There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the world in many serious ways that will define our lives and world for years to come. Now, almost the whole world is recommended, if not required, to wear masks to go to work, to the store, or do just about any “essential task.” Even the Walt Disney Company is offering cloth masks! I certainly never saw this coming — definitely not in my lifetime!
But there is a population that can’t afford to not wear a mask every single time they leave their homes, even when there isn’t a virus outbreak. This includes those with lowered immune systems from chemotherapy from cancer or autoimmune diseases, and those with severe allergies, asthma, common variable immunodeficiency (CVID), primary immunodeficiency (PID), mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), and many other diseases. I am one of those people.
In the United States, it is not particularly common to wear masks in public, like it is in many parts of Asia. Aside from the other things that draw unwanted attention to me like my wheelchair, feeding tube and bilateral cochlear implants, my mask is one of the main things that cause people to stare at me. Some people, mostly children, ask why I am wearing a mask. But most stare and never ask, only stay far away and assume I am contagious. All of this was long before COVID-19.
People who have never had to wear a mask a day in their lives are finding themselves behind N95s, surgical masks, and handmade cloth masks. People have taken to social media to explain how hot it is under the mask, what an inconvenience it is, how bad it smells, how they can’t breathe as well and more. I have had a number of empathetic people reach out to me and ask how I wear a mask with every outing I take. The truth is for me and many others, it isn’t optional.
I live my life behind N95 masks. Unlike N99 masks which are commonly ill-fitting and filter about 99 percent of all viruses and bacteria in the air, the carefully washable and reusable N95 masks filter about 95 percent of the viruses and bacteria in the air. The difference, however, is that these cloth N95 masks come in a variety of sizes, allowing for a tighter seal across the face and the bridge of the nose — important to preventing the spread of and reception of viruses. After hearing about the reduction of common viruses in my life, some of my family and friends have gotten these masks to use during flu season and when traveling by airplane. Others make fun of the need or choice to wear a mask.
For some of us, even getting the slightest bout of the common cold, bronchitis, or any other viral or bacterial infection can be the difference between life and death. For me personally, my combination of a chemotherapy agent to combat my stiff person syndrome and other autoimmune diseases combined with any infection or illness means I will need to be put on a ventilator in the ICU often for several days to weeks at a time. But the more I’ve needed a ventilator, the harder doctors and respiratory therapists have found it to get me off the ventilator.
Can you imagine how awful needing a machine to breathe for you every time you got even the slightest bit sick would be? This is not something that can be taken lightly. It’s not something I take lightly. For those of us who require masks to live life, our need for understanding will remain long after COVID-19 has permanently scarred this world.
For the world’s recovered COVID-19 patients, I hope they will understand the most. We have a responsibility to choose living responsibly and doing our part while not passing it on to others in the months to come. There is no telling how long COVID-19 will batter our world. But even in phase 3 of re-opening the United States, vulnerable individuals are still advised to be “socially distant.” Even when the U.S. returns to what our “new normal” looks like when the country is fully reopened, I know what my life and the lives of those like me will look like. We’ll be armored with our masks just like we’ve been all along. Hopefully, our world will be more non-judgmental and extra compassionate as we move into the next stage of life.
We are at a fork in the road. We get to define how future generations perceive those who are different. Those who require things like masks to survive. Let us choose to take the more compassionate path! It’s 2020 and hindsight is 20/20. This will go down in history like the 1918 Spanish Flu and the Black Plague that struck London hundreds of years ago. Let’s choose to change the world for the better! The world always needs more love, and this is our chance.
For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community: