How did I change?

How did I change?
April 13, 2020 Blog #4 : US National Parks

In this “Lock Down” state during the COVID-19 in California, I find myself enjoying the time to reflect, quieting the mind, prioritizing and recognizing what is really important in my life, and “truly living in the moment”. To top it off in my selfish and delectable enjoyment, it comes with a guilt-free package and no obligations to please others by socializing and being hospitable. It is a safe-haven for an introvert like myself. Recent news tells me that a lot of folks are experiencing “cabin fever” but I am secretly experiencing such a pleasure staying home, and found myself so busy that I had to regulate my schedule into some routines to discipline my time to include exercises, piano practice, cooking new recipes and watching Netflix for entertainment.  During quieting of the mind, my thoughts are in traffic jams and I have to discipline myself to tell one story at a time in this blog. And today, I decided to share about our two US National Parks trips which are one of my “bucket list” activities. 

The first US National Parks trip took place on 9/30-11/7/2016, a total of 39 days through the northern routes of America. We drove 7,223 miles from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., slept in 23 different hotels with no reservations and saw 11 National Parks, a few state parks, waterfalls and national monuments. I saw how beautiful and blessed this country was. Large cities with bright lights, proud tall buildings with bustling people busy minding their own business, practicing their constitutional rights in the pursuit of happiness, to the endless grasslands with perfectly arranged piles of hay without a single person in sight for miles. Small farm houses with red roof barns, cattle roaming around peacefully in the green grass fields punctuated by scattered scenic lakes, ponds and rivers adding to the richness in beauty. Philadelphia and Washington D.C. showed our proud constitution based on the faith of God who we trust with the founding fathers who formulated our government based on human rights, values and equality. We had an extra bonus in seeing colorful foliage during the fall season. This northern route was mostly middle class income houses with Trump supporters displaying their signs in the front yards and it was easy to predict who might be the next president.

The southern route of the National Parks trip was on  1/4 to 2/19/2020, a total of 45 days. We drove 7,477 miles from Los Angeles to Florida, saw 11 National Parks and stayed at 23 different hotels and vacation rentals. I was saying to Hal, “we will be changed people when we are done with the trip.” Unlike the northern route, in the South (especially parts of Texas, LA, MS, AL and parts of Florida), we saw cruelty in poverty amidst muddy brown water swamps, houses with partially blown roofs due to repetitive hurricanes, holes in the walls, miserable hot humid air even during the winter months which made me imagine the unthinkable misery in the summer time with annoying mosquitos in the crowded, and barely covered shacks. The notable things throughout the South are the crawfish Cajun style eatery billboards, but we were not traveling in April, which is the season for eating crawfish. On this trip, I was struck by how divided our country really is socioeconomically; the poor are so poor and the rich are so rich. The costal parts of Pompano Beach and West Palm Beach in Florida displayed incomprehensible and spectacularly expensive estates lived in by a few Caucasian people with their unobstructed view of the Atlantic Ocean. In my opinion, it is not the education, race, gender, different nationality, or languages that divides the American people but the socioeconomics; most of the blacks are in poor, crowded neighborhoods with one McDonald’s, and an old, decrepit, half empty sugar cane factory for the entire community to work in, and without many schools or resources to even dream what to dream to for reprieve from the poverty. The natural disasters always have much more profound devastation on the poor. The residues of hurricanes still remain: Ripped-off roofs, flooded cities, businesses and houses boarded up and never to open again. Just like the current COVID-19 pandemic, the African-Americans die more frequently and it is no surprise why that might be. Crowded spaces, poverty, lack of hospitals to go to, lack of opportunities for work that provide health insurance, and perhaps cultural differences in seeking medical help until too late. To match this realization, the 2020 Oscar winning movie from Korea “Parasites” confirmed my perspectives on the division of the classes by the economic status. The rich are oblivious to the basic human needs of the poor and naïve toward the calamity that is about to come from the poor that will ultimately affect their lives. The poor people live in the same country of “equality” and yet never taste what that really means. My heart aches for the poor but my body demands luxury.

