment was given to her a day before by her hospital in the Bronx, New York, her home hospital. Let’s just hope that it will be just one week, she thought. The fog grew more dense as they approached Hart Island. The men around her became more and more apprehensive as they were approaching the port, but they seemed to know what to do. The ropes were pulled to tie the boat. They were moving rapidly as the captain carefully parked the boat. Samantha felt her chest getting tense as one of the men extended his hairy hand to her so she could jump onto land. She took it. The boat was bobbing as she took a faithful jump at least three feet away to land. She grunted as she safely landed on the grass. Thank God she only had a lightweight duffle bag. A disappointment settled in as no one was around the port to greet her. It appeared to be an empty grass field for miles with eerie sound of wind blowing. Most of the shoreline was black rocky cliffs. No one else was there and no other boats were parked around the island. It was not a tourist destination by any means. She could make out some faint building structures in the midst of the fog. Everything looked dark and gloomy. Sad feelings arose from the entire island, as if all those buried bodies were crying. It was matching the history of Hart Island, 45 acres, a mile-long island which took bodies of people with no known next of kin since 1869. Back in that time, the people with tuberculosis were forced to live there as infection spread in New York City. The tuberculosis cases were rampant and afflicted one in seven Americans. The New York City government bought the island and built a few rehabilitation places for the people who were exiled from the city due to their diseases. This remote island was a perfect place to separate the diseased people for quarantine. No family or friends were allowed to visit. They faced lonely deaths and were buried there without funeral services. In fact, no one knew when they were dead. The diseased bodies from tuberculosis were buried on the northern tip of the island. In 1985, the AIDS epidemic drove the funeral homes to close their doors to those who died of the disease. The island buried the bodies stricken with AIDS, and most likely became the single largest burial ground in the country for people with AIDS. They were buried in the middle section of the island. Now, the island was being used to bury the COVID-19 infected corpses. The cemetery was now controlled by the Department of Corrections. The city began to hire contract workers, who along with the inmates buried the dead as more bodies piled in from the city in refrigerated trucks. The workers dug several large linear holes, 12 feet deep, for the COVID-19 inflicted dead bodies on the southern part of the island. The whole island had been used as a common public burial ground for more than 150 years, containing more than one million unclaimed bodies. Samantha was walking toward the faintly visible building structures without knowing exactly where she was going. Men from the boat were also walking toward the buildings. No one talked. No one asked her where she was going. The wind swept and the cold rain blew in all directions as she tried to catch up with the men. There was no point opening up the umbrella as the cold rain was painfully hitting her face, fogging up her glasses. There appeared nothing to ensure hot meals as she was approaching the crumbling buildings. She regretted not packing at least a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. In front of the building site, a signpost stood with the inscription: POTTER’S FIELD. RESTRICTED AREA. At this point, she could not tell whether she was entering into the prison or a cremation memorial service center. She was merely following men. She did not know the exact purpose of their trip to Hart Island, but surely, it was for a different purpose from hers. They all entered into the white painted door with another sign, RISTRICTED AREA. In front was a desk attended by a uniformed male guard or policeman; Samantha could not decipher. “Can I help you?” asked the guard. “We are from Gabby construction in the Bronx. I am John, he is Brad, that guy over there is Scott and that punk on this side is Ted.” All eyes went to the punk and some chuckled. “Ok. We were expecting you. You can go next door here and get yourself a hazmat suit. Change your clothes and you will be given a locker to put your belongings. Then someone there will tell you where to go.” Then the guard looked at Samantha momentarily hidden by bulky men. “What about you? What are you doing here?” the guard said. “Uhm, I am, I am here to, to meet Dr. Falkner?” Samantha said timidly. All the guys were still there, hanging around to see Samantha as they were curious to see what this girl was all about. “Oh, yeah, I heard about you. He is not here yet. You can sit there and wait for him.” The guard was pointing his finger at the chair at the end of his desk. Samantha moved toward the chair to sit, when Ted, the punk said, “Who is Dr. Fucker? What is she