ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was a homecoming of sorts when Mechem Frashier, head of Presbyterian Medical Center’s urgent care clinics, first headed to the state’s pueblos to provide mobile testing for coronavirus.
The van started service in Albuquerque in mid-March, but Frashier, who is Navajo, tears up when she talks about driving it out to San Felipe and Zia pueblos in early April as the deadly virus took hold.
It goes back to her teenage goal of bringing services to Native populations after watching her grandmother die of cancer at her Navajo Nation home, with “very little access to home health care.”
“For me, when we went to our first (pueblo), it was almost like … coming full circle,” says Frashier, 40. “I wanted to help Native communities have more access to health care, so it was very emotional. To actually be able to bring this to the pueblos and say, ‘We’re bringing the health care to you,’ it’s been very satisfying and very heart-warming. I feel like this is my purpose in life.”
Frashier, who is a nurse, says she had a “weird intuition” early on that the coronavirus “was going to be the biggest thing we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes, in terms of a pandemic.” She and her husband made the decision to send their 5-year-old twins to her mother’s home on a remote part of the Navajo reservation.
“I sent them just as a precaution,” she says. “They’re safer out there, even though the pandemic is going on around them. Where they live, they’re pretty well-isolated.”
Frashier says one upside is that her kids are learning their culture and the lessons she absorbed as a child.
“They don’t know any different, so to them it’s fun,” says Frashier. “My mom sent me a picture of my kids learning how to grind corn on the old stone grinder. It was very cute.”
How have you been spending your down time during the pandemic?
“I try to take days off … or some time off. It’s been how I keep my sanity. We have the two dogs, Greta and Isla, and we’ve been walking them every night for an hour and a half. My husband and I, we found a silver lining in all this. We met each other, got married and had the twins within a nine-month period. We were both 34, 35 at the time, so … we started our lives quickly together. Now, we’re able to kind of find some alone time and really build our relationship. That’s sort of been the positive in all of this.”
As a health care provider, how hard has it been to deal with all this?
“It is very hard. I’m thankful every day for my husband, because he’s been a sounding board when I come home. (The other day) I came home and told him, ‘I hit the wall.’ What do they call it? Nurse fatigue or caring fatigue, where you care so much that you just get tired of caring. I left the mobile site early, told my team, ‘I’ve got to go.’ I literally shut off and decompressed. We didn’t watch TV, we went outside, didn’t answer emails or texts because I really needed to come back into myself and calm down and know that this is going to be here for awhile.”
What was your childhood like?
“I grew up in Sanders, Arizona. My mom’s a teacher, my dad worked for the Navajo Nation. I was going into the second grade when my mom sent me to a boarding school, Rehoboth Christian School (in Gallup). I learned quickly how to become independent. I had wonderful dorm parents, who were my second parents, and my grandmother would pick me up on weekends and take me home. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, who was a Navajo rug weaver. I would sit with her and my uncle … and they would teach me about my culture, about who I was, the clans, about how to save things, never throw away anything – I think it was part of that generation. Looking back on it, going to Rehoboth was probably one of the most solid foundations I had in my life because I grew up in a Navajo Christian family, so I learned early on how to balance Christian religion and culture. That’s definitely a struggle that goes on on the reservation.”
What childhood lessons did you learn that are helping you now?
“Prayer and daily meditation are really what is getting me through these times. My grandmother taught me – and my dad always told me this – always get up before the sun rises because … that is going to strengthen you and make you a better person. So I do that every morning. I notice the older I get, I’m kind of going back to a lot of what I was taught to do when I was a child. I think that’s keeping my sanity.”
What are your hobbies?
“We, as a family, travel. We go to Florida a lot. We’ve traveled to Hawaii. I usually try to read, and I do a lot of walks. And my whole thing is I try to catch up on my books.”
What are you reading?
“I love history – any kind of history. Right now, I’m trying to finish up a book on Polynesian history. The Hawaiian monarchy, specifically, and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in the early 1900s. It’s giving me insight into another era, where their problems seem just as bad as this.”
What’s something no one knows about you?
“Do I want to admit this? I have a fascination with jewelry. I love to read history about jewelry, like historical tiaras or brooches of different royal families in the world. My husband thinks I’m weird. I think we were three years into our marriage before he found out. He caught me at 1 a.m. reading a historical jewelry blog.”
What’s been the most difficult experience for you, either as a nurse or an administrator?
“It’s almost to a fault that nurses care so much. So when you’re in a situation and you’re taking care of people and you are out there giving your heart out and giving your best and you sacrifice time and family time and you put a lot at risk – the lack of appreciation that people might have for that is hard, especially because right now, we live in such a political world, And this battle going on between opening the state, closing the state, ‘Oh, COVID is really a conspiracy theory,’ and you throw being Native American and the Native communities into that, it is really challenging. I grew up with my grandparents not having running water and using an outhouse where Native people still have that, and it’s the 21st century. It shouldn’t have to be that way in this day and age.”