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Letters: A nurse’s perspective of COVID-19

I am writing this letter to give my Navajo people an inside perspective of the current pandemic that our Nation is currently facing. My name is Raymond Joe and I am from Manuelito, N.M.

I am one of the few Navajo male nurses who practice on the Navajo Nation. During the past nine years I have pushed myself to become a top notch nurse in my field. I have worked in cardiology, ICU, nurse administrator, home health and flight nursing.

Needless to say I am well versed in my profession. I am also a combat veteran having served in the U.S. Marine Corps. My significant other is a Navajo ER nurse currently serving in the front lines. The COVID -19 virus has made us come face to face with the fear of the unknown. It has tested our faith and questions our beliefs.

This virus has turned my job into a blessing and a curse at the same time. My expertise in my field has opened numerous opportunities. However, this could be a curse if I catch the virus doing the job that I love and have to pay with my life.

I currently work as a home health nurse but I want to be in the front lines like I have done before in the Marine Corps. My current situation makes me think twice because of my kids. I question my inner self daily as I see my colleagues getting overwhelmed with patients. The current situation has turned our hospitals into a “war zone.”

Nurses and doctors are risking their personal health for the well-being of the general public. They are meeting their moral obligations to care for those who are unable to care for themselves. Having a person’s life in your hands requires the utmost skills and meticulous care to ensure they walk out of the hospital. It requires years of training and “hands-on” experience.

These skills seem to be non-existent on our reservation. I recently read the IHS director stating they are ready for pandemic while stating we have 13 ventilators on the entire reservation. How many of these are occupied by medical emergencies? That leaves about 6 or 7 for current COVID-19 patients. Our hospitals will be overwhelmed in no time.

In addition, where are the specialized ICU nurses who can manage these vents? I am pleading with all my people to listen to all the warnings and abide by the rules outlined by the CDC. This virus is indiscriminate and could take the life of any person of any age.

Once a person catches the virus they are isolated to ensure they don’t spread the disease to anyone else. No visitors are allowed, no family member allowed. Being irrespirable and dying “alone” is not worth it. No matter what, a nurse will be at your bedside doing everything they can to save your life while risking their own lives as well as their families. Let our sacrifices become well worth the effort.

I miss my kids daily because I can’t see them. This is the sacrifice that I have to make to ensure their safety. Our jobs forced us to leave our kids with family members so we can continue caring for our patients. Thanks to technology we are able to talk with our kids daily.

It breaks our hearts when our 4-year-old son asks, “Can we just please come home?” But we have to tell him ‘No” while explaining our reasons. Some reasons that a 4-year-old is unable to understand.

Before going to sleep, I ask myself, “Are my patients who are complete strangers worth giving up my life for?” A patient who may have ignored the repeated calls about the importance of staying home and not practicing social distancing who became infected?

Maybe you will understand if you put yourself in my shoes. The choices you make today influences all those around you. If you make the sacrifices today, we will have a much brighter tomorrow.

Remember the six-feet rule, otherwise it could be an infinite six-feet under.

Ray Joe
Shiprock, NM

Stay home, flatten the curve!

As someone who worked as a public health professional and registered nurse for 40 years on the Navajo Nation, please heed the “stay at home” mandate.

Even if you have no symptoms yet, stay at home. It is the best way to protect our Diné people. If you do not adhere to this mandate, you will infect more people and our health care system will not be able to handle an influx of sick people.

Currently, medical workers are dealing with a shortage of N95 facemasks, gowns, gloves and ventilators. This is leaving our frontline medical workers without critical personal protective equipment to protect themselves and their families. This is akin to sending in military troops into battle without protection and weapons.

Indian Health Service has always had a shortage of medical professionals, but if our medical workers get sick or worse, who do you think will take care of you or your loved ones? Stay home and do your part to contain this infection and flatten the curve for everyone’s health.

Adella Begaye
Board President Diné C.A.R.E.
Tsaile, Ariz.

How about a Navajo stimulus package?

Navajo leaders must have foreseen a major emergency and set aside money. Perhaps as a sovereign nation we will never ever experience this type of a major crisis in our history, again.

President Jonathan Nez has indicated we survived the Long Walk and other catastrophes in the past. Nez is optimistic for our people and taken steps to combat this dreadful and deadly coronavirus (COVID-19).

The question is how long this virus will devastate us all? However, prayers, as the Navajo Nation president states, is our consolation for all. Health officials worldwide have predicted the worst is yet ahead.

“Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has predicted as many as 100,000 and 200,000 people could die from COVID-19 in the United States, if mitigation is not successful.” (MSNF, 2020). It is a scary and fearful phenomenon.