up to? Is she digging the graves with us?” “Hey guys, move and mind your own business,” the guard said, pointing to the next door where they should be going. Reluctantly, the guys started to move and opening the door, looking back at Samantha, obviously not satisfied to know why she was there. The door finally closed, and all the men went somewhere else where Samantha could not follow any longer. The room became uncomfortably quiet. The guard was staring at the computer monitor and avoided eye contact with Samantha. She wanted to ask a million questions but decided to be quiet for a while. A clock on the wall sounded louder as the room became eerily quiet. She looked at the guard hoping to find a friendly gesture or eye contact at least, but to no avail. He was just looking at his computer. “Do you know when Dr. Falkner is coming to meet me here?” she mustered some courage and asked. “He should be here soon. I thought he is coming with you. Next boat is due in about an hour or so.” “Do you know what I am supposed to do here?” “You tell me. Your guess is good as mine.” Samantha was hoping he would divulge more information, but it was hard to get anything out of him. She wanted to know so many things; did he ever meet Dr. Falkner? What is he like? Does he come here often? Did any pathology resident come here last month with Dr. Falkner? Where is she going to stay for a week? Is she able to commute back and forth from her apartment in the Bronx? Are there boats coming and going and if so, how frequently? When is her next meal? Was she supposed to dig burial sites as those construction guys? Are they staying on this island for a while or are they commuting back and forth? She regretted not asking all these inquiries before she came here. The instruction she received a day before just said that she was to report at the Bronx port to catch a boat at 10: 00 am and meet Dr. Falkner, a medical examiner on Hart Island. Room and Board were to be provided for a week. She realized there was no ticket to board the boat. She did not see those construction guys paying for the ticket either. She sat there twiddling her thumbs and regretting not bringing a book or journal article to read. The rain was hitting the window next to her very hard now. She was glad that she was not riding in the boat now. She could not see anything through the window. It should face toward the water and she could not make out anything. It would be the longest hour she would ever experience in waiting.”
— COVID-19: Gripping novel inspired by real events (The Unseen Doctor Book 1) by Sophia K. Apple
Samantha took her cell phone out from her purse and looked at it. It had no cell coverage, and no Wi-Fi. She immediately looked at the guard to ask if there was a Wi-Fi connection, but she refrained. She was not sure why she was refraining to ask the question. She got up from the chair and walked around the office to gather any information she could muster. But there were no signs, posted notes, advertisements of any sort, pictures of anyone, nor even graffiti on the walls. Just old peeling yellowish-white walls. As she was walking around, the guard looked at her briefly but did not say anything.
“How long have you been working here?” Samantha tried to make small talk.
“Are you staying here for a week?” the guard asked her without answering her question.
“Yes, do you know where I am supposed to stay?” she asked firmly.
“Not sure, but probably the prison. That’s the only building with any accommodation and food around here. It’s probably the safest place…unless you want to be with the dead bodies.”
What a pleasant thought—to be with the dead bodies. But come to think of it, the dead cannot hurt her. It is the living who can hurt her. It was also dreadful to think she might have to stay in a prison cell for a week with all the male criminals. She was now imagining the worst; iron bars, being locked inside a cell with only a toilet and a lousy bed with a thin wool brown blanket. All the inmates howling and making sounds to haunt her with their insatiable desires to have long overdue sex with a woman. Indeed, she was doomed. She thought about her parents. If they knew where she was now, they would say, “Forget about the residency and get out of there!” She was the only child from a long journey of infertility problems. They had her when her mother was 42, after many episodes of miscarriages, artificial inseminations, numerous attempts for ova preservations, and even embryo adoption surrogacy. Luckily and finally, Samantha was born on their final try. They were going through the adoption application process when her mother found out she was pregnant with triplets. The other two embryos didn’t make it past the first trimester.
Samantha was deep in her thoughts, contemplating to quit the residency, when the door opened and a tall man walked in, folding a black umbrella. He was drenched with rain, and water was dripping from his long, tan, London Fog raincoat. “It’s horrible out there!” the man said.
“Hello, there, Dr. Falkner,” the guard said.
