“We are a strong people”: Doctors on front lines against coronavirus in Navajo Nation share their stories

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Navajo Nation is among the hardest-hit areas per capita for coronavirus within the US regardless of its comparatively low inhabitants density, this space has the next coronavirus dying charge than that of 46 states. CBS Information spoke with Navajo Nation well being care staff on the entrance strains. Listed below are three of their tales, in their very own phrases.

Dr. Sophina Calderon

Tuba Metropolis Regional Well being Care Company, Tuba Metropolis

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Dr. Sophina Calderon grew up in Navajo Nation and practices household drugs at Tuba Metropolis Regional Well being Care Company.

CBS Information


Dr. Calderon grew up outdoors of Tuba Metropolis within the Navajo Nation. She is a household drugs practitioner and the deputy chief of workers at Tuba Metropolis Regional Well being Care Company. She is at present seeing sufferers within the emergency division after the surge in COVID-19 circumstances in Navajo Nation.

COVID-19 truly appeared originally of March after a super-spreader occasion suspected of being a church rally that occurred right here within the Navajo Nation. Individuals from throughout truly went and attended this rally. Shortly after, we had our first suspected case right here in Tuba Metropolis in mid-March. Since then, we have had numerous these individuals fall sick and present up right here at our facility.

That is when issues modified considerably. A lot of our common [medical] providers stopped to a halt, and we repurposed workers to arrange an out of doors screening space. We repurposed our pediatric care unit to change into our respiratory care unit. We now have 24 beds in that unit, however our workers and nursing scarcity considerably impacts what number of we will truly admit and preserve right here. We will solely fill about 15 beds.

Pre-COVID, numerous the Indian Well being Service Hospitals throughout the nation have excessive [medical staff] emptiness charges already at baseline. And we have all the time been capable of make do with that right here, however as soon as the COVID hit, that deficiency simply actually grew to become way more obvious.

Our most crucial sufferers, those which can be severely sick and should be intubated, are transferred to Flagstaff and to Phoenix — areas far off the reservation. Day by day we’re intubating and sending out at the least two to 4 sufferers a day. Our worst day that I can keep in mind, we intubated and despatched out about 9 individuals, and that is all by chopper.

We might preserve extra important sufferers right here if we might enhance our ICU nursing workers, important care nursing workers, and if we might get an intensive care physician. We now have ventilators. We now have house. We simply do not have the workers to do it.

One of many issues that break my coronary heart is the variety of individuals we have to switch out every single day. Households are left stranded from one another.

Loads of Navajo households are literally multigenerational. We deeply treasure households — massive households. We stay within the perception of a matrilineal clanship system, so who we think about household is far-reaching and intensive. But when somebody falls sick, the remainder of the family will get sick as effectively.

Households are hesitant to interrupt themselves aside, ship their grandparents elsewhere the place it could be safer. They’d a lot fairly keep collectively, and to them, that is way more significant on this entire struggle for survival right here — to maintain their households collectively.

I grew up with out working water or electrical energy in a small space excellent outdoors of city. My dad and mom nonetheless stay in that house. The pediatricians who took care of me whereas I used to be rising up are my colleagues now. The docs who took care of my grandparents when recognized with most cancers, these are my colleagues now too.

We now have an unlimited variety of very dedicated individuals ensuring this hospital runs effectively. Loads of these docs raised their very own households right here as effectively. Most of the individuals who work listed here are from this group. Our sufferers are our kinfolk.

Once I assist the epidemiology staff type by means of knowledge, I take a look at these lists, and I acknowledge numerous the names of sufferers. A few of them is perhaps my main care sufferers. Each occasionally I see my very own kinfolk listed. That is actually arduous.

Many households are already tremendously affected. Loads of the sickness has truly clustered in some households. A mum or dad, two youngsters, and a brother — multi functional household have died. It is one thing that basically impacts me considerably as a result of I stay right here. My entire household is right here.

We see New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana getting vital assist from the federal government, whether or not it is PPE or staffing. I really feel like we’re this hidden hotspot pocket. We’ve not seen practically as a lot assist as you see in these different locations.

There’s a large feeling of isolation. Many households have voiced this sense the federal government is not conscious of what is going on on right here? Does not anybody else see what is going on on right here?

Dr. Aaron Value

Tsehootsooi Medical Middle, Fort Defiance

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Dr. Aaron Value grew up in Navajo Nation. He’s the chief of inside drugs at Tsehootsooi Medical Middle in Fort Defiance, Arizona.

CBS Information


Dr. Aaron Value grew up in Fort Defiance within the Navajo Nation. He’s the chief of inside drugs at Tsehootsooi Medical Middle.

I keep in mind once I was a bit of child, when you had been being unhealthy, they’d all the time threaten to take you to the hospital. They’d say, “Oh, when you’re a foul child, I’ll take you to the hospitals, they usually may give you a shot,” virtually like a type of punishment.

