Posts by Doctor Sophia

One of our hidden doctors. Pathologist, author and seeker of truth in medicine and life.

Thanksgiving. What’s on God’s mind?

November 20, 2020
In the Book of Amos, Chapter 4: 1-13, God speaks through his prophet Amos that He sent several hardships and tragedies to wake up the people of Israel. God is humorous calling the privileged women of Israel, “Listen to me, You Fat Cows living in Samaria.” God was referring to the women who are pampered, sleek and well fed who selfishly oppress the helpless in order to support their lavish lifestyles. The Lord God sent famine, lack of rain, striking farms and vineyards with blight and mildew, locusts devouring figs and olive trees, plagues, killing young men in war, the stench of death filling the air and still the people of Israel did not return their hearts to God who shaped the mountains, stirs up the winds and reveals His thoughts to mankind. He turns the light of dawn into darkness and treads on the height of the earth. The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies is His name!

Almost two days, we had a dense fog in the mornings in Southern California. I couldn’t see just 6 feet away. Just a month ago, we had severe fires close to our mountains with eerie orange sky with soot on the very street I cannot see due to fog. 

Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn from Pexels

As the Thanksgiving Holidays approaches, I am thinking and looking back what a tumultuous year this 2020 has been, thus far.  God allowed the world to experience the pandemic with a novel coronavirus with the death count of 1.34 million as of today and 55.6 million infections. The US leads the way with the death count of 252K and 11.8 million infections. It is still unbelievable that US is the top country to be affected by this unfortunate COVID-19. We are used to leading the technology, medicine, economy, wealth and respect for human rights and democracy but not in the viral infection rate, and I am embarrassed about this.

This year, we had seen the invisible and formidable virus affecting nondiscriminatory way; now we see our immediate families, friends and coworkers getting infected by the virus. We had more fires than any other years in southwestern states. We had more hurricanes in eastern states than any other times and we even ran out of naming the hurricanes and used the final alphabet letter Z, zeta 2020. We had the world’s largest hornet called Asian Giant Hornet, better known as murder hornets in Washington state alarming to infest the country. This is reminding me of the Amos time when God sent sequential calamities. 

Independence Hall, PA, site of the ratification for independence

These incidences are on top of the usual natural calamities such as tornadoes and floods, not to mention our man-made tragedies of racial discrimination outbreaks and violent demonstrations and looting. And to top it off, the election year for presidency manifested how our country is divided and the first time ever in 244-years-old history where our very definition of democracy is questioned by the current president not conceding since the Declaration of Independence was ratified by the US Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

Is God saying anything to us? Is He saying return to me as He said through Amos for the people of Israel? Are we still ignoring God because we did not get the message? Is God allowing all these calamities for us to turn our heads toward Him? It is impossible to know what is in God’s mind.  

With Thanksgiving holidays coming around the corner,  I can reflect and even the very question what is the meaning of all these? What a year 2020 has been thus far! Still, I have this life, the miracles of time that I breath in this very life is not my own to waste. Each day is precious. Tomorrow is not promised nor guaranteed. And I am thankful for just the fact I can breathe.

Who can possibly fathom what’s on God’s mind. I do not know the meaning of all the happenings in 2020. What I do know is I have life today and I will choose to listen to what God has to say to me today with thanksgiving heart.

What do I feel in “Whan-gap” age 60?

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.

Let’s first live and then talk about injustice!

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)

How coronavirus changed the world

The coronavirus pandemic entered quietly into our spaces without any warnings as many other natural disasters. And it forever changed our reality and normalcy. Actually, there were some warnings, but we underestimated its potency and downplayed it by saying “it’s just another flu, thousands of people die with flu every year.” This silent and deadly enemy cannot be seen; we cannot shoot a virus by enlisting military forces to honor our heroes amongst the army, navy and air force. In fact, this formidable enemy crosses all boundaries of countries, red and blue states, all races, religions, genders, ages, education, and economic status, a true definition of An Equal Opportunity. In fact, this coronavirus hijacked our lives without our consent. We are consumed with news regarding the coronavirus attacks locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. No other news was emphasized from March of 2020 till now, almost 3 months straight by this brainless and incompetent packet of DNA and RNA strands which has changed and captured the human enterprise.

As of today, there have been more than 5.1 million infections with the virus and a death toll of more than 335,000 globally. Just within the US, confirmed deaths caused by the coronavirus surpassed 95,000. The negative impact caused by the virus is not just the death rate but the accompanying collateral economic damage with 23 million unemployed Americans as of mid-April which translates to an unemployment rate of 14.7%, and growing every week, approaching the highest level since the Great Depression in 1929, 10 years after the influenza pandemic.
In 1918 during the worst influenza pandemic, the final global death toll ranges from 17 million to 100 million, depending on the way victims are counted. Almost 700,000 people are thought to have died in the U.S., equivalent to more than 2 million people today as a proportion of the population. The predominant population who died were young males, soldiers. 
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic largely, but not entirely, spares the young, and targets the older population, testing how much contemporary U.S. society values the elderly.

This virus changed every aspect of our culture, society, politics, business, economy, and life attitudes. In fact, it permeated through so many levels, we cannot even fathom. 
The culture is changed in fundamental ways, for example, by the way we greet each other; we recoil from handshaking, even elbow bumps to keep the distance of 6 feet away from each other.  The greetings have now altogether become a no-go, not even smiles hidden under the mask.