“Is this the resident from the Bronx?” Dr. Falkner asked, looking at Samantha.
“I am Samantha Parker, the resident.” She extended her right hand to greet Dr. Falkner, still disappointed to be referred to as the resident.
“We don’t shake hands during the pandemic,” he said to her rather coldly. “Did you tell her where she is to reside?” Dr. Falkner asked the guard.
“I don’t know, Doc. You tell me. Is she staying at the prison?” the guard said.
“Well, it is a bit complicated. I thought the resident is a guy. We have a problem now.”
They were talking as if Samantha was not there. She went back to thinking how this whole thing was a big mistake. What could she do to get out of this quickly and get back to her apartment? They were speaking to each other in indistinct voices, and Samantha looked around to the window to avoid their eye contact.
“Well, it is what it is,” Dr. Falkner said, “Follow me, I will show you where you are settling in for a while. Your assignment is to help me in the morgue for a week.”
Samantha quickly put away her cell phone in her purse, picked up her duffle bag and umbrella, and followed Dr. Falkner.
The cold rain was now pouring, adding to her misery. She did not have enough time to cover her head with her hood or open her umbrella. Asphalt quickly dissipated, followed by a gravel road, and then mud as they walked. Samantha had to almost jog to keep up with the tall man as his long legs moved with ease at mere walking speed, his black umbrella bouncing by the wind. As she was walking, she saw a searing and grim scene. At least two large trenches had been dug. Inside were cheap coffins stacked at least three piles deep, and two coffins in length per trench. One trench was completely dug, and the other trench was half completed. A third of the completely dug trench had cheap coffins. Black, wet soil was running down into the trench, covering part of the tops of the coffins. Mud around the perimeter was at least knee high. About ten feet away were several run-down brick buildings, all painted in a faint reddish-orange color without many windows. She followed Dr. Falkner as he entered one of the unmarked buildings.
“This is where you are going to stay for a week. Over here is the morgue where you and I will work during the day, and over there is lodging for you. There is a shower, and a studio with a bed and a small kitchen. You will find some food in the refrigerator there. The building is connected to the prison,” Dr. Falkner said pointing to the places.
“Where are you staying?”
“I am not staying here. I will be commuting from Long Island. I will be coming with bodies in a boat everyday about this time. The problem is, I was staying here when I could not catch the boat back but since you are a girl, I cannot stay here.”
Samantha now understood why she was problematic for him. “What will we be doing in the morgue?”
“We will be doing a partial autopsy. Other than that, we will count, identify and tag the bodies. We will be documenting the names, the origin of the hospital the bodies came from, and cataloging the specifics of the dead, among other things. Your job is to help me. Like any other day, I came with a lot of bodies from New York City today and we have our work cut out for us. Get yourself together, change and come out. You will need to gear up to protect yourself. I will meet you here in five minutes.”
Samantha quickly went into the studio, which was attached to the morgue merely by one door. It looked rather gloomy with just bare essentials; a twin-size bed, a small desk, a rotary phone, not really a kitchen, but a two-coiled electric stove on a kitchen table, and a small refrigerator with a freezer on top. She did not have the time to open it to see what was inside there. She put her belongings on top of the bed. She saw that she had a lock from inside the door, which made her feel somewhat relieved. She quickly left to gear up.
Dr. Falkner was almost done putting on his space jumpsuit gown, attached by a tube sticking out toward the back, and a N95 mask, bonnet, face shield, shoe covers, and double gloves. He looked like a person who was about to walk on the moon.
“Hurry, get on with it now! The bodies are coming in,” he urged, looking at an unprepared Samantha.
She was frantically trying to figure out what to wear first. She had some experience putting on a surgical gown when she was a medical student in her surgery rotation, but not to the extent of what Dr. Falkner was wearing with all the additional personal protective equipment (PPE). She never had an opportunity to wear a space jumpsuit gown with a tube coming out of the back. During her training, she did many of the monkey see and monkey do procedures. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really time to explain things and give proper instructions in medical training. She was quickly observing how Dr. Falkner was geared up and tried to replicate it as quickly as possible.
