Now in paperback: A female perspective on Covid-19, life, medicine and God

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08P7486XX
The Unseen Doctor

Ms. Apple is a practicing pathologist…she brings a perspective to the effect of the pandemic that unfortunately is seldom seen, and millions would be enriched and informed by her unique vision…The story begins with a woman intern pathologist arriving on Hart Island to an unimaginable scene of mass burials. The web of relationships and events expands to an international scope. This is a medical but personal story, not a political one. I hope everyone can read and share this book, whose proceeds are going to charity.

—Book reviews on Amazon
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08P7486XX

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.

Debut eBook novel: Chapter 1

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
https://a.co/jkRtu2S

Chapter 2: Dr. Falkner

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!”