There’s a stigma about sufferers going to the hospital and dying. You need to return to the historic trauma that the Navajo individuals needed to endure in years previous. As soon as upon a time, hospitals had been probably not sanctuaries or a spot you went for assist, however fairly someplace you went to die. Hospitals had been sanitariums, and that lingers on in our elders, and it is handed on.

Sadly, on this pandemic, there is a good probability that you might get sick sufficient and find yourself within the hospital. Worst-case situation, they get a respiration tube put down their throat. Most often, as soon as that occurs, they’re mainly alone and it is a good probability they’re additionally going to die alone as effectively. That is the very fact of this situation. It’s extremely unlucky, however that is what we’re seeing proper now.

This actually hits house to the mannequin that was preached initially from day one — our drive is to flatten the curve. We [at Fort Defiance] have been on the tail finish of the pandemic greater than within the eye of the hurricane.

Circumstances right here as an entire are wanting fairly good, and we wish to keep optimistic. There’s not numerous optimization occurring proper now. We can’t know till it arrives, however proper now, I really feel like we have now the capability, the bandwidth, and the manpower to take care of that presently.

For a few years we have had very, very restricted sources. For a few years the sample has been to ship grandma off to the massive metropolis – to Phoenix, Albuquerque or Flagstaff — as a result of that they had the expertise. That they had the specialists to offer definitive care. I imply, think about when you had been despatched someplace the place you had no inclination for the language, the customs, the norms and the expectations.

What’s actually compelling for me is, for the primary time in a very long time, reservation hospitals are rising to that event. [Tsehootsooi Medical Center] truly has the individuals with the coaching, and Navajo physicians at that.

I feel the truth that you even have somebody who appears, talks and walks such as you presents a lot reassurance. That is a testomony to how far we have come and the path we’re going. We’re transferring up.

Dr. Michelle Tom

Winslow Indian Well being Care Middle and Little Colorado Medical Clinic, Winslow

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Dr. Michelle Tom grew up in Navajo Nation and now practices household drugs.

CBS Information


Dr. Michelle Tom grew up within the southern area of the Navajo Nation. After her medical coaching, she returned house to apply household drugs. She transitioned to treating sufferers in Winslow Indian Well being Care Middle’s pressing care and Little Colorado Medical Clinic’s emergency room after COVID-19 sufferers started arriving at each amenities.

As a household medical physician, you deal with everybody from infants to the elders. It is such an incredible ambiance. You get to know whole households. It is all the time nice when I’ve a grandmother name me her daughter or her youngster and thank me for doing what I do as a result of they’ve by no means met a Navajo physician earlier than. It is a dream come true for me.

And you bought to see them, their faces, they usually received to see mine. We gave handshakes and hugs. All my elders gave me hugs earlier than they left. The medication I like, and that of my very own experiences rising up with Native American healers, was about connection, about contact, sharing a detailed house and serving to to heal. We do not have that anymore. It is off the phone, it is between me and PPE, or a door.

Now once I’m within the hospital, pressing care, emergency room, I am questioning if a COVID affected person goes to come back in. How am I going to stop them from getting worse? Or am I going to lose this individual now? Is it this time that I’ll contract it? Physicians and nurses, we’re struggling.

We do not have an ICU per se in our facility, so we have now to move important sufferers.

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Dr. Michelle Tom exhibits CBS Information’ Adam Yamaguchi the pressing care facility the place she works.

CBS Information


When a youngster who was vibrant the week earlier than is available in and we have now to inform him if he goes on one other liter of oxygen we’ll should intubate and ship him out to a different facility — how do you inform him that? After which he asks, “When will they take it out?” And you need to be trustworthy, and say you do not know. I do not know tips on how to put that feeling into phrases. He is somebody’s son, somebody’s brother.

Individuals within the US wish to reopen the nation. I imagine in a public well being commonplace, and as a doctor, I feel it is too early. The circumstances are steadily nonetheless climbing in Navajo Nation.

We’re a robust individuals. I feel that is what I am most happy with. However once you see a brother or sister, variety, they usually’re asking for assist and there is not way more you are able to do for them, it is one thing you are actually by no means absolutely skilled for.

I feel it humbles me to know that I can do solely a lot, however I’ll do what I can whereas I am right here. I ask for steerage from my ancestors and my healers up to now who’ve handed onto the following life. Remembering them, honoring them once I pray.

All I do know is what we have now at the moment — a hope that the eye will transfer Congress and our administration. We want extra entry to well being care and infrastructure, water, plumbing, electrical energy, training, and jobs that may assist feed households. These are large points which were occurring for thus lengthy. It is not going to occur in a single day, however I’m hopeful. We’re getting there, slowly however certainly. Hopefully, in my lifetime, it would change.

—Edited by Grace Baek for readability and brevity.


To inquire additional about aid efforts for the Navajo Nation or to make a donation, listed here are some hyperlinks to respected organizations:

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