Chapter 8: Bita

January 20, 2020 

Bita went to back to her bed in the morning. Her body was aching, and she had an irritable, dry cough that would not stop. She was chilled to her bone, and she kept adding more blankets over her. She had no appetite ever since she lost her sense of taste and smell for a few days ago. She had to go to work every day to clean different houses, but she knew she couldn’t that day.

Most of her clients lived in San Francisco or Palo Alto areas. She enjoyed being in their mansion houses or penthouse condos, wondering what it would be like to live like that. She imagined one day she and her family will live like that—rich and famous, the American dreams. Maybe her grandkids would grow up in this country and let her live in a luxurious house like that someday. As she sat and watched the Bay views during a short lunch break in the middle of cleaning, she imagined herself living in luxury and chuckled. But she took pride in doing a good job cleaning, as if all these places are hers.

All her business was referrals from rich doctors. Her first cleaning job was from a rich doctor in the Palo Alto area, referred by her friend who could not add any other houses to her full list. After about two years, she was introduced to other wealthy people connected to the Palo Alto doctor, and she now had a good solid clientele for herself. Her schedule was full for every weekday and even every Saturday.

She did not have a car to drive. If she was going to San Francisco to clean a house, she had to take the Caltrain and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) for an hour and a half each way. Palo Alto was a much shorter trip. Because of the long train rides, she could only clean one house per day. On Sundays, she took her family to the nearby park and sometimes, actually rarely, they went to the Islam mosque during Ramadan.

She called the doctor’s wife who lived in Palo Alto that morning and told her she was too sick to clean her house that day. She realized she had never called in sick and missed her work before. She needed the money.

Last November, she got a flu shot from the nearby drugstore, but she didn’t because it cost $20 per person. She had her two grandkids and elderly parents get flu shots, but her husband, Payman, and Bita decided to tough it out and save the $40 to buy more food they needed. She now regretted that decision. She thought maybe it was just the flu, and she would get better tomorrow or the next day if she just rested and slept.

They lived in a small one-bedroom apartment. The grandkids and her parents slept in the living room, and she and her husband in the bedroom. The bathroom was almost always occupied by someone throughout the day, and especially in the morning. They all took turns going into the bathroom, and often interrupted by someone who had an emergency, which was guaranteed to be followed by a fight.

About three months ago, Payman lost his job at the San Jose Airport. They lived close to the airport, and Payman used to work in airport security for a while, but they fired him. He had a fight with his senior colleague who joked to him, “you look like a terrorist and shouldn’t work in airport security,” because he had a long, bushy beard.

His nationality as a Persian with dark-colored skin did not help him. Ignorant Americans call all Arabic-speaking people middle eastern regardless of the nationality, and to some people of these nationalities all looked like terrorists. Payman didn’t even speak the Arab language. He spoke Farsi, but some Americans did not care to know the difference.

Bita was told by her husband he was sorry about the whole thing, and he regrets punching his senior colleague in his face, which cost him his job. But she knew that he was secretly proud of himself. Bita was concerned about his bad temper and drinking habits, which became more frequent these days. He could not find a decent job, especially one with medical insurance benefits for his family like the previous job he had.

Their grandkids were growing up; the six-year-old boy needed to go to public grade school soon, and the four-year-old boy should be in kindergarten, but they couldn’t afford the school fees. They weren’t able to afford kindergarten for the first boy either, even when Payman was working at the airport. He could not keep his job for over one or two years at a time. He worked many odd jobs; picking almonds in the orchards, seasonal grape picking for a winery, keeping beehives, janitor jobs at schools and offices, and sometimes helping Bita clean houses. He always had many excuses to quit or get fired from his jobs. It seemed to him people did not like his looks, and he had no luck.

Bita’s clients also did not like to have Payman in their homes, even though the cleaning time was much faster when he was there to help her. Her clients told her they just wanted Bita to clean the house alone, and not to have a man with a beard touching their property.

Photo by nima gerivani 

As his self-pity deepened, Payman was drinking more heavily, and behaving poorly by verbally abusing her, his grandchildren, and even her parents. He did not hit anyone or throw things, but she was afraid of Payman hitting her, or even worse, hitting their grandkids in front of her parents. His ugly side showed when his temper flared.

