IN GOOD HEALTH: To Mask or Not to Mask; Nobody is “Wrong”

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By Linda Tate, Communications Director Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation
This week, we are going to talk about masks. If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a lot of talk about the “face coverings” lately. One only has to log on to a social media site and there it is: keyboard warriors slinging the online mud in each other’s faces. Suddenly, we are all experts on the validity of a mask.
For purposes of this blog, we aren’t going to go there. Your opinion is yours to have. Welcome to America.

There are valid points on both sides. Let’s just get that out there. I know, like you, I like to be “right“. Nothing bugs me more than having someone outsmart me on the Google search. My information is more recent than yours. My information came from a “real” doctor…nurse… a friend that’s a nurse. I know…I know. We all have a friend who knows everything there is to know about this virus and then some.
The truth is that, if we were to sit still and be quiet for a moment, most of us know very little and none of us know everything. We only know what we are being told, or what we are reading, or what we heard on the TV or radio. Very, very few of us are actual epidemiologists. I’m not an expert in that field. I’m a blogger. I know nothing but my own opinion and often that’s wrong.

What I do know is this: we are all experiencing stress.

There are many reasons one might fight to keep a mask off of their face. Past trauma (maybe as a child their sibling held a pillow over their face and it wasn’t funny), Anxiety (putting something on your face triggers a claustrophobic effect which in turn triggers your fight or flight and you find yourself ripping the mask off and running for the nearest exit), Ego (nobody is going to tell me what to do), or Denial (I don’t believe this virus is that dangerous and this is overkill).
Those who do wear their masks are experiencing a different kind of stress. They are afraid of not only contracting the virus themselves but carrying it home to a fragile elder heart. They are angry because they feel those that aren’t wearing masks are putting the very family that they love so much, at risk. This, in turn, can trigger their fight or flight response…protect the family at all costs. They feel that in not wearing a mask, people are being insensitive, selfish even.
My family and I have self quarantined since March 1st. We have an essential worker who lives with us, and we must protect him so that he can protect his patients. To keep my own anxiety under control, I’ve been making and donating masks. My masks have a moisture barrier inside and a nose wire for a tighter fit. The fabric is 100% cotton and a tight, scratchy weave. The best kind.
We are up to over 750 donated masks at this writing. I’ve delivered to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult centers, and nuns. I’ve taken a bag of masks with me to the grocery store and handed them out to at-risk populations, who were so very thankful to get one. They either couldn’t afford one or simply didn’t know where to go to buy one. I’ve given to foster parents and their children, veterans, people with asthma and compromised immune systems, and of course, friends, family, and colleagues. And I would be a liar if I didn’t admit I hate wearing a mask.
It’s hot. It restricts my airflow and makes me feel light-headed. The elastic hurts my ears. It triggers my PTSD hardcore. I have reservations as to its effectiveness. I could go on and on. But never the less, I wear it. I have to stay well so I can continue to provide for those who have no other way of getting a mask, and I have to stay well so our essential worker stays well, in turn keeping his elder heart patients alive and well.
The thing that makes this subject such a hot button issue, is that we are all getting information from the keyboard warriors, some of it is correct, and some of it isn’t and I wish I could tell you which was which but I cannot. Neither can you. You and I have nothing but speculation, intuition, common sense and a stubborn resolve to be “right“.
I can only speak for myself. I love my country. My dad almost died in WWII to give me the right to live here and be free. I can never repay him. I can only try to be the best human I can be, and hope that I’m worthy of the sacrifices he made. And I can suck it up, and put that blasted mask on for the 30 minutes it takes me to run in and grab my milk and bread, on the outside chance that in doing so, I’m protecting someone else, just like my dad did, and all the other veterans in the USA.
They didn’t think twice about protecting other Americans, in fact, offered to die to do so. I’m going to err on the side of caution. I’m going to drown out all the naysayers and make a decision for myself, and only myself. If you aren’t wearing a mask, you will find no judgment here. I get it. But as for me and mine, I must protect those who cannot protect themselves.
The worst thing that could possibly happen is I’m wrong. The masks don’t work. No harm, no foul. At least I tried.
Please remember this: There is no such thing as perfect safety, only harm reduction.

Say that again to yourself slowly. None of us will ever be perfectly safe from this virus, or any other illness or situation. I wear my seatbelt but if a semi-truck hits me head-on, I’m going to die regardless. I still put that belt on and try. My loved ones are counting on me to at least try to keep myself safe, even if that belt wrinkles my clothes, and makes me feel trapped, I still put it on every single time.

Please join me in trying, will you? If you need a mask, contact me: linda@nwosteo.org. I will keep giving them away as long as I’m able.

Stay safe and well, dear readers. We appreciate all of you, the maskers and the non-maskers. Try to see each other’s viewpoints as valid this week, will you please? Extend each other the grace you would like to receive. This is so hard. People are losing their livelihoods and their very lives. Let’s not make it even harder by grinding total strangers into the social media dirt, ok?

The Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation is a public charity committed to Advancing Wellness through the Osteopathic Approach. As a charity, we do not represent any medical school, medical association, medical practice, or individual physician.
This blog should not be considered to be medical advice. Your personal health is best discussed one-on-one with your personal physician. Rather, this blog is intended to highlight the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine as expressed by the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation, or other Osteopathic physicians. The information and opinions are solely those of the author. For more information, go to www.nwosteo.org.