“Does this morgue place have negative pressure?” Samantha asked hesitantly, and then immediately regretted asking the question since the building looked so old, and rather obvious it did not have a negative pressure facility.
“No, can’t you see it was built in the 1920s, maybe in the 1890s, who knows?” he shouted out to her, rather irritated at the question.
Luckily, the extent of anger from Dr. Falkner was somewhat muffled and barely audible due to the mask and face shield. In fact, his body language such as eye signals, creases of the eyebrows and smiles were not possible to see through the protective gear. Samantha was already sweating, and her glasses fogged up every time she took a breath.
She was barely putting on her gloves when suddenly a garage-like door opened from the opposite side of the morgue with a loud creaking sound, jolting her. She had no idea that there was another door to the morgue. Two men in black hazmat suits and facial masks came in with a dead body on a gurney. The body was wrapped in a white plastic bag tied with ropes around the neck, mid-body and the feet in order to carry it.
“Put it on the table here! And put the rest of them in the drawers as usual,” Dr. Falkner ordered them.
He was pointing to a typical morgue table made of stainless steel with a running water faucet at one end. Adjacent to the table were the usual tools for autopsy; several scalpels, a ruler, different types of scissors, formalin glass, plastic jar containers, forceps, a large stainless-steel bucket to weigh the organs, a scale, and an electric saw to open the skull. She also noted several aseptically prepared plastic bags containing long automatic, spring-loaded needles. They consisted of an inner needle connected to a trough, or shallow receptacle, covered by a sheath and attached to a spring-loaded mechanism normally used by interventional radiologists.
The two men grunted as they put the body on the morgue table. The body appeared heavy not just due to dead weight, but obesity. The plastic bag was stretched fully, barely covering the body with the zipper almost torn away. Dr. Falkner waited and looked to make sure Samantha was fully covered and protected with her gear.
“Are you ready?” he asked, “Open it!”
Samantha hesitated. She looked at Dr. Falkner to see if he was joking. He was not. She knew part of the job in her pathology residency training was to perform the autopsy. But this was not just an autopsy—it was a COVID-19 case. In fact, all of the bodies the men were bringing in and stacking up were all COVID-19 cases. Soon the room would be full of COVID-19 dead bodies. She couldn’t imagine that she would be opening all the bodies from the plastic bags and doing the things Dr. Falkner expected her to do. What did he say? Counting, identifying, tagging, documenting the names and the origin of the hospital and cataloging the specifics of the dead? Samantha was gifted in remembering and memorizing things, but she was not sure whether those were the only things Dr. Falkner said.
As she was trying to untie the ropes around the head of the dead body, the two men came back again with another body on a gurney behind Dr. Falkner. They were doing their own work without paying too much attention to the two doctors all suited up as if they were used to their routine jobs. They did not look like the construction workers Samantha traveled with on the boat, although it was very difficult to tell who was who, with masks covering most of their faces. The ropes and the plastic bag were soaking wet from the rain and it was difficult for her to untie the rope.
As she finally pulled the rope around the neck toward her, the head moved in her direction. She wanted to scream.
She had heard the horror stories from her friends who had done autopsy rotations before her, so she was somewhat prepared to face this. However, when she actually touched the dead body through the plastic bag, she was very tense, scared to death and horrified.
Dr. Falkner looked at Samantha and was disgusted. He took over and untied the ropes himself. Then he unzipped the plastic bag. The head of the dead was revealed. It was a morbidly obese Caucasian male. Big fat face, gray, thin unwashed curly hair all tangled up, eyes closed, mouth biting the cut-out ventilator tube and the thick, hardly recognizable neck due to fatty tissue all around.
As Dr. Falkner unzipped the bag all the way to the toes, Samantha recognized there were pink fluids under the shoulder and the side of the body where she was standing. The body was clothed in a hospital gown with spotty wet areas. She could not tell whether it was water from the rain or body fluid. A cut urinary catheter was attached to his penis. The right toe had a toe tag with his name, birth date and a medical record number.