White Sands National Park, NM
Big Bend National Park, TX
Big Bend National Park, TX
South Texas Cafe
South Florida

Having seen most of America including Hawaii, and Alaska, I am blessed to say that still, America is a beautiful country.  If I had to choose where is the most beautiful National Park, I have to say Yosemite in California and Big Bend in Texas.  The most beautiful and scenic state to drive thru is Alaska.

Yosemite National Park, CA

How did I change? For one, I am grateful that our parents who came to this country giving up their comforts and familiarity and became proud to be a citizen in this beautiful country. Secondly, I am grateful to Hal, my husband who is not only my companion, friend and lover but supports and prepares every step of the way to ease the discomfort of my physical disability, being my own legs to explore beyond the door of the house. Thirdly, I am grateful for the faith I have in Christ to have the courage beyond my imagination to explore the whole country with my polio stricken leg. Despite my physical disability, God took me and lets me see His creation in Nature and His people throughout the U.S. and I dare to travel trusting God is good all along the way. Fourth, through seeing the whole country, it gave me the perspective on who I am and what is important in life. My identity is not just defined by the work I do. Life is much more than that. Having a balanced life, knowing the purposes and meanings found in God, having the end in mind but fully present and mindful of the breaths I take today and not consumed with worries of tomorrow is good. The time passes ruthlessly never asking my permission. This moment too passes, and never returns. No one knows when I will die. The COVID-19 reaffirms the fragile nature of the life. Indeed, it is a time to reflect, know what’s really important, lay down the pride and humble myself to God. We came into this world alone and naked and we die alone. Tomorrow is never promised. And therefore, rejoice in God, praise and pray to Him one more time today while I still have breaths. In Matthew 6:19, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where the thieves break in and steal.” In Luke 12:39, Jesus also said, “Be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken with.”

“Go back to your home!”

Yesterday I watched a painful scene of an Asian woman getting slandered with unwelcome and unkind words by a a few white Americans on TV. The words spoken are “It’s your fault that we are getting sick! Go back to your home!” These young male Americans were not only vomiting toxic words but eye were also throwing garbage or stones at the woman. She started to run away from them and they gave chase. The news clip stopped and we do not know whatever happened after that.

I remember our mayor in LA, Gil Garcetti, meeting not to discriminate against Asians or to destroy businesses owned by Asian people. Twice in his daily debriefings spoke on this at the 5:00 televised briefings which began soon after the COVID-19 outbreak in our nation. I appreciate Mr. Garcetti for his effort to communicate the updates on the COVID-19 each day and I was especially struck by his comments about the racial slander against Asians that are happening ay this already difficult time. As our nation faces overwhelming amounts of people with COVID-19 infections and the death toll increases everyday, t is easy to get numbed by the news. As of today, 946,234 COVID-19 confirmed cases and more than 47,858 people have died worldwide. And in the U.S., we have 214,461 confirmed cases  with 4,841 deaths. As of yesterday, our nation is facing whether recommend wearing of facial masks for everyone.The entire news, very hour and days filled with the COVID-19 stories. I this environment it is natural for the people to fear, especially when people cannot trust our leaders in government, medical experts, and even the entire infrastructure and social systems.  We place some level of trust in the medical experts who should know how to advise people—whether we should wear masks or not. One day they say “no,” and another day, “yes”. Whatever the reason may be, the trust should not change. The medical experts should have come out and recommended that the entire population should wear masks. But we do not have enough medical supplies and therefore we should give the PPE to medical personnel and others who are on the front lines facing sick patients. It appears all leaders are changing their stories and recommendations “flying by the seat of their pants” depending on the circumstances. If we had known what’s coming tomorrow, we would have done a few things differently to prevent this infection, and leaders would have prepared better to protect the nation, but we are all humans and now, it is what it is. In the meantime, fear among the general population increased, manifested by stockpiling food and toilet paper and attacking Asian-Americans who most likely lived in America for a long time, like fellow Americans who live in this beautiful country and yet they are getting singled out for an outpouring of anger from other races. It is frustrating to have this COVID-19 crisis which originated in Wuhan, China. It must have been started by an individual person recklessly tasting an exotic food for his/her curiosity and pleasure which is now resulting in the loss of so many lives. It is easy to blame others because it is one of our coping mechanisms, but it is a cowardly way to deal with the current circumstances. As an immigrant Korean-American person, and a physician who takes some risk going to work during this crisis, I cannot help toffee sympathetic to other Asian-Americans who face racial discrimination during this painful time. Misery usually compounds, yet this touches me personally. The unfairness compounds since I am not Chinese, but because an “Asian face is an Asian face,” all Asian nationals are a target for the blame by ignorant people in America. 