Bita and Payman had one daughter, who left her two kids when they were two years-old and six-months old. Her daughter was not married when she had her two children. Bita was not even sure if these two kids had the same father. Her daughter became a drug addict and had been fighting depression since her teenage years. She hung out with a wrong crowd. No matter what Bita did—and she tried paid counseling and strict disciplines—her daughter would not stop doing drugs, mostly methamphetamines.

Payman beat her severely once when she was sixteen because she was pregnant. Bita had to take her to the abortion clinic and paid cash for it. Soon after that, her daughter ran out of the house and did not come back until she had her two kids, now without their father. She showed up to Bita’s apartment one day and left the kids. She took off saying nothing. Bita and Payman adopted their grandchildren shortly after that.

Bita’s parents came to live with them while they were visiting them from Iran in their tiny apartment two years ago. At first, the whole family was excited to have them visiting and helping with the chores while they were working, and there was the added benefit of having reliable and permanent babysitters, but now, Bita and Payman were worried about the undocumented nature of their stay in America. They had just a three-month visa to visit their family in America, and that time had well passed.

Bita lectured her parents to not to go outside too much or cause any problems with their neighbors or with Payman. She was afraid her parents would be deported back to Iran if they were caught. She was also afraid Payman would lose control of himself and display violent behavior in a small contained space with her parents when she was out working. She was also scared about not having enough money, or the ability to pay for medical bills if her grandkids or anyone got injured. She was concerned about the lack of food in her refrigerator to feed six people, a large family, if she couldn’t work like today. She had to spend an enormous amount of money filling the refrigerator every fourth day or so.

Today, she couldn’t think or care about the whole family dynamics. She had to sleep off her flu. She closed the door behind her and slept the whole day. Periodically her family checked on her, encouraging her to eat at least some soup, but she couldn’t get up to eat. Payman went out to the drugstore and got her some Theraflu powder, dissolving it in warm water as a tea, and she drank that, then went back to sleep. She was thinking in between her dreams, where did she get this flu from? She has so much human contact from her train rides and in her close neighborhoods, but she remembered when she worked at Mrs. Kong’s place on the last two consecutive Fridays, she noticed Mrs. Kong was hacking with the same dry cough she had now. But Mrs. Kong never lay down in her bed with a fever or any other symptoms. At least, Mrs. Kong never told her she was very sick.

Bita would know because she changed Mrs. Kong’s bed every week, and the sheets were not soaking wet with sweat like hers are now. She thought she should go next Friday to see Mrs. Kong and ask her if she was very sick like she is at some point. 

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Campaign for Prayer to eradicate the Coronavirus

Reading the Hosea chapters of the Bible, I hear God’s voice using the prophet Hosea to warn the people of Israel the calamity they are about to face because they no longer seek God, obey His commandments or acknowledge His presence. The people of Israel have rejected what is good, appointed kings without God’s consent and princes without His knowledge. Not only that, they worshipped the manmade calf—the idol, and used the Temple of God to make sacrifices and burn offerings for other gods, prostituting with priests, both men and women and sold themselves to many lovers. They lost a sense God’s holiness, moral obligations to help less fortunate people, and used the very altars for places of sinning. The people of Israel had forgotten their own history; how they were brought to the land of milk and honey from bondage of slavery in Egypt within 800 years (1500 BC to 8th century BC). However, God still calls the people of Israel to plead with God to help them, to repent and seek His name to prevent His impending punishment of exile and dispersion of Israel people to Egypt and Assyria.

American history as I learned originated from the religious pursuit of Christianity where the territory that would become the Thirteen Colonies in 1776. Largely populated by Protestant settlers seeking religious freedom from the Church of England (est. 1534), these settlers were primarily Puritans from East Anglia, especially just before the English Civil War (1641–1651).  In the year of 2020, merely 244 years later, I hardly hear the significance of Christianity in this country. Seeking God’s name is no longer heard. Quite the contrary, even the current textbooks and education systems have removed most religious connotations and the name of God. In the name of contemporary political correctness, and tolerance, the name of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are uniquely removed from the contents of our conversations except in the church settings.

