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Couple with COVID-19 felt like pariahs

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series)


Mary Tom was sick in bed battling COVID-19. Her mother was on the phone praying for her like she had done every day since Tom got sick. It was late March. “My support was one of the biggest things that got us through this,” Tom said.

The names of the Tom family have been changed to protect their privacy. However, it shocked Tom and her husband, Steven, that their employer and co-workers weren’t part of that support system. They didn’t call to check on them or ask if they needed anything.

They didn’t ask how they were doing. They didn’t check on their children. “When we told the school that I was positive all they said was ‘OK, tell us if you should need anything, call us,’” Tom said. “We’ve never heard back from them. They said, ‘We’ll check in now and then,’ but we never heard back.”

All except one of Steven’s co-workers and friends. He called Steven every day or every other day to check on him and the Tom family. One day, Steven mentioned the family was running out of water.

“Not even 30 minutes later after the phone call he dropped off the water outside of the house,” Tom said as her voice cracked. Tom deeply appreciated the support he gave to her husband and to their family. After Tom and her husband were diagnosed with COVID-19, they began to be treated differently. “What’s so saddening was that when they brought my kids food, there’s a stump outside, they just throw the food on the top and they run from us,” Steven said. “That made it worse too, when you see that.”

The meals were part of the school’s food program for students. The Tom children started to notice that people were running away from their home and asked their father why.

“It was hard for me to explain to them,” Steven said.

After the couple recovered, they started to hear gossip about them. They heard that people were scared to touch paperwork that Mary did in her office. “We heard, just through people that we know, that people were saying, ‘Oh, what papers did she touch? I don’t know if they hand me those paper that she exposed me. We should trash all this. Oh no, they’re running around,’” he said. “You know that stuff needs to stop.”

The couple felt like they didn’t receive the compassion or support they desperately needed. Mary was immune-compromised after getting a kidney transplant in 2018. She was fearful that she wouldn’t make it through. Steven was trying to take care of himself, their four children all under 10 and his bedridden wife.

“All people need is just emotional (support) and being compassionate for people that are going through this,” Steven said. “That’s the main thing. Emotional support, be compassionate, check on your loved ones.”

This was a very traumatic experience for the couple and even though they have recovered, they worry about leaving their home. The World Health Organization stated that a non-peer-reviewed-study by Stanford University showed that the number of people with immunity to COVID-19 is lower than expected.

This means people who have recovered from the disease could get reinfected. However, WHO stated this study needs to be further investigated and replicated. The couple was retested for COVID-19 and cleared by the hospital. They are continuing to practice social distancing by staying home.

About The Author

Pauly Denetclaw

Pauly Denetclaw is Meadow People born for Towering House People. She was raised in Manuelito and Naschitti, New Mexico. She was the co-recipient of the Native American Journalist Association's 2016 Richard LaCourse Award for Investigative Reporting. Denetclaw is currently finishing her degree in multimedia journalism from the University of New Mexico - Main. Denetclaw covers a range of topics including genetic research, education, health, social justice issues and small businesses. She loves coffee, writing and being with her family. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Her handle is @pdineclah


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