Chapter 4: The research

It was one of the most exhausting days, Samantha thought. They had not eaten the whole time. It was hard to take a break and eat because the physical protective gear was difficult to get on and off. Also, all their gear must be so expensive to stock since everything is meant for a onetime use and then thrown away. Samantha had to be mindful of every step she took, like touching her face to scratch it. Eating felt foreign to her. The last meal she had was a dinner the night before, and she hardly had an appetite since she was worried about the unknowns in the day ahead of her. If only she had a good meal, she thought. She was almost fainting due to hunger, and her stomach made constant noises. She could also hear Dr. Falkner’s stomach growling across the table. The living have to eat to live, she thought.

They did not talk much throughout the day except for the commands he had to make for her to jot down the results. The inmates took the bodies in the caskets away after she wrote the names of the dead on the coffins. Around 4:00 pm, they both carefully removed their jumpsuits without touching any part of the body, especially their face. Samantha watched how Dr. Falkner undressed first, and then she did the exact same. It was rather hard to get the jumpsuit off of her because she was soaking wet with sweat. The airtight jumpsuit and N95 mask made her body sweat an embarrassing amount. She recognized how heavy everything was when she was finally free of the extra weight from the gear. They put all the used gear in the red biohazard garbage can. He washed his arms first, as there was only one clean sink in the morgue.

“You should have changed into scrubs,” he said, noting that Samantha was still wearing her street clothes. She did not even have time to change into scrubs before they started. Typical male doctors, she thought. They never tell the critical information to others. She didn’t even know where the scrubs were kept. She felt filthy in her own sweat and angry, which made her even more hot.

“You should take a shower first,” he said, probably noticing her sweat.

She did not hesitate. She went into the studio, locked the door behind her, took off her clothes and put them into the garbage basket in the kitchen. She did not want to even keep her clothes. She went into the shower without checking to see if there was even a towel to dry off with or soap available. She just wanted to get all the germs off. To her surprise, there was a big soap bar, shampoo, and several towels. It took a while to get the hot water, but she just stood there happy to be under the water spray, even if it was cold. She felt violated against her wish to be there. She began to cry while the hot water was hitting her face, and soon the crying led to sobbing. She could not control herself. She thought about all those people who died with the disease, and no one claiming the bodies for proper funerals. How futile life was…people were dying left and right regardless of their age, young and old alike, and she lamented for the futility in life and the miserable condition she was facing with such an unfriendly attending doctor.

Self-pity usually leads to a downhill spiral and lands in depression.

She was angry. She couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to go back to her apartment. She felt trapped. She got out of the shower and couldn’t wait to confront the nasty doctor with all the questions she formulated in the shower. She wrapped herself with a big white towel and began digging through her duffle bag. She had packed lightly for five days; underwear, socks, some thin sweaters and a pair of jeans. She was putting her bra and underwear on when she remembered seeing some scrubs and a large dirty linen hamper in the bathroom. She went back into the bathroom and got the ugly green-colored scrubs. Of course, they were all large size, probably for Dr. Falkner. She wore the scrubs anyway because she did not want to contaminate any more of her own clothes and have to throw them out in the trash. She smelled like a man, thanks to the Irish Spring deodorant soap and cheap men’s dandruff shampoo. Samantha walked out, opening the door with such a force that it made a loud noise. She was ready to confront the doctor.

“I am taking a shower too!” he said, coming in without her permission before she could say anything to him.

She had her bras and underwear all spread out on the bed. She didn’t think that he would come in to take a shower. He didn’t care that she was staring at him, flabbergasted as he went into the bathroom and ran the shower water.

“Open the refrigerator and make some sandwiches! There is a rotisserie chicken and bread!” he shouted. 

What a gut he had to command her to cook for him, Samantha thought.

But she was starving, so she did as he commanded. There was even a microwave oven she used to heat the chicken. She normally did not eat like this. Her parents brought her up like a princess, but there was no time to complain about the food. She found some paper dishes and bottled water. Dr. Falkner came out, dressed in new scrubs, and sat on the only chair at the table. Samantha grabbed her sandwich and sat on the bed, moving her duffle bag to the other side of the bed. They ate the dry sandwiches quietly.

“I have some wine; do you want some?” he asked.

“No, thank you.”