“Now I want you to take the plastic bag out, but very carefully. Make sure the fluid does not get on you,” Dr. Falkner said to her. “On my count of three, you’ll need to pull the bag away. Got it?”
As soon as he said that, he was already moving the dead body toward him by grabbing the arm of the dead from Samantha’s side with the intravenous (IV) needle still stuck in the arm with blue tape, rotating and lifting the body as if he was hugging the body. Rigor mortis had already set in the body, and it was turning toward Dr. Falkner as he moved it. Samantha grabbed hold of the plastic bag and pulled it toward her, hoping not to spill the pink fluid collection on her jumpsuit.
Dr. Falkner grunted, “Now pull…pull!” but Samantha could not get a firm grip on the other side of the plastic zipper to pull the bag out.
“Oh, shit! I need a guy resident!” he was frustrated, putting the body back into the supine position. He stood there for a minute, then asked one of the men who was transporting the bodies to help. Samantha moved to one side, letting the other guy to come over and take her place.
“I am not going to do that Doc!” the man responded. “You guys are all geared up, and I’m just wearing this piece of shit—what do you call this? Hazmat suit? No way, José! You think an inmate like me has no value? I am not dying with the virus!”
Samantha was shocked to hear that those men were inmates. She knew Hart Island had a correctional facility, a prison, but she didn’t make the obvious connection that it was the inmates who were working to move the bodies and digging the mass graves on this island.
“All right, all right!” Dr. Falkner said. “Get back here! We are going to do this slowly. What was your name?”
“Yeah, Samantha, Sam. I am going to call you Sam. You are going to pull the bag out on my count of three. Ready?”
Samantha got closer to the body and this time she was grabbing the bag on two sides, one from the head and the other from the mid-body.
“Okay. One, two, three!”
She pulled the bag out, and the pink fluid spilled all over her arms and on Dr. Falkner’s abdomen and pelvic area.
“Shit!” he said letting the fluid drip all the way down to his foot. “Fucking fat people!” he added. The plastic bag was pulled only partially; a job halfway done.
“One more time, Sam. Ready? One, two, three!” Samantha managed to successfully pull the plastic bag all the way to the groin area, of course spilling some more of the pink fluid on the floor.
“Okay, good, the rest is easy,” he said, while he was putting the body back on the table. He walked around toward the feet of the body and pulled off the plastic bag.
“Don’t worry, the serosanguinous fluid won’t penetrate through your jumpsuit. It is air and liquid tight.”
Oh no, it is serosanguinous fluid, Samantha thought. It was most likely contagious then, as it would be filled with the COVID-19 virus. In fact, it could be in highly concentrated form.
“Wait a minute, Dr. Falkner. I am not ready to do this,” Samantha said.
There was a moment of silence after that. He looked at her intensely through his face shield and waited for her to say something more.
“I am not ready to do this. I know I am supposed to go to a morgue for autopsy rotation for a month but this is not what I expected,” Samantha said mustering up her courage. She was in fact very upset with the current situation. She did not sign up to be a physician, a pathologist when she had to put her life in danger by taking the risk of getting infected with COVID-19.
“You think I like this?” Dr. Falkner responded angrily. “Who the hell do you think you are? We are in this shit now, and even I have no choice. We have to bury these bodies as fast as we can before they become more infectious. God knows what would happen if the bodies get blown up with intestinal bacteria and aerosolize all over the world.” He paused for a few seconds, then continued, “You are doing a service to this world, and to New York City. Now, get back to work!” He was shouting by this point, and even startled some inmates.
Samantha wasn’t sure what she did afterward. They were very quietly doing the work. She cut open the hospital gown using scissors, and inscribed the weight, characteristics of the dead body, name, age, gender, and race onto a piece of paper Dr. Falkner provided. It was difficult to find the name of the hospital where the body came from. There was no time to pull the IV line from the dead man’s arm or intubation tube out of his mouth as they struggled to place the body into a coffin. The inmates had brought in a cheap, light colored wood coffin. One of the jobs for Samantha was to write the name of the dead in large letters using a magic marker on all sides and the top of the coffin.
“There are 22 more coming, Doc!” one of the inmates called out.
