Chapter 9: Santa Clara Coroner

From my debut novel

February 6, 2020
Payman found Bita dead in their bed on the morning of February 6, just 17 days after Bita could not go to work. Some days, she said she was feeling much better and ready to get up and go to work, but she noticed as soon as she got up she felt too weak, and would fall over.

She spiked a fever again and found herself in bed the entire day. Payman wanted her to go to the emergency department in a nearby hospital, but Bita refused because it would have cost a fortune, and they wouldn’t have been able to pay it. She told him she would be okay if she just rested.

Payman noticed that Bita had stopped coughing and waking him up constantly that night. He had a good night’s sleep for a change, without being interrupted by her movements or coughs. Now, he found her dead, not moving at all and already cold to touch.

Sheer panic set him off, and he ran around the apartment, not knowing what to do. Bita’s parents said to call the ambulance. The kids were dumbfounded and kept shaking their grandmother to get up. Payman called 911 and frantically reported that his wife was dead. The 911 dispatcher sent the ambulance within 10 minutes. The ambulance workers then called the county coroner’s office and the police department.

Soon the whole apartment perimeter became like a crime scene with yellow tape all over the place, a few neighbors gathering to see what was going on in their building, and a white truck with a huge CORONER sign parked nearby. No one could go into Payman’s unit.

Bita’s parents went outside, escaping from the sight because they couldn’t distinguish whether these police officers and other people from the coroner’s office were from the immigration office. All government agencies in uniform were a danger sign to them, and they ran as far away as possible from them.

The kids and Payman were standing outside when the investigation began, not knowing where exactly Bita’s parents were. They probably went out to the nearby park, Payman thought.

Photo by Keira Burton





One police officer asked Payman for the details of how he found his wife dead. He thought they were treating him like he was already a criminal who killed his wife. Somehow, he was stuttering like a guilty person answering the questions. The police made him come back into the bedroom where Bita was still lying in their bed. Payman worried his grandkids would run somewhere to find their grandparents while he was trying to answer what happened that morning when he found his wife dead.

The coroner workers were wearing white coverall suits and taking photos as the police officer directed. Then they moved the body and took Bita into the coroner’s truck. Payman signed the paperwork to give permission to conduct an autopsy at the county coroner’s office by the medical examiner. All these steps were new to him. He did not know why she had to get an autopsy. The police officer said all deaths occurring at home need examined by the medical examiner for possible homicide, or suicide. There was no other information given to Payman as to when he could get the body back for funeral arrangements, and he couldn’t think about asking appropriate questions. He did whatever the police and coroner’s officers asked

By the late afternoon, they were all gone. Bita was also gone. The only remaining thing was the yellow tape around his unit, and a part of his building entrance. He went out to find his grandkids and in-laws. Luckily, they were standing across the street and Payman went to them, hugging all of them, and cried. They all joined in and began to wail.

The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner was Dr. Melissa Jordan, who conducted the full autopsy on Bita, including her brain. She signed off on the cause of death on the certificate as pneumonia. Bita’s lungs were heavy and congested with serosanguinous fluid within the pleural cavities. It fit well with a flu caused by influenza, as per the patient’s history of symptoms. Influenza causing pneumonia claimed thousands of lives per year. Dr. Jordan did not see any telltale signs of murder. She sent the blood sample and pieces of lung sample from Bita to the CDC as a precaution to rule out other possible infectious etiology. Bita was only 57 years-old when she died.

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

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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)