Recently Americans were told our death and infection rate may peak in two weeks, which means even the current situation is not the worst. The worst is yet to come. Loss of jobs, lack of money to pay the bills, hunger, sickness, fear and loss of mind and lack of judgment will increase to the degree we have not seen in America. The blaming game which is the original sin form Adam and Eve times will spike to the level when Adam said “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” Eve said, “The serpent deceived me. That’s why I ate it.” Neither of them claimed responsibility but fingered someone else or something else for their actions. This blaming game fractures relationships in the marriage, families and nations. At a different time in the history of the US, different types and races of people get the blames. Now, the COVID-19 era unfolds and blame targets the Asian race, similar to the World War II era when Japan invaded Pearl Harbor. All Asians suffered in America. Rather than blaming others for our calamities, it is time to turn our focus toward our creator God who is allowing such a time as this in our nation. In Psalm 110: 5-6,  the text states “He will strike down many kings when His anger erupts. He will punish the nations and fill their lands with corpses. He will shatter heads over the whole earth.”

Maybe God is doing something globally and we need to figure out what that is. In the meantime, we need to fill the needs of the people, stepping up to help out our neighbors and not be among the numbers who spread this deadly disease to others. It is my hope to cease the easy route of blaming, and come together in prayers to pass this unprecedented time together as stronger Americans. Discrimination is a cop-out, a cowardly act, and it gains nothing. In Psalm 110, it reveals who is the Messiah and says, “He will be victorious”. Later in Matthew 22:41-46: “Then, surrounded by the Pharisees Jesus asked them a question. ‘What do you think about the Messiah” Whose son is he?’ ”  They replied, “He is the son of David.” Jesus responded, “then why does David, speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit call the Messiah, My Lord? For David said, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit in the place of honor at might hand until I humble your enemies beneath your feet”. Since David called the Messiah my Lord, how can the Messiah be his son?” No one could answer him. And after that, no one dared to ask him more questions.”

This Jesus is our Lord who sits at the right hand of our Father God, and won the victory over evil.

Education on COVID-19

March 28, 2020

As I read more about Coronavirus, I wanted my family and friends to know about a few things and to call out to God in prayer. 

The definition of pandemic means a disease is prevalent over a whole country or the world. The definition of epidemic is a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time. The coronavirus started as an epidemic in Wuhan China and became a pandemic. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause common colds in people but they also infect other animals and different species. Throughout history, we know that viruses mutate constantly and at times they can become highly infectious and virulent. Corona means the upper portion or crown of a part, as of the head as appears in the electron microscope. This is an example diagram of Coronavirus from Google.

The Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome COronaVirus 2 (SAR-COV-2) and the disease it causes, Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is known to have initiated from Wuhan China in December, 2019. The most common symptoms are reported as fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. The test is by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) from a nasopharyngeal swab. The New York Times Coronavirus dashboard as of today reported more than 606,200 people are infected and at least 28,050 people have died. The US Coronavirus cases and the number of deaths are continually rising. On 3/1/2020, New York Times headline reported “How prepared is the US for a Coronavirus outbreak?” and now merely within a month, we know we were not prepared. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) records, flu season in the US which runs from October through May claims 29,000 to 59,000 lives, with most common cause of death from complications such as pneumonia, heart attacks and strokes. Last year, an estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu which was the highest death toll in at least four decades. The death rate from influenza (flu) is generally a fraction of 1% (0.1% to be exact) but the Coronavirus induced death rate is over 1%, (reaching 4.7% today worldwide),  so it is at least 10 times more than seasonal flu.

In 1918, a flu pandemic caused by an H1N1 virus which lasted nearly 2 years killed more than 50 million and infected 500 million (1/3 of the world’s population). It is reported that H1N1 virus originated from genes of avian (bird) origin. In that era, there were no vaccines, antibiotics and medical facilities with ventilators like today and the only way to combat the pandemic was by isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants and limitations of public gatherings; non-pharmaceutical intervention.

In 1957-58, a new influenza (H2N2) virus emerged in East Asia spreading a pandemic (Asian Flu). This virus was first reported in Singapore in February of 1957, Hong Kong in April of 1957, and in coastal cities in the US in summer of 1957, according to the CDC records. The estimated death numbered 1.1 million, with 116,000 of those in the US. This virus originated from Avian Influenza A.

In 1968, Pandemic H3N2 virus comprised a new mutated Avian influenza A. And again in 2009 a novel (new) influenza A (H1N1) virus (H1N1)pdm09 virus, otherwise known as swine flu arose, implicating its origin from swine, occurred in the spring.

The current COVID-19 is thought to have arisen from smuggled pangolins used for both food and medicine. Another possibility is bats, because these two animals have similar genetic codes as in coronavirus. Exactly how the virus jumped from a wild animal to other animals or humans remains a mystery.

According the recent publication in JAMA, the mechanisms leading to death by coronavirus is by filling the lungs with fluid as seen in congestive heart failure symptoms. Human lung is like a tree branching with the end of the tree twigs having grapes with empty sacs. These sacs have a thin membrane which transports oxygen molecule, which is absorbed into the blood flow to provide life to all cells within the body. With COVID-19 infections leading to death, all these grape-like sacs are filled with fluid which leads to inability for oxygen transport. By imaging, the radiologists describe the condition as the “ground glass opacity”. The ventilator is the only way to deliver some oxygen by pushing positive pressure into the lungs. The strong pressure can cause these sacs to “pop” (causing atelectasis) which will damage to the lung permanently. More chronic consequence is the fibrosis/thickening of sac membrane. COVID 19 infection causes this kind of dire situation very fast (within 1-3 days). As in all flus, the most devastating effects are seen in elderly, diabetes, immune deficient populations and other pre-existing medical conditions. 

Knowing these facts, and the history of pandemics, what can we deduce from then and what do we do now? We wait for the specific vaccine against COVID-19. Until then, we go back to what we do know in how to combat the virus; non-pharmaceutical intervention. As we are changing the life style of norms, it is perhaps easy to blame others-governments, organizations such as CDC, WHO, the people of Wuhan China, the President, by saying “only if… “ Strangely, we are so connected by a few people in Wuhan China; their business of what they eat and do are no longer just their business but we are so intimately affected. Their business is now our business whether we like it or not. So, shall we blame the Chinese? What if the next strain of virus comes from a small town in the US? 

When one thinks like the virus, the success depends on the reproduction, increase in potency and easy transport by new and clever mutation of genetic codes and it has nothing to do with the boundaries, races, ages, genders etc. The question we need to ask is when is the next pandemic, and not if. 

As we fight against with this virus today, the only logical way is to distance from each other to stop the spread which will cause less burden to our health care workers and their resources. Most of the health care workers are prepared to fall and are ready to die for the sick. It is their dedication to sick people and promise to the professional Hippocratic oath.