Politics have changed; no campaign events with a large crowd, travels to every state by candidates, and voting may change entirely to mail. The blaming games for faulting others in delayed response to the pandemic has not changed, however. The Americans also became better at several things; cooking, being more homebodies and accustomed to be more introvert due to limitations going out to restaurants and bars.

Education has changed. Most classes are by website or zooming.  Students without computers will be left out in the dark which creates lack of access and opportunities in learning for the poor. “Tele schooling” is now becoming more of a norm affecting at least 55.1 million students impacted nationwide.

Traveling, entertaining, vacationing, and hotel businesses have been halted by the virus. Instead, on-line ordering from Amazon, Walmart, Costco and groceries has been doing well, some with price gouging to follow the fundamental economic rule, “as consumer demand increases, the price increases.” Delivery truck drivers’ job security has been increased since they are now the lifeline to many.

Our hygiene requirements and habits have been changed; we wash our hands more frequently, something we should learn from obsessive-compulsive patients who have perfected this art. Americans also became hoarders of hand sanitizer, disinfectant, toiletry and tissue products. In lieu of high fashion clothing, more colorful designs of facial masks are selling better. The definition of personal hygiene has shifted. Both men and women’s hair length are increasing, including some of the governors who are showing up every day on the television monitors. The people with sign language also stepped up and are more visible than before.

What about the attitude? American people naturally tend to focus on two desires, safety and freedom. Hyper-individualism shouting, “keep me safe and leave me alone.” But we now know that these two desires are inter-related and even conversely related. One cannot be safe unless you do your part in the four pillars of our strategy—hygiene, distancing, screening, and masks. Who would have thought someone (index patient zero) from Wuhan China can affect the entire global world like today? Can one person change the world? Absolutely. Freedom? Yes, we want that too, but not when it affects other people in such a detrimental way. What we do today is intertwined with how we affect others tomorrow more than we can possibly imagine. 

We lost our innocence in the trust of being together socially. Hugging, handshaking, talking and singing together, touching and holding hands to comfort others, and even breathing the air in an enclosed space has become risky. Every causal contact has become a calculated risk as if it is a sexual encounter. The question of who and where have you been with recently crosses our mind before welcoming someone into our boundaries. The comfort of being in the presence of others has been replaced by the comfort of being alone. All the things extroverts flourish in have become a thing of the past. 

Nobody can predict when is the end and the full consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. History repeats itself and we can learn a great deal of knowledge by studying past experiences. Key points from observing the epidemiology of past influenza pandemics in 1918 may provide insight into the COVID-19; the length of pandemic will likely be 18 to 24 months, as herd immunity gradually develops in the human population. Given the high transmissibility of coronavirus, in order to halt the pandemic, an estimate of 60% to 70% of the population may need to be immune to reach a critical threshold. One thing we can predict with confidence is that it will take time to get back to the normalcy we once used to know. We will soon forget what the pandemic was like—our memory is short-lived and amnesia is guaranteed, but the history will repeat itself again by having another pandemic. The way the pandemic with COVID-19 will end is most likely by our exhausted energy and fading memory in dealing with it before the actual virus pandemic will be over.  

The only sure things in life are death, paying taxes and perpetual mutation in viruses. Currently, the pandemic is far from over. Despite a still rising coronavirus infection rate worldwide, America will open the businesses and resume the usual domestic air travel starting 5/25, the special train to transport migrant workers on 6/1, and 200 general passenger trains across the country. Slowly and surely all the businesses, essentials and non-essentials will open, tip-toing the balance of sacrifices from the health care workers who actually take care of the residual contagious and sick population.  There will be spikes of COVID-19 back into emergency rooms and intensive care units. The government will calculate how many bed capacities are available, rather than how many doctors, nurses, EMT, janitors and other allied health care workers are risking their own lives and their loved ones in their family. Most health care workers did not sign up to be enlisted as military personnel, understanding one’s own life may be endangered by the duties, but they simply want to help others who are sick. They did not sign up to risk their lives every day as if we are going to the battlefield on the frontline. As the pandemic prolongs, the glory and honor of the jobs being heroes, albeit involuntary, will be soon forgotten and diminish. The price of paying one’s own sacrifice needs to be thought through, weighing the benefits and risks, as we now see many early retirements from health care workers. The younger generation will pick up the tune of, “for the whom the bell tolls,” and we may face severe shortages of health care workers in the future. 

At the peak, we are witnessing COVID-19 crisis overwhelm the hospitals, and we are in dire need of physicians and health care allies on the frontline. However, in the midst of all of this, hospitals had to furlough thousands of employees, cutting their pay, requesting volunteer staff, and yet failing to provide adequate PPE while demanding that staff risk their lives. Some nurses and doctors are speaking out on the reality of lacking adequate PPE and over-working their shifts to 15 hours, but some hospital administrators are punishing those that spoke up against the system. Some other hospitals are laying their employee off. Even worse is that these same CEO’s, administrators, and executives were being compensated with million-dollar salaries or more.  It is very perplexing how health care workers could be fired, furloughed, or asked to take pay cuts as they put on PPE to care for critically ill patients at great personal risk.  

Life goes on as death goes on. More recently, news media rarely covers how many deaths occur daily by regions any longer, as if 50 dead are not important as 800 dead. As media coverage dissipates, so will be our reality in COVID-19. The tail end of the mess, perpetual chaotic reality that virus left will be cleaned up by the unsung heroes just like the Vietnam veterans with amputated extremities, still with mental and physical scars.