The Navajo people are staying inside to avoid the spread of the virus. The Navajo Nation schools have canceled schools and children are staying home. More than likely schools will be canceled for the rest of the school year. Most workers are staying home.

Many Navajos are jobless, 60 percent unemployment rate. The restaurants are closed and all gatherings and activities are shut down. Food stamps are limited and what food people have will run out as long as this deadly virus prevails. This is not surface panic; it’s a deep reality.

I am kindly recommending to the Navajo Nation Council to come up with a Navajo Stimulus Plan utilizing the Permanent Trust Fund in the amount of $1 billion for the Navajo people and given to identified tribal members per family in the amount of $3,000 per household or $1,500 per person to help them in this time of critical need.

The time is now to use these funds. Reportedly, a large of amount of the PTF have been lost in the stock market crash in the past. This could happen again in this crisis. Use the money to help our people now. Big businesses that do business with the Navajo Nation could be asked to contribute. The Navajo stimulus package will supplement what the U.S. government is giving to its citizens.

My late mother used to tell me, “Money is not going to say K’e to you,” but it will sure help our people. The money used from the PTF will eventually be restored and more gained. The Navajo people are benevolent people. The people will get behind this and spend their money on our Nation. The Navajo people have supported its economy through local taxes and expenditures at the four Navajo casinos.

There is a time to give back; I truly believe this is the time. I encourage the Navajo Nation Council to consider this recommendation as soon as possible. There probably is no time for a referendum in this major crisis.

The local chapters and people should contact their local Council delegates, Navajo leaders and advise them to support such a stimulus package for all Navajos, including senior citizens, parents, children, veterans, handicap, and the homeless.

Eugene Charley
Kayenta, Ariz.

Governor’s words are a curse on us

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham had a surprise conversation with President Donald Trump on Monday, but pulled the Navajo Nation into the mix. She hypothetically said in a recorded conversation, obtained by ABC News, of “incredible spikes in coronavirus cases in Navajo Nation” and “worry that the virus could wipe out some tribal nations.”

In this conversation with the U.S. president, she was trying to get support to obtain a 248-bed U.S. Army combat hospital in Albuquerque. This is a typical political conversation made among elected officials. They have to include indigent communities into the mix to get something they want and in this case a military-style support hospital.

Unfortunately, in New Mexico they always pull tribal nations into the mix to get what they want. At the end of the day, the tribal nations receive whatever is left of the resource, if any.

It happens in education, health care, water rights, severance tax bond, tobacco settlement fund, economic development, highways, or businesses. There are two key major concerns over a statement that tribal nations will eventually all be infected by this coronavirus: 1) It’s blasphemous to be publicly told some of the tribes will be wiped out; and 2) In time, the tribal people will be avoided, lose a job, be laid off, prejudiced against, or be shunned, due to the nature that all tribal people are now infected or exposed.

News has already spread that the Chinese people, or ones with slanted eyes, are the cause of this outbreak. For this reason, any Oriental people have been chastised for no particular reason other than who they are. Trump derogatorily made public comments with a name like “Chinese Flu” for the coronavirus. Then someone on his staff came up with another name: “Kong Flu.” So, because of the outbreak in the United States, many Oriental citizens had been physically attacked or shunned altogether.

So you see where I am going with this. I always know and been taught that the Creator had made us indigenous people and breathed life into us at birth. That made us Earth Holy People, because the air and breath in our being is from the Creator and we were created for a purpose. We were not created to be wiped out.

The indigenous nations had contributed, some by force, its land, water, air, minerals above and in the ground, animals, nature, and food to this country. To be uprightly threatened in lieu of begging a U.S. president for a support hospital in Albuquerque is disrespectful. I may know the reason for her request by using the indigenous nations as a pawn, but in reality her language is also a curse.

How many of our people will have access to that hospital once constructed? There are many parameters that weigh in on the subject matter and distance is one of them. It would have been best if our own sovereign government leadership is requesting directly from U.S. President Donald Trump for such assistance.

Ray Begaye
Shiprock, N.M.

Start with the person in the mirror

Having observed our Navajo Nation’s government and our Navajo citizens at work or play daily, I find the need for all of us to help improve ourselves and work on several individual and group behaviors, especially at this time due to the pandemic, COVID-19.

Most of us look in the mirror each morning only to find who? This who needs to become a more responsible individual when there’s a call for help and compliance locally and globally, due to the COVID-19 flourishing in our midst. Yes, we as a Navajo Nation, and globally, will get through this epidemic as expressed by many, but your help is needed as citizens now.

