In our What It resembles series, we speak to people from a large range of backgrounds about how their life have actually changed as an outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic In this installment, we talk with family physician Michelle Tom, D.O., of the Winslow Indian Health Care Center, in Winslow, Arizona. The facility sits on the southern border of the Navajo Country, which stretches across more than 27,000 square miles of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. With a population of some 170,000 individuals, in Might 2020, the Navajo Country surpassed New york city and New Jersey in COVID-19 cases per capita. At press time, 7,840 people have actually evaluated favorable for COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation, and there have actually been 378 confirmed deaths.
Dr. Tom is Diné (the name Navajo people widely prefer to call themselves). She matured in Chimney Butte, Arizona, and attended Dilcon Community School, a boarding school for Native Americans, then Winslow High School. She went on to play basketball and netted a degree in microbiology at Arizona State University. After that, Dr. Tom earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Arizona and finished a post-bachelor’s fellowship at the University of New Mexico prior to completing her medical degree at Nova Southeastern University. When she ‘d completed her residency on the East Coast, Dr. Tom returned to practice medication on the Navajo Nation in 2018.
” We’re an extremely matriarchal society,” Dr. Tom tells SELF. “It always returns to family and neighborhood. Strong clanship binds us together. And the land is where we were produced. It’s really spiritual for me. Medication can be very patriarchal … It’s not a collaboration. I didn’t mature with another nurse or medical professional who looked like me or who spoke Navajo. I wanted to alter that.” Here Dr. Tom tells us what a relatively normal day in her life appears like today– if there is such a thing during this pandemic
5: 30 a.m.
I had to move out of my household home at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Like many Diné, I lived in a multigenerational house. My moms and dads, brother, and nieces live there. My work makes me high-risk for others to be around, so I relocated with a friend and associate in Flagstaff in March. My household house was 25 minutes far from work. Now I have to drive an hour each way.
Prior to I leave for work, I pack my COVID-19 bag. It has a reusable face shield and safety glasses, two sets of full-body Tyvek fits, caps, my own extra N95 s, surgical masks, and shoe covers. I always pack an extra set of clothes so I can shower and alter prior to I leave the healthcare facility.
At the healthcare facility we do patient exchange to get the current information about our clients. I see the non-COVID-19 clients in the early morning so I do not run the risk of spreading it to those who are not infected. Of course, if someone’s acute, you go there right away, COVID or not.
At lunchtime I try to consume rapidly. My roomie and I cook for each other and try to take care of each other. We do a lot of veggies, salads, and fruits. If we’re too busy, in some cases we just throw back a protein shake or beef jerky in between clients. Often I do not consume throughout the day.
Then I get dressed for COVID-19 clients. It takes a while. I feel quicker now that it’s a routine, however I’m constantly asking, “Did I touch my mask? Is my face showing? Is my hair out? Did I double-glove?” You have to take care of yourself.
We do not have that many medical professionals. You might be the only one there with 15 clients. We can’t run the risk of losing a medical professional. If a service provider states they’re not afraid, that’s just not true. Everyone who’s on the front lines– implying you actually have contact with COVID-19 patients, you remain in the space with them– feels afraid. All of us know someone who has passed in front of us since of an appetite for air. I know how to keep myself safe. However there’s constantly room for error. We’re human. That worry keeps us on edge.
We’re taking the virus seriously, but it’s difficult to manage here. Elders tend to understand it better because they went through a crisis with tuberculosis, and they heard from their grandmothers about going through smallpox. It’s the younger people we need to educate more. The majority of people understand a relative who has been ill.
I see COVID-19 clients in the afternoon. A lot of them belong to each other. I have actually had families where a mom and child both passed away of coronavirus. I’ve had an elderly mom in the hospital where I work, and 2 of her kids intubated at another neighboring medical facility.
There’s not much I can do for my patients. I try to reduce their discomfort in some type, however they’re afraid. Their family can’t come see them. The only thing you can do is speak to them and attempt to respond to all their concerns.
Lots of households on the Navajo Country don’t have running water, so constant handwashing is challenging. They have to travel for water, and those water-collection points are places that everybody else has actually touched. Hand sanitizer is typically sold out at all border towns. Even when we can discover it, the markup is ridiculous. We’re seeing 32 ounces of hand sanitizer selling for $50
We’re likewise facing a lack of ICU beds. The Navajo Area Indian Health Service has 15 ICU beds and 71 ventilators for a location the size of West Virginia. When those get complete, I spend hours on the phone attempting to get clients moved to other healthcare facilities in Phoenix and Tucson. When I finally discover a location to accept the patient, I need to call to set up a helicopter. Once it shows up for transfer, I invest an hour and a half or so in the air, altering oxygen for the client on the way.
It seems like a consistent punch in the gut. We’re the very first individuals of this nation. We offered over water rights, forestry rights, and mining rights, and requested for healthcare. We have actually never been looked after.
At nights, once I’m home, I reply to emails, do social media, and try to raise funds for individual protective equipment Indigenous peoples have always been left in everything. We don’t have enough PPE for health care employees, and the costs are skyrocketing. I have actually partnered with unitednatives.org to raise cash for PPE, not just for the healthcare facility, but also for the nursing facility employees who are taking care of seniors and for shelters so they can remain open. Even once we have the funds, we’re dealing with a supply-chain disturbance. We have to battle the biggest health care systems in the nation for products and try to schedule transport to get the PPE here. We got our very first delivery of PPE in the middle of June. I’m likewise trying to raise cash for fabric masks and hand sanitizer for the neighborhood to use.
I’m so exhausted. I used to run a lot, but now it’s hard. I do some yoga with my roomie. Actually, my only self-care is when my family gos to when a week. We talk outdoors and stand eight feet apart; I wear an N95 I’m extremely conventional, so burn a lot of sage and do a great deal of prayer.
This has taken a toll on me psychologically, spiritually, and physically. I weep as soon as a week a minimum of, however I would not be doing anything else. This was my calling to be house at this time.
Interview has actually been edited and condensed for clearness.