Masks Before Bandanas

“Going Green?” Reusing PPE for COVID19

Brown Paper Bagging Your Mask

In a Time of Emails Beginning with “I hope this message finds you safe and healthy”

A Hero of Several Masks

I started this blog years ago as a creative outlet and to poke fun at the weird but true lifestyle of being a partner to an emergency doctor.  I interviewed doctor friends for their most memorable ED foreign body cases and curled up the experiences of many doctor spouses for one of my favorite entries: “The Other Woman.”  A few years ago, I thought the worst part of being a “doctor’s wife” was dealing with his crappy schedule, or match, or having to run the washer on ‘sanitize’ one extra time.  But it’s 2020 and our world is being rocked by a pandemic that we weren’t prepared for and perhaps, jokingly, took too lightly in its onset.  I would give anything to go back to the days of fretting over Match or enduring surgical descriptions so palpable they ruin dinner…

I decided to open this blog back up one more time because I feel like I have something important to share.  First off, this is no surprise, but I am so damn proud of my husband and the countless medical professionals who kiss their family goodbye and go to work each day, fully aware that this might be the shift that they contract COVID19.  To the individuals who furiously scrub their skin raw, change into new clothes, and take that scalding shower after every shift.  To the ones going a step further and distancing themselves from their loved ones to keep them safe—sacrificing that last stronghold of humanity they have to preserve their home, their partner, their children… You are all heroes, and we are undeserving of your sacrifices.  Thank you for all that you do—not just during pandemics, but with every shift you work.

Okay. Here goes…

Do you see that picture up top?

Do you see the two surgical masks, the eye shield, and the cloth mask?  These have been on our kitchen table since about mid-week and I cry every time I see them.

Each day that my husband goes to work, he and other medical professionals are given one N95 mask for their whole shift.  They keep their mask in a brown paper bag and reuse it for every patient.  My husband’s work story is not unlike others around the country, but what broke my heart and finally made all of this shit “real” to me was when he told me that he is keeping his masks.

Each one.

He “cleans” them using a UV light machine available at one of his hospitals, and he will continue to do this because inevitably he will enter a shift where he is no longer handed a new mask.  He has reached a point of acceptance that one day, he will go to work and be told that he should use a bandana because that’s all that’s left now.

He doesn’t have an option to say “no” or back out of seeing patients.  This is his job.  He knows and recognizes the risks because he believes in helping others and wants to continue to save lives.  Even if it means he is repeatedly exposing himself to the virus.  Even if it means there’s a chance that he could bring the virus home.

But these masks?

These masks are all I think about now.

Every cough has me on edge.

Every mention of a full hospital or intubation makes me wonder how much longer we have.

There’s a lot that goes unspoken, because it doesn’t help to dwell on the “what ifs.”  But every so often, like last night, I completely break down and confess how scared I am for him.  For our family.  For our friends in the field.  He shares with me the honest projections—not to scare me any further, but maybe to reassure me that he’s not going into this blind, and like his masks—he’s preparing for the wave and paddling out slow.

We are trying to stay positive and strong for each other, for our son, and to preserve any semblance of what used to be “normal” for as long as we can.  We do this through wrestling matches with Atlas.  Walks in the park.  Late night movie rentals and two bowls of popcorn: mine with tajin and his with melted peanut butter (yeah, it’s gross.  We remain a house divided).  We’re continuing our marathon of The Wire and, as always, making travel plans for the future.  We want to do a food tour with Atlas and will probably begin in Portland.  We also want to see the trees in New England in October.  Plans to buy a house are getting real and at some point we’ll be able to celebrate my graduation with a big ass BBQ. You’re all invited.

I know that our story is not unlike others.  Like yours.  I know that spouses out there are terrified and maybe instead of giving life to those fears, you strengthen your reserve by sending comical COVID19 memes to your partner or simply sit with them in silence, holding their hand.  These are things that I find myself doing and I want you to know that it’s okay.  It’s okay to be scared and angry and wishing you could retreat for a few days to just “Netflix and chill” like your friends can and often complain of having to do.  It’s okay to find yourself unceremoniously pissed off at Facebook posts, news articles, and memes because they now directly impact you and your family.  It’s okay to feel.  It’s okay to fall apart.  It’s also okay to find the good and smile.  Even laugh.

I mentioned that the masks make me cry every time I see them.  You may be wondering why I don’t just put them away.  I don’t because they remind me that this moment is real, and its impact is greater than news headlines of rising death tolls and sarcastically lamented Zoom happy hours and dance parties.  They remind me that my husband is literally doing everything he can to protect himself, his patients, and us.  They’ve transformed into a tangible representation of life in 2020—synonymous with hope, pain, anger, and love.  They represent everything that is wrong with our country, presidency, and economic mindset.  They remind me that healthcare is a human right, but will never be treated as such, and that healthcare and proper PPE will continue to be denied because 45 believes that “We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem.”

If you have the ability to help.  If you’ve been sewing cloth masks or have donated gloves and N95s to your local hospitals and med friends—thank you.  If you have petitioned your senators and local leaders for more #PPE —thank you.  If you are practicing #staythefuckathome –thank you.  Continue to find courage and act valiantly.  Continue to support your loved ones, especially those on the #frontlines, including farmworkers, food and hospitality staff, cleaning crews, and shipping teams who are ensuring that our communities continue to run and that we can still hang onto our small bit of “normal” during this crisis.  If you can, support a family or local business, and always, always, reach out across the digital divide to check in with your people and celebrate even the smallest moments.  Everything counts right now.  We’re all in this journey together, and it’s only just begun.


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