There are always two perspectives and we can choose to see one way or another. One good thing is we have the social media, a technology to connect to the ends of the earth through your phone. We are not alone and thank God for this.

The other thing we can do together is to pray the prayers David had in Psalm 86, 1-3,11-13.

Bend down, O Lord and hear my prayer, answer me for I need your help. Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God. Be merciful to me God, for I am calling on you constantly.

Teach me your ways, O Lord that I may live according to your truth. Grant me purity of heart so that I may honor you. With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord, my God. I will give glory to your name forever, for your love for me is very great. You have rescued me from the depths of death.

Snake on a Pole

Numbers 21: 4-9

Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink! And we hate this horrible manna!” So, God sent poisonous snakes among the people and many were bitten and died. Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes!” So, Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” So, Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed. 

Jesus was hung on the cross, whosoever believes in Him by just turning the head to look will be saved from the sin. The consequence of sin is death. In 2020, we are facing a pandemic caused by coronavirus which affected the globe, including all 50 states in the U.S. The most tangible way to know how this virus affected our lives is to see the empty streets, highways, restaurants, bars, retail stores and what’s called “non-essential” businesses now. A few places we can see people at are the groceries where toilet paper and food stacks are empty, and the hospitals where the healthcare workers are anticipating and facing the sick without supplies for their own protection. It is as if they are going to the war zone on our front lines without guns and ammunition. Some doctors who treat the infected patients sleep in their own cars so that they reduce the chance to infect their own loved ones, family and friends. 

As we watch the news media, fear rises as the numbers of the infected and the death rate increases daily. Every day we hear new findings, altering our immediate needs and adjusting into a new normal. Fear creeps in, tension rises and the imagination of worse apocalyptic ideas enters our discussions at the table. In times like this when everything seems surreal and it is hard to find norms, we tend to look to see where we can find some controls to fill the void of insecurities. Even fighting over buying a toilet paper package is still comforting because fighting is a part of the norm. People can easily go into a rabbit hole, focusing on the number of infected people and death tolls, preparing for the worst and even exaggerating the scenarios, predicting economic disaster to a point of no return. It is much harder to reflect and ask why is this happening, what can we learn from this experience and what must we do to benefit each other. That answer usually comes from God, who created everything—even the viruses—and who controls the whole world, life, and death and even each breath we take. 

We actually do not have any control over these, but God has already counted the number of hairs each one of us has. He feeds the birds in the sky and birds have no ability to store the food supplies. And this God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow says anyone who looks at the bronze snake attached to a pole will live. Now, why wouldn’t anyone just turn their head and look at it? This would be such an easy task yet there were people who did not. It is the pride that would prohibit a gaze because what God said does not make sense. Our education, common sense, and every  grain of logic prohibits such a gaze. But God is not of this world and naturally God’s logic will not make sense to us. Why would a loving God make such an infectious virus called Coronavirus, why now, why do we have to face it globally, why is this happening on this earth, why do I have to live through this unprecedented time, who is to blame, who will pay for all these consequences, where is God in all these anyway and all kinds of questions arise without answers. 

When all the dust settles, the turmoil of our mind, confusions and even anger subsides, then we have two choices: To look or not to look at the snake on a pole. I have decided to put down my pride and take a look at it, even if I wind up dying with this virus. We all die at one time; no one has escaped the death except Jesus who died and resurrected. Even though it may be a miserable way to die, and not able to breathe with this virus, the end is the same. Death is a worst scenario. The good news is that physical death is not the whole story of Christian belief. The victory is already determined and we know Jesus has conquered the death and we will be living in heaven in God’s bosom where there will be no more tears. So, calm your hearts, now that God is in control of this Covid19, and focus on Jesus who took away our sins by dangling like a bronze snake on the cross. Turn your head to look at it and receive eternal salvation. Fill your mind with God and pray for our nation and the world. God will hear your prayers and our Good Father will grant your wishes and give you peace that surpasses our understanding.