To read the entire eBook, click here to visit Amazon, or purchase the book on numerous sites such as Barnes and Noble, Bookbaby.com, Walmart, or other retailers and search by author: Sophia Apple
Blog #9: July 14, 2020
I just turned 60—a big milestone. Some have asked what are my thoughts and feelings to be 60 years old. The actual birthday was just like another day. Perhaps because it was in the middle of the pandemic time with coronavirus. The original plan was to celebrate this big milestone birthday with friends and family, perhaps in a nice restaurant, but instead I found myself with my lovely husband in a quiet home. The best thing was I had an opportunity to look back in my life. I noticed that I do not have things to brood over the past, which is a blessing. I had a few regrets but too few to mention—as Sinatra’s song goes.
I can point out a few things I was able to achieve but all the blessings and glory should go to God who gave me so many talents and opportunities despite the fact I had a disability. To achieve all those titles, recognitions and to gain the definition of self-worth, I lived under a cloud; frustrated, discouraged, angry and many sleepless nights.
My life’s theme was asking myself “Can I do this?” For one, to study medicine without a fluent knowledge in English language in this country was very difficult. On top of that, no medical school was ready to accept a person with disability in mobility issue. Often, I was asked an interview question such as, “How are you going to run to ER when a patient comes with a heart attack?” So many challenges were ahead of me to climb over the mountains of intrinsic bias: minority, disability, inability to speak or write English as a native person, family with no background in medicine, lower SAT and MCAT scores due to lack of comprehension in English, and a female gender in medicine. Oh, did I mention, lack of finance also? If I mentioned any of these challenges I had faced, rather than recognizing the courage I had to overcome, people said that I had a chip in my shoulder. Most of my youth, I challenged myself to become someone I only dreamed of, following my own pursuit of self-worth and happiness.
This world and even the American dreams teach people to pursue happiness, wealth, power, position which leads to recognition, fame and honor. But what follows immediately after any human becomes popular or famous is the road to destruction, temptation, haughtiness and pride. Those who love money and power will never have enough. The poor and have-nots get oppressed and exploited under the powerful and there is no justice throughout the land. Rich and powerful are slow to recognize the fact that the ultimate equalizer called death is at the end. We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us in death. I had my own shares of experiences in having a short end of the stick, living in America where the Anglo-Saxon, rich and powerful have their own stereotypical notion of what this country should look like and where I would fit.
In youth, a harsh treatment of oneself trying to achieve self-worth by recognitions from others is like chasing the wind. To let go of this foolishness is the first thing we all should relieve chains of bondage from. Success in youth is recognition of this reality. I was able to gain this wisdom in my late 50s. It is also good to be not lazy, work hard and gain wisdom. The beginning of the wisdom is to know God, who has given us a spiritual thirst only God can fill; that void in our hearts. I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God.
Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a good life. The glory of the young is their strength, the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old. I look at the sunset and noticed that the time during sundown is the most beautiful part of the day. Its magnificent colors and orange-red sun quickly dissipating displays the rapidness of the time in life. This is my favorite time of the whole day.
In my 60s, I noticed that I came to a point of the most beautiful time of my life, just like the sunset. The only thing I can boast is that I lived my life thus far with my creator God. Only the Lord can give an understanding of life. You can throw the dice but it is the Lord who lands it. You can make many plans but the Lord’s purpose will prevail. I am ready to die any day now. I am looking forward to hear Jesus saying, “My good servant, you did well in life, and welcome home.” I just hope that I don’t live through a long night with this discomforting leg before I go to the heaven.
Blog #8: June 7, 2020
Year of the Rat, 2020! It is indeed an amazing and extraordinarily difficult year thus far. The traumatic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with a death toll of 118,000 as of today (but who is counting anymore?), unemployment rate hitting 20% (a record high surpassing the great depression in 1932), and now the national riots.
Recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery in our country have laid bare the realities of institutional racism. America is built on the principle of all people are equal, and deserve to be treated fairly and respectfully. The commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion in order to positively impact human rights and to reduce disparities are shared by most of us. We must reject injustice, violence and racism and strive to heal the division. It is powerful to see the protestors in all US major cities, calling out for justice and chanting, “Black lives matter!” And I would join the voice, “Hear, hear!”
I saw the image of a pool party in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks over Memorial Day weekend and cringed in disgust with people not respecting social distancing and potency of the coronavirus. Now, news has reported that some who attended the pool party have the coronavirus despite having temperature checked before getting admitted to the party.
Similar images of crowds are seen in all major cities in the US day after day, but now, the images are protesters marching, not the pleasure seekers, with or without facial masks, disrespecting social distancing. But are we not in the midst of a pandemic? Gathering without social distancing and not wearing facial masks are a real concern. It will have a negative impact on our fight against COVID-19. Resurgence due to mass gatherings of protestors are guaranteed to bring a second peak of COVID-19, and it will probably have even a worst peak with a death toll of another 118,000 people dead, all too soon. All the good works we have done for the last two months by lockdowns caused a huge unemployment and economic depression, and these sacrifices will have no fruit in return. This requires health care workers to sacrifice even more. We have not complained much thus far because of our commitment to take care of the sick.
Both scenarios have people gathering without social distancing, but this time I see myself cringe for a different reason. I see the protestors take their chances and risking their own lives to come out to speak, for them it is a life and death situation. It’s either coronavirus or police brutality to lose one’s own life. And when I see the people coming together regardless of their own colors of skin, it is very powerful and moving.
Then, I think about the what ifs. What if I was down on the street with my neck pushed down by a Caucasian policeman for almost 9 minutes when I am pleading for my dear life to breathe? What if I died instead of George Floyd? Will the nation become outraged for me? Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” The situation becomes another story. I would like the people to come out and say something to the world protesting, in spite of the pandemic. It makes the whole thing more personal. The voice of collective people saying, “This is not right, enough is enough” is comforting.
But then there are the opportunists. The looting; why do these come together? It is absolutely wrong, no matter how one explains it.
What about the negative impact on the protestors? Killing and injuring both sides; lives of police, firefighters, and the protestors. Both are unwelcomed downstream effects. Is the anger the appropriate emotion to use at this time?
Emotions put aside, can we come together first in fighting a pandemic? Many people do not realize the actual effect of the virus, a silent and deadly killer of COVID-19, because they do not see the killer first hand. Some believe that the media and the government made it up. But I saw the impact on our morgue with piled-up bodies in a hospital. The media cannot come and show what I have seen because they cannot come inside to reveal what’s really happening in the hospitals with COVID-19.
The question really boils down to, “Is the first amendment more important than a pandemic now?” My personal answer is both are equally important. But there should be a sequence. First, pandemic and then, the first amendment. Let’s first live and then talk about injustice!
Let’s not give the virus the upper hand to control the fate of our humanity. Let’s try to have the rest of 2020 without losing additional hundreds of thousands of lives by the virus.
The injustice I see in this country is as familiar as a dear friend, and this does not occur only in racism, but also in gender discrimination. Crying out for justice among all races has a powerful effect, but when it comes to gender issues, more than half of the population suddenly becomes shy and quiet. As a female physician in this country, this deeply rooted gender discrimination is very evident. Yet, everyone hesitates to stand up and fight for they will soon belittle the women who spoke up for the equality in pay and opportunity, for instance. The unwelcome inequality and ignorant complacency seem to be with us, some consciously and some unconsciously.
But whatever our differences are, can we first fight against a pandemic together? Anger leading to violence and looting is dangerous and deadly at this time. Even COVID-19 is showing injustice in racism, killing African Americans and Latinos disproportionately more than other races. There are understandably predominant populations of African Americans protesting. Spreading the virus during the protesting will have a negative impact on the African Americans who are already dying disproportionately. Then, these people visit their elderly parents, unintentionally killing their own.
God hates these things; violent people, haughtiness, lying, murdering, scheming, eagerness to do wrong, a false witness, stirring up discord, and proud people. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
Where is God in all these? I think God is crying now. God is saying, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4)