Daily I see and hear the written and verbal negatives and not the strengths of the Navajo Nation — amongst friends, family, political organizations, elected officials and yes, us, the general public.

Boy, today’s social media has strength and at the fingertips of most. This would be an ideal time to get on board and help our citizens in general and all service providers and support the message to stay home, no group gatherings and practice social distancing and help minimize and stop this virus.

And, yes, not all our citizens have this technology nor do they have water, electricity, TVs, or radios — outreach is needed to warn our valuable citizens. Your help is needed, not tomorrow, but today by following safety and “don’t do” measures in place. I’m one of many individuals who are calling for your help — imagine if all 350,000 of us tribal members became one voice, what miracles can happen.

My “hat’s off” to the following who have been working tirelessly to keep this pandemic outside our doors: all the health care professionals and the support staff at the mobile sites and at our hospitals; all the law enforcement personnel; all the fire and rescue personnel; the citizens who volunteer; the small and large businesses making available daily essential needs; those individuals/groups who have made contributions; our radio and newspapers; the postal service; and the employees of the states, counties and that of the Navajo Nation’s three branches — executive, legislative and judicial.

God bless all these hardworking individuals and groups who continue to take care of us every second of each day. Stay hunkered down and we will all get through this pandemic.

Harold Wauneka
Shush Bi’toh/Tse’hootsooi, Ariz.

This is the time for hózhó

As the COVID-19 pandemic exerts its statistics, the alleged genius king-in-chief of the dominant society continues to demand his society to conform to his whims and double-mindedness, while ignorant to public expectations of his service to protect and serve country.

What seems like profound paranoia disguised as political cynicism is his bizarre accusations and outright bastardizations of his supposed political rivals and those who hinder his blurred agenda, when there should be a united front. These childish blame games only move the dominant society closer to the heart of darkness.

Worst yet, during this trying time, is that his administration have yet to realize — a clear-thinking, well-prepared functioning, responsive government is very critical for a strong and healthy nation. For the wealth of the nation depends on the health of its society.

However, as this salesman-in-chief constantly washes his hands from political blame, it is not unthinkable for a nation to find itself in a hand-basket as it proceeds towards the dark abyss of extinction. So is this his art of the deal? Meanwhile back in Navajo, certain indigenous elderly citizens are reaching back into the past, into our myths and legends, for deliverance. Some have even suggested of “our return to the old ways.”

With intent listening they are not implying that we go back to sticks and stones, but to revive the intention of our natural language and extract its solutions. If our language can shorten a world war, is it still possible to apply it for social redemption?

How do we live from thereafter, after our recovery from the shock wave? To illustrate, with everything in chaos and out of balance everywhere, our traditional elders probably yearn a revival our fading traditional philosophical life outlook within a holistic universal dimension of “hózhó,” as said, translates as, “beauty.”

As understood, it is a majestic metaphor, which our culture knew and practiced on how to synchronize and interconnect with all physical and spiritual beauty, harmony, and goodness within our cosmic perception. However, currently, we are in the midst of social disorder and madness. There has to be something more concrete than metaphors. In order to experience “beauty,” it demands a willingness from our core essence.

It is this experience that generates our perception and feelings of “the outside world,” of which is objective, illusive, or elusive. Obviously, this observational experience is something beyond our control; it is outside our personal domain for concrete results, even though enforced with law, some will not obey. It is by divine grace we may experience “hózhó,” as perception of beauty, to see and briefly leaves heartfelt impressions.

Then there is this action adverb of “hazhó’ó,” if extended — “hazhó’ógo,” as to imply — “carefully; delicately; slowly; tenderly; with sensible ease; with sensitivity.” This “hazhó’ógo” describes character “conduct or pace.” This behavioral demeanor is part of us.

It is subjective and is within our realm of control. It is within us, as to how we can conduct ourselves and can live in peace. Therefore, instead of perception, “In beauty, I walk…”, it transforms into a personal responsibility and action, “With sensitivity, I live my life …”

This is about personal change, which gradually becomes social change. This is where everything else willingly follows and transforms a society. This can be expanded and enhanced on a personal level of character if we respond according to our innate instructions through instincts, and not be so oblivious. Thereafter our goodwill gestures towards others, as well as how we tenderly care for our environment, all living things, our Mother Earth and nature, will be with sensitivity and reverence.

Perhaps after the phantom of COVID-19 forgives itself and ceases its cruelty and annihilation towards humanity, we, as indigenous, if worthy, can truly “return to the old ways.” This is to reconnect with each other through compassion and be in delicate balance with our natural world, to live once more in what is timeless and divine.

Robert L. Hosteen
Beclabito, N.M.



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