Mahala Pittman

Festus, 2021
Mahala Pittman smiles happily while being photographed outdoors.

“We should not have to go to bed denying ourselves the medical care we need because even with insurance we can’t afford to pay.”

Mahala Pittman, a 20-year-old college student from Festus, got COVID-19 while she was home for the summer. Mahala was careful about wearing a mask when going to work, but, of course, others were not. She is not sure where she got it from, and so far, those around her have tested negative.  

Once she started experiencing symptoms, she made an appointment online for the test at the local health department in Jefferson County, glad she even knew about that option. “It was simple because I knew that you could schedule online and then go get tested. I imagine lots of people may not know about this.” She has insurance, but it wasn’t required – the test was free. 

After the test, the health department made sure Mahala had all the information she needed. “They called and gave me instructions about what to do as far as isolation and even followed up to see how I was doing.”  

Getting the positive test result was scary. “I was really upset because I fear for my mother getting it. I am so thankful my brother could help take care of me.” But Mahala soon realized that even having someone there didn’t combat the loneliness of quarantine. “Home isolation is really strange. Even with support, you have to be alone. It’s awful. You can’t see anyone, and all you can do is sit there alone and try not to think about it.” Some days it was easier, but her symptoms would come and go, making some days more difficult. “I would get up and walk around every 2 hours thinking about keeping my lungs clear of fluid.”  

Mahala had to seek treatment twice at the emergency room for difficulty breathing. “I cried the second time I went to the ER. My breathing was getting worse for longer periods of time. It was like having a brick on my chest. I was on the phone with my mom, worried about the money, and my mom told me not to worry, that we would figure it out later, and to just go. I was so angry that we had to think about the money. It’s an expensive decision to make.” 

“You have to decide if you should go to the ER or not. It’s very frustrating. You are thinking about health care workers’ valuable time, but you don’t want to take chances with your health. We should not have to go to bed denying ourselves the medical care we need because even with insurance we can’t afford to pay.”  

“COVID-19 isolation led to unavoidable charges from my school, like late book fees. I was out of work without pay for a week. Even with insurance, being sick was expensive.” On top of charges from insurance, Mahala and her family had to purchase numerous supplies to get through it: Lysol wipes, 8 cans of sanitizing spray, disposable dishes, gloves, nasal spray, vitamins, Dayquil, breathing strips, prescriptions, an inhaler, and a nebulizer. “It really made me think about people that don’t have insurance at all or a support network. These are things we could fix. They are all avoidable.”  

With the end to the pandemic nowhere in sight, Mahala has ideas on how to make things better. “Anyone who tests positive should get support – financial support and with coping with the isolation and symptoms. Adult dependents did not get stimulus money, but if we did, I could have helped pay for my own ER visit. The mask mandate, that came late to Missouri and Jeffco, is not enforced, but businesses that don’t require masks need to face consequences. People like me who have had COVID need to protect their lungs while we recover to try and avoid long term damage.”

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