God took away over 350,000 people from the U.S. and 1.85 million globally by Coronavirus in year 2020 and the number is expected to grow even further in 2021. Natural question is then, are we facing the similar fate as the northern kingdom of Israel because our country has forgotten the original love of seeking God? Is God punishing us? Can we ask God to stop this disaster at once? Didn’t God save Lot and his family when Abraham asked God, “What if there are a few righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah? 

Can a few Christians pray for this country so God can save us?

The fact in life is we have to pay the taxes and the virus will mutate. It has been documented that the recent mutation B117 strain is more infectious that the original virus from China which started COVID-19. Currently, researchers have catalogued more than 12,000 mutations in SARS-CoV-2 genomes. As seen in the last pandemic in 1917-18, the herd immunity, we are hoping that the new vaccine against the coronavirus will win over so we pass through this calamity. But I think in 1918, it was not just the herd immunity but also the mutation of the influenza virus (H1N1) that lost virulence after killing 100 million people within two years.

I heard a funny sermon. A small town in the Midwest had a new liquor store opening next to an old church. More people began buying liquor and not attending church on Sundays. The preacher in that church began to ask the congregation to pray that the liquor store get destroyed from lightning and fire. The people began to pray to God. One day, the liquor store owner came to the church and pleaded with the preacher not to pray such a prayer. The preacher was fascinated by the liquor store owner. Why did he think the store would be burned in fire by lightening? It was the liquor store owner, not the preacher who actually believed that God could do anything. 

I hear no churches praying to stop the virus from spreading and killing people. It will take just one deadly mutation on the virus to stop replicating. God can do that very easily and much more effectively and faster than the heard immunity by vaccine. We should pray to God to kill coronavirus by its own mistake in mutation. Pray with boldness and confidence that God hears our prayers. Just like the virus, transfer this request of prayer to one of your friends, a prayer to eradicate the virus by God’s mighty power. 

Let us have unified voice in prayer to kill coronavirus in the year of 2021.

Chapter 6: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Ed Liu was constantly calling Samantha, but his cell phone calls did not go through. It just said, NOT AVAILABLE. He left multiple voice messages. Texts did not go through either and kept saying, DELIVERY FAILED. 

Where the hell is she, he thought. He knew she was rather apprehensive about the new autopsy rotation and mentioned something about Hart Island. He did not even know where that was. He thought it was some autopsy place in the Bronx near her apartment. It had been a long time since he last saw her because he hardly had time and they lived far apart. 

He lived in Washington DC, had finished his PhD in infectious diseases in the pandemic division and worked at Abby Laboratory as a scientist focusing on virology. The last time they saw each other was right before Christmas time when he stopped in New York for a few hours before he took off to Ohio to visit his parents. The CDC sent him to Atlanta multiple times during his internship year, and to South Africa once last year to visit their lab for a collaborative research project on the Ebola virus. 

This time, he was back at the CDC where several people with expertise in virology gathered to visit Wuhan, China to determine the origin of the coronavirus. He could not believe they had chosen him to represent the US group. His boss, Dr. Allen, trusted Ed more than himself to represent Abby and to understand the virology, and often said Ed “is the guru of viruses.” Ed had extensive expertise in viruses and was widely recognized for his intelligence. Dr. Allen trusted Ed exclusively, and made him the Associate Research Director only after a few years. Dr. Allen was the company CEO who dealt with the financial and overall control of Abby Laboratory and did not have the technical and scientific knowledge as Ed.

There would be ten people going to China. The World Health Organization (WHO) went to Wuhan, China in early January 2020, but they had failed to return fully informed about the magnitude of the contagious nature of the virus. 

In fact, it was reported as an epidemic only in the region of Wuhan and was not expected to spread like SARS in 2002, which spread worldwide within a few months and then was quickly contained. Now, the CDC did not trust WHO reports for obvious reasons. COVID-19 was thought to have arisen from a seafood market, perhaps in smuggled pangolins used for both food and medicine. 

Another possibility was bats, because these two animals have similar genetic codes as what we find in the coronavirus. Exactly how the virus jumped from a wild animal to other animals or humans remains a mystery. It amazed the CDC group China already had the full genetic code for COVID-19. Their speed in research was impressive. However, there was a rumor now that the virus may not have originated from the seafood market.

