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!”