Posts by Doctor Sophia

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

CHAPTER 3: “I need a guy resident!”

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?”

“Samantha.”

“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

Read the entire debut novel by Dr. Apple
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08DM4V829

Chapter 5: Panic

Samantha could not believe he actually just took off. “Bastard!” she said out loud. She looked around and saw that there were still a few bodies left in the morgue they had not finished with. The morgue was not refrigerated, and the bodies would decompose. Samantha went into the studio and locked the door behind her. She sat and stared at the empty paper dishes Dr. Falkner left on the table. She was not sure how she could fall asleep here, all alone in such a strange place. This was a nightmare! Who could imagine what she was going through?

She moved the kitchen table and the chair against the doorknob to block the entry way from outside. She couldn’t get over how insensitive Dr. Falkner was being, not knowing if the prison wardens had a key to the studio. This must have been his temporary place until he finished his autopsy research project. She figured all the items in here must be his own stuff that he brought in. Samantha untied and flipped over her large scrub pants to see the inscription, LONG ISLAND CORONER. 

Of course, it is his!

She was eating his food, wearing his scrubs, using his towels and soaps. It creeped her out to be borrowing his stuff. This was classic. Medical professionals never tell residents the details they need to hear, even what to bring for survival. Wouldn’t it be helpful to tell residents what to expect, what we need, where it is, and what the accommodations would be?

She thought about the guard who she met earlier that day. He must have been a prison warden. He saw her and asked her where she was going to stay. He could probably find out where she is now. She wondered how many prisoners and wardens were on this island.

Samantha got up quickly and moved the kitchen table and chair away from the door. She had to secure the garage door and the entry door from inside of the morgue better. She went out of the studio and picked up some ropes to tie the garage door. There was a loop in the middle of the garage door, but the rope was not long, unable to attach to the side of the door where a piece of iron was sticking out. She connected a few ropes and tied them together to make one long rope. She secured the rope, securing the garage door to prevent it from being opened from the outside. She then moved the morgue table to the other door she and Dr. Falkner had entered through and pushed it against the doorknob. 

Courtesy of @nadi-lindsay instagram, pexels.com

It did not look too secure. Someone could easily push the door open from the outside. There wasn’t any way to lock it from the inside, so she opened the door again to see if there was a key lock from the outside. There wasn’t one, so she rearranged the morgue table again. Samantha looked around to see what else she could use to help secure the door shut.

There was not much except for the dead bodies, and there was no way she was going to move the bodies.

She could not believe she was actually amongst the dead. In fact, there were more dead bodies than alive ones on the island. She reminded herself that the dead could not hurt her, except what if the virus was seeping out of the bags and being emitted into the air?

She ran into the studio, locked the door, and pushed the chair and table against the door again. She was breathing hard. The green scrub pants were covering her sneakers and dragging along on the floor, so she changed her scrub pants again, and folded up the bottom to fit her leg length.

She sat on the bed and took out her cell phone, only to notice she had no cell coverage or Wi-Fi connection. She wanted to call Ed Liu, her boyfriend. He should arrive to the CDC in Atlanta by now. He was going there to join the folks in the infectious division to travel to Wuhan, China, to investigate the origin of the virus.

Samantha and Ed met in college at Cornell and maintained a relationship, even though they were diverging in their career paths. She went to medical school, and he joined the Army ROTC as they paid for his college tuition, then attended a PhD program in DC to be a scientist in bioweapons.

I will worry him sick tonight, she thought. They contacted each other regularly, especially when she was changing rotations.

Samantha scrolled through the contact list on her cell phone. She thought about using the rotary phone to contact her parents. They were traveling and having the time of their lives on a cruise celebrating their 50th anniversary.

They left a month ago for the Mediterranean, and the entire trip was about two months. Samantha had been anxious about their trip from the beginning, but her parents were adamant that they would be fine. When they left on the cruise in late February, the virus was not defined as a pandemic yet. It was on March 11th, 2020 when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The cell coverage for them was spotty, and her parents usually called her when they landed somewhere while touring. Besides, she could not tell them where she is now as they would worry sick. It would be even harder for them to understand why she was here at Hart Island. They were not happy that she became a doctor, anyway.

Samantha wanted to talk to Dr. Wells, her resident director, to update him about what was going on, but there was no way to contact him as she did not have his direct phone number. This experience here on Hart Island was so upsetting. It was absolutely inappropriate to put any resident here, exposing them to the deadly virus for the sake of a stupid doctor, or whoever it is for a stupid research project. Samantha planned to report this abuse to her residency director the next day and go back to the Bronx by catching the boat with the contractor guys. She was fuming in anger the more she thought about her conditions. She was ready to attack Dr. Falkner and even take his medical license away for abusing the trainee. She would also contact the resident union representative in New York City to report this doctor. 