According to Wikipedia, Wuhan is the 9th largest city in China with 11 million people, and may be the location of the pivotal Battle of the Red Cliffs, which stopped Cao Cao’s incursion into southern China at the end of the Eastern Han dynasty. In comparison, New York City has a population of less than 9 million, founded perhaps 1,400 years after the end of the Eastern Han dynasty.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) lab is located just three miles away from the seafood market. A scientist from the WIV said that COVID-19 was most likely spread from a bat since its genetic makeup is 96% identical to the sequence of COVID-19.

There was speculation that patient zero in Wuhan did not contract the virus from the seafood market, but from within the lab led by a local scientist who also worked on bats at the Wuhan Municipal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Chinese government withdrew this from newspapers as speculation and stated that there was no evidence the virus came from laboratories in Wuhan. They emphatically denied any link to the institute and proclaimed that they have a strict regulatory regime and code of conduct for research.

The WHO also supported the Chinese government, stating that COVID-19 did not come from the laboratories in Wuhan. They added that the only reason the Wuhan lab knew so much about the coronavirus was because of Dr. Shei, the Director of the Institute, had studied the topic for most of her life since SARS in 2003.

Ed did not think he was qualified to be there. They chose him to visit Wuhan, China, along with other gifted scientists from all over the US to determine several things; the origin of the virus, its evolution in nature and spillover to humans, and whether it was an accidental or deliberate release from a lab, or a genetic manipulation of a pathogen as a bioweapon. He was excited for the opportunity even though only reason they chose him was because he is Chinese, but he hardly spoke the language. At least he could speak some and communicate the basics.

He was born in Ohio to Chinese parents who immigrated there as scientists. They were both PhDs at Ohio State University and worked in the research laboratories in the medical field. It disappointed them that Ed did not go into medicine, but his younger brothers saved him by becoming medical doctors. 

The middle brother was already practicing, and his youngest brother was in residency. His parents always said that Ed was the smartest, tallest, and most handsome of all his siblings. Ed was fit, especially after his ROTC military training, and he maintained his muscular and fit body and postures. Ed was not satisfied with simply learning medical knowledge, but he had to dig deeply with one focus—he preferred to understand viruses that can cause pandemics, devastating the entire globe much more than any human diseases. To develop a vaccine against a specific virus could be more powerful and heroic than what any medical doctor could achieve, in his opinion. Ed was proud of his accomplishments and confident in his own ability to save the world when the time came to show his heroism. His parents had an innate bias that Ed should be a medical doctor or lawyer, but Ed knew a PhD can discover cures for diseases more than medical doctors. Ed did not want to argue against his parents for he was an obedient and honorable son who would never lecture his parents.

They were not too happy about Ed seeing Samantha for many years. They wanted their firstborn male child to carry out their names and maintain their Chinese heritage by marrying a Chinese girl. Also, they were devout Buddhists and Samantha and her family were Christians.

Ed was a source of disappointment from his parent’s perspectives. His parents expected too much of Ed, maybe because he was a first-born son. No woman was good enough for Ed because he was “so smart, tall, physically fit, stunningly handsome, kind and gentle” as his parents always put it. Deep down, Ed was confident his parents accepted him. Perhaps his parents worried most about his future income as a scientist, just like themselves, who were less than medical doctors.

Ed thought going back to Wuhan, China as a virologist expert would make them even more proud. They indeed were immensely proud and joked with him over the phone about getting a cute, young Chinese wife while he was visiting China.

They expected the trip to be at least one week, depending on the progress of their findings. They were all staying at the same hotel near the Wuhan lab. Wuhan still had a strict lockdown and curfew orders from the government in place. So, unfortunately, a tour was not on their agenda. Also, the Chinese government was reluctant of their visit to the WIV, and Ed was not sure how they would treat a bunch of US scientists. After all, the WHO scientists came, checked and approved of all the findings from the WIV.

They were all expected to fly to China late tomorrow evening, and it frustrated Ed that Samantha was unreachable. He did not have much more time to call her since there were a lot of meetings scheduled before their departure. 

Read the entire novel. All of the author’s royalties are donated to those in need. Go to https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08P7486XX

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.

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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.

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