“Hey, I am sorry. I think the whole thing sucks too.” There was silence for a while.

He got up and found a wine bottle from the kitchen drawer. He poured red wine into a paper cup and sipped it.

“Hey, I am a bit worried about you staying here at night,” Dr. Falkner began. “The inmates will be locked in after 5:00 pm. The only people who are free to walk around after that are the prison wardens. I do not like the idea that you are here alone. They might have a key to this room. I don’t know.”

Oh great, Samantha thought.

“The last resident was a guy from a Brooklyn hospital, and he stayed for a week and nothing happened. You must input all the data of the dead into my laptop at night. You can even start writing the manuscript. The problem is there is only one boat going back to Long Island around 5:30 pm, and they don’t wait around for me. One time I missed the boat, and I slept here with the resident. Do you live on Long Island?” Dr. Falkner asked.

“No, I live in the Bronx,” Samantha replied.

“Yeah, that’s the problem. Do you want to go back to Long Island and catch the train to the Bronx?”

“Why do I have to stay here? I don’t understand.”

“Well, it is not a regular ferry that comes to this island. I have to arrange every trip here, and there is no boat that could come back and forth from the Bronx unless they pick up the contractor guys to help out with the digging. And that’s not every day.”

Samantha didn’t respond. She again felt trapped. What could she do?

“Where do those contractor guys stay?” she asked.

“Not sure. I think they go back, but much earlier than when we are done,” he said. “Hey, thanks for helping me, but there is one more thing I need to tell you. I need to do a partial autopsy and get some samples from the lungs, heart and other organs. I need a young subject, male and female, an infant, and a skinny person in their 40s. Today, I did not get any ideal subjects. I am doing research on the different types of people who die from COVID-19. You will be helping me to procure these samples. You can be a co-author of the study if you want. I need this to get a promotion this year.”

“Is that what you care about, a promotion?” Samantha was in shock. She noticed Dr. Falkner kept calling her “hey.” He probably forgot her name—co-author’s name.

“Yeah, a promotion. I have just this year to get promoted. I already burned eight years as an assistant professor but did not get enough papers published to get the promotion. Otherwise I will be kicked out from my academic place, and then who knows where I will end up getting a job. I want the Chief Deputy Coroner job in Long Island and need to publish so I can replace that bitch. I bought a house on Long Island and have an 18-month-old son and a wife to support, and I do not want to move to New York City for a new job. Can you imagine being in New York City now? I would kill me doing the medical examiner’s job.”

“I will stay here tonight. Why don’t you go? You will miss the 5:30 boat.” Samantha said, disgusted at him.

The Long Island Medical Examiner’s job would be easier than the New York City Medical Examiner’s job, and she could understand that he has a responsibility to support his family, but to jeopardize his life and hers to publish an academic article for his promotion? And eventually get a position he wants by pushing out some woman? He was rather selective in picking his sample subjects. Is he targeting an epidemiology study by doing that?

What a stupid idea, she thought. She didn’t want to see his sight even though he had beautiful, mesmerizing blue eyes, while he was eating his sandwich like a pig.

“Just give me your laptop and tell me what to do.” Samantha said irritably.

“Okay. I just want you to know there is no cell tower or Wi-Fi unless you go to the prison where the wardens stay. There is only one area you can go in the prison to get a connection, and I do not recommend you venture out there tonight. They have a cafeteria, but it’s a lousy one. If you have a cell phone, forget about calling. There is a phone here—you have to dial 9 first to call out. The prison wardens have to connect your call to the outside, and they might listen to your conversation, so be careful what you say.”

He packed his belongings quickly and instructed her to input all the data into his laptop computer. He already had many columns of data in his excel sheet, dating back from late February 2020. The numbers of the dead were steadily increasing by the day.

“Do you want me to call anyone for you once I get to Long Island? Your parents, a boyfriend?”

“No, they know where I am,” she lied.

“Well, you still have some same food left over, as you saw. There are some instant cup noodles in that kitchen drawer. I will get something else tomorrow. What do you want to eat?” Samantha could not think fast enough. The whole thing was so surreal and hard to digest, let alone decide what to eat the next day.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Okay, I will get something. Oh yeah, clean up here and make sure the garbage bags are all out there near the garage door tomorrow morning, including the scrubs,” he instructed, and left, closing all the doors tightly from the outside.

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