After contemplating many tactics of revenge against Dr. Falkner, she looked at his laptop and input the data she wrote on the paper that day. She had nothing else to do that night. She looked into other files on the laptop and saw that he had begun the manuscript; explaining the methodology, an introduction regarding the COVID-19 infection, and his findings of how people died with it. She had to admit; it was a very interesting article that he was writing. It was methodical, and well written.

She couldn’t believe how he could write so well with full details but cannot communicate with her the same way.

In a separate file, he had his family photos. She saw what appeared to be his house, his wife and his son. His wife was beautiful, blonde, just like him. Samantha felt like she was intruding into his personal life, but the more she looked at the personal photos, the more interested she became about Dr. Falkner. Her anger subsided, and the desires to get him into trouble were dissolving.

Courtesy Sam Willis, Instagram, pixels.com

She got hungry as the night deepened. A small window next to the kitchen was still dripping with the rain. She found the cup of instant noodles Dr. Falkner told her about and ate it. It was getting cold, so it was nice to eat something hot. Samantha wore her parka hood and wrapped her body inside the bed. She wondered if the sheets and blanket were clean and if Dr. Falkner or the previous resident had slept there, but she was too tired to change the sheets and she didn’t even know if there was a clean sheet for her to use.

She still smelled the Irish men’s soap but could not tell if it was coming from her or from his blanket.

Samantha fell asleep in an infant position with her parka overcoat and blanket warming her head and body. She dreamed about the heavy, dead body falling onto her in the middle of the night. 

It startled her awake, so she got up and sat on the bed. The bedside light next to her was still on, illuminating the studio, so she turned it off. She looked at the window for a while, making sure no one was coming, then she went back to sleep.

To read the entire novel, purchase at Amazon.

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.

Dealing with pain

Blog #6
I wrote this 3 years ago when I had my right femur fracture. This still pertains to how I see the world today.

COVID-19, The questions of what is this all about creeps in.
Why is this happening? How long will this go on? Am I going to become infected? If so, what shall I do with the remainder of the days on this earth? Where do the dead people go? Is there anything beyond this life? Is God there? Why do we have to go through all this? Why is God silent in pain and pandemic? What is the meaning of pain? What is the meaning of life anyway? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why so much suffering and pain in this life? How can a loving God permit so much calamity?

There is a strange story in the Bible about a man named Job. He lived in the land of Uz. He was a man of complete integrity, and blameless. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He was, in fact, the richest person among all the people of the east. Everything he did was honest, and righteousness covered him like a robe. He served as eyes for the blind and feet for the lame. He fed the hungry people, clothed the poor, and looked after orphans and widows. New honors were constantly bestowed upon him. People listened to his advice. They were silent as they waited for him to speak. And after he spoke, they had nothing to add, for his counsel satisfied them. They longed for him to speak, as people long for rain. They drank his words like a refreshing spring rain. When they were discouraged, he smiled at them and they felt accepted. His look of approval was precious to them, and like a chief, he told them what to do and they obeyed. He lived like a king among his people and comforted those who mourned. He also had many family members and friends who supported him and made him feel proud. Job is a “picture perfect” and ideal person who had power, respect, honor, wealth, and he was a person filled with justice. This is a kind of life everyone would desire to live.

Job 1:
One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the accuser Satan came with them. The Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless, a man of complete integrity.” Then Satan said, “You have always poured a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!” God replied, “All right, you may test him. Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” This was the conversation between God and Satan. It is hard to believe such things are recorded in the Bible.
God is fully aware of every attempt by Satan to bring suffering and difficulties upon Job. The first attack was on Job’s possessions, his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, farm hands, shepherds, and servants. The second attack was on Job’s children; his sons and daughters died from a powerful wind collapsing their house.
After all these calamities, Job tore his clothes, shaved his hair and fell to the ground to worship God and said “I came naked from my mother’s womb and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of Lord”. In all this, Job did not sin by blaming God. He acknowledged and loved God for who He is and not what He gives. His emotions of his loss and grief were expressed to God.
The members of the heavenly court came again to present themselves before the Lord and the Satan came also. God said that Job has maintained his integrity even though Satan harmed him without the cause. Satan replied “skin for skin, a man will give up everything he has to save his life. But reach out and take his health and he will surely curse you to your face”. The Lord said then do as you please but spare his life. Then Satan attacked Job a third time, with physical ailments—Job was with terrible boils from head to toe and Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. Job’s wife gave the fourth attack, humiliating Job by saying “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” Job replied “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hands of God and never anything bad?” So, in all this, Job said nothing wrong and had not sinned against God. The final attack was from his three most trusted friends who came to comfort and console Job. Their names were Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. They were from different regions. When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. They sat on the ground with him for 7 days and no one said a word for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. After 7 days, his friends, one by one accused Job with harsh words by saying that he must have sinned enough to deserve such suffering.
Loss of power, possessions and love ones are sad enough, but he was getting further humiliation by younger people mocking and abusing him, adding insult to injury. Job said “But now I am mocked by people younger than I. A lot of good they are to me. And they mock me with vulgar songs! They taunt me! They despise me and won’t come near me, except to spit in my face. For God has cut my bowstring. He has humbled me, so they have thrown off all restraint. They block my road and they do everything they can to destroy me. They know I have no one to help me. My honor has blown away in the wind and my prosperity has vanished like a cloud. And now my life seeps away. Depression haunts my days. At night my bones are filled with pain which gnaws at me relentlessly. I cry to you, O God but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look. You have become cruel to me. You use your power to persecute me. My heart is troubled and restless. Days of suffering torment me.” (Job 31).

