The drive by jeep to get here had been an adventure in itself. We had spent the morning traversing the dusty high desert along roads with enormous ruts and potholes. To either side of the road were deep arrovos, sometimes containing old tires or entire cars. Along the way, we passed towns with descriptive names like Church Rock and Two Gray Hills. When we approached the home of Mr. Yazzi,* I noticed that his closest "neighbor" lived several miles away.
Mr. Yazzi was sitting outside in his wheelchair, feeding a few of his sheep when we arrived. He had had his right leg amputated one month ago due to complications of diabetes. Mr. Yazzi was a Navajo sheep farmer in mid-seventies, and as I shook his hand I noticed he was wearing enormous turquoise and silver bracelets on each arm, along with a matching bola. He was profoundly hard of hearing I discovered when one of the two nurses greeted him by screaming in Navajo, inches from his left ear.
Mr. Yazzi pushed himself up the recently constructed ramp that led to the front door of his tiny one-room house that he shares with his elderly wife. Inside, the accommodations were sparse: two tiny beds with quilts, a sink and a pot-belly stove. Behind a curtain was a toilet. One nurse began talking to our patient in Navajo. Along with the other nurse (who spoke no Navajo), the three of us changed his leg dressing, washed his hair, recorded his vital signs and checked his blood glucose level. Mrs. Yazzi was very quiet and tended to a pot on the wood stove while we assisted Mr. Yazzi. She was wearing a T-shirt from the movie "Dead Man Walking" (with a large image of Susan Sarandon's face), along with a traditional long, colorful Navajo skirt. Mr. Yazzi did not have any complaints, and despite being recently confined to a wheelchair, he said he was doing well. We checked his supply of medications, including his insulin, which was stored in a back closet since there was no refrigeration.
As we were leaving, I asked the Yazzis to pose for a picture. Mrs. Yazzi began to laugh and told the one nurse that she would rather not be in the picture. Mr. Yazzi, on the other hand pulled out a second turquoise bola, even larger than the one he was wearing, and a straw cowboy hat. He replaced the bola he was wearing with the new one and rolled over to his front door. I snapped a quick picture, and we shook hands and said "goodbye" to the couple.
Of all my experiences in Gallup, this simple "house call" left the strongest impression on me. Before this point, I had never met a Navajo person outside of the hospital, and I had never visited any patient in their home. I was surprised by the modesty of Yazzi's home and furnishings. Our medical intervention was minimal, but the Yazzis appeared genuinely grateful for the assistance. All in all, the visit was very satisfying and reminded me why it is that I decided to go into medicine -- to be of service to others.
* names have been changed