This agonizing voice of Job crying out to a silent God is faced by most of us at some point in our lives. The pain and suffering that we are facing at times do not seem “fair.” Why is this happening to me when others are seemingly happy and carrying on with their lives with uneventful mishaps? At times, life is so cruel that not existing seems better. Despising life and desire to die at times are so strong. In Job 10, he said “I am disgusted with my life. Why did you deliver me from my mother’s womb? Why didn’t you let me die at birth?”

This principle of good things should happen to good people and bad things should happen to bad people are a prominent thinking and somehow natural ways of thinking we all have. “Life should be easy” is also a common and natural expectation, but life is never easy. None of these expectations are written in the law of life or in the Bible. We intuitively know that life is indeed difficult, and we face tragedies and turmoil at times but when they actually come, we are often surprised as to why. Initially, friends and family members sympathize with the acute difficulty for the loved one but with a little time, it is not unusual to question perhaps previous sins of the loved one has caused one to have such difficulties and deserve such sufferings. Assumption regarding others to suffer due to their own fault or previous sin is not correct. It is not “eye for an eye” principle that God reacts to one’s sin.

There are four different reasons why we may suffer in life that I can see:
1. One reason why we may suffer is due to the consequences of bad decisions we have made. For example, if one drinks a lot and becomes an alcoholic, there are a number of bad consequences one may have to face, which may include broken relationships, loss of job, financial problems and physical illness such as liver cirrhosis. This is a direct consequence of acts that one causes by choosing and continuing to live with bad decisions. Most often, a person knows that he or she made sequences of bad decisions and hence deserves such suffering. This might be a root to our common philosophy that the wicked shall be punished and live in pain and the righteous shall live upright and prosper. God will give prosperity to those who truly believe in Him and live happily—this is a dangerous way to think.

2. The other reason why we might suffer is to bring healing and restoration. God is trying to teach and instruct specific things in one’s life to “give a lesson,” so to speak. This kind of suffering is not meant to punish us as much as it is meant to correct and restore us to keep us on the right path. This is why we constantly ask questions such as “what must I learn from this experience?” “What was it that I am supposed to gain from this lesson?” or “Is God telling me something?” Although maturity can be established by thinking through this way, it is still somehow tied to sin and that your imperfection is getting refinement.

3. The other reason why we might suffer is to benefit others. I was afflicted with polio on my right leg at a young age. This is what I believe why I constantly suffered throughout my life with my physical disability. Without my own pain, I would not know others who go through lives with pain and physical limitations. I understood this very well when I saw a patient who lost almost half of her face due to head and neck cancer. She was severely disfigured and shocking to see. She lived in fear that people would look at her with disbelief and disgust. She was in pain and shame. When she unwrapped her face and revealed her scar, she was crying after I held her hand. She knew that I had my own sets of physical limitations and I had gone through emotional and mental pain. There was unspoken language of understanding and compassion to each other. We had a special bond at that moment and there was a mutual understanding of enormous burden we each carried in our daily lives. This kind of human understanding needs no words but is felt between people who went through certain amount of pain. This experience taught me though I still suffer with my physical disability, I am somewhat comforted knowing that my pain has some purpose.

4. The final one is that pain has no identifiable reason. This is unexplainable pain and suffering, similar to what Job went through. God negotiated and discussed with Satan in heavenly meetings and God allows certain things to happen to Job. There is nothing a human can explain or even attempt to understand. The Creator of the universe is carrying out His plans. The only thing that I can say is that ultimately God always blesses the one who suffers with this kind of cause.

(Job 38-42) When Job challenged God by asking why God has done all these things to him when he was upright and fearing God, God spoke to him but not directly answering him. God asked Job a series of questions pertaining to earth’s nature which no human can fathom to answer. God asked “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determines its dimensions? What supports its foundations? Who kept the sea inside its boundaries? Have you ever commanded the morning stars to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you explored their depth? Do you know where the gates of death are located? Where does light come from and where does darkness go? Have you visited the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of hail? Where is the path to the source of light? Where is the home of the east wind? Who creates a channel for the torrents of rain? Who laid out the path for the lightening? Who makes the rain fall on barren land, in a desert where no one lives? Who sends rain to satisfy the parched ground and make the tender grass spring up? Who gives birth to the dew? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens? Can you direct the movement of the stars? Can you direct the sequence of the seasons? Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth? Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightening appear and cause it to strike as you direct? Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind? Who is wise enough to count all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven when the parched ground is dry and the soil has hardened into clods? Can you stalk prey for a lioness? Who provides food for the ravens when their young cry out to God and wander about in hunger? Do you know when the wild goats give birth? Have you watched as deer are born in the wild? Do you know how many months they carry their young? Are you aware of the time of their delivery? Who gives the wild donkey its freedom? Who untied its ropes? Will the wild ox consent to being tamed? Will it spend the night in your stall? Can you hitch a wild ox to a plow? Will it plow a field for you? Have you given the horse its strength or clothed its neck with a flowing mane? Did you give it the ability to leap like a locust? Is it your wisdom that makes the hawk soar and spread its wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle rises to the heights to make its nest? Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic but you do not have the answers? Will you discredit my justice and condemn me just to prove you are right? Are you as strong as God? Can you thunder with a voice like his?” After all these questions God asked to Job, he simply responded “I know that you can do anything and no one can stop you. I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.” And then Job repented, taking back everything he said to God.

No one can fathom God’s knowledge and power to explain his creation and common events in nature. How can we possibly understand God’s intention in our pain? God himself is the standard of justice and we cannot put fairness or justice as a higher standard than God. If nature is beyond grasp of understanding, how could we possibly know God’s purpose in pain? One thing we do know is that the principle that suffering is God’s judgment for sin is not always true. In fact, this is a dangerous road to take. Certain people believe that if you are a true “Christian,” then you will prosper and always be a winner. It is equally not true to think that suffering always brings discipline and refinement. Satan was also wrong in that people only believe and worship God when they are prospering and not suffering. Though people are friable and weak at times, the desire to seek out the creator and relying on God in all circumstances, especially in pain, is deep rooted in our heart.
“I know the road that I take with the Lord and when I am thru, I will come out as gold,” said Job. This is the trust, the faith in God which is the only thing required in living. Perhaps God’s view on suffering is that it will cause us to trust God for who he is and not what he does. Amidst undesirable outcome, even the death will be acceptable if we believe that God is under control. This faith is the only thing that can provide any hope.
The blessing may be disguised in death. We cannot fathom how death can be a blessing. The only fact that is true is that there is death after birth. Life here on earth is always numbered and no one escapes from the death. But without death, there is no resurrection. We only know what this life is about and death seems dark, lonely, and unknown. It is like a fetus in the woman’s womb, cozy in the warmth of its own fluid, not breathing but moving around in a tight space. The fetus would never even imagine what it will be like in the outside of the womb. But when the womb broke its contents and the baby comes out into this new world and takes the first breath filling the lungs with air, there is a new life with new experiences. Death may be the same, something to experience outside of this limited world in which we live. The space beyond this life may be even greater than where we are. There will be an end to pain, physical limitations, and confinement to the body and emotions.
This is where I am differing in thoughts. I have hope even in death because the faith I have in Jesus. For all those who are battling with cancer diagnosis, COVID-19 infection, or severe mental pain, do not lose your heart. When you are nauseous, vomiting your gut out and feeling like there is no meaning in life, keep talking to God. God did not have to show up to Job and justify his actions but God did show up and spoke to Job because he cared and loved him. Throughout the Bible, all God talks about is how He showed up and cares for us. And even if God is silent, keep praying. Your God did show up 2000 years ago, broke the history in BC to AD through Christ. He came humbly as a baby through a woman’s body, cleansing the cursed name of “Woman” with His deity, spilled out his blood as a sacrificial lamb for the atonement of our sins, underwent extreme humiliation and mockery from his own creatures, emptying his glory, laid down his life to be forsaken and to save us from the eternal death, rose again victoriously from the death so that we may have hope, sat on the right hand side of Father God and He promised us “He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17).

Why do we suffer? It is for the glory of God. The glory which we cannot fathom today but in time, God will reveal to us. Rejoice in pain and wait patiently. God will show up and lift you up in His glory.