Fear behind the mask

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Having a compromised immune system makes me vulnerable to colds, viruses and such. My best protection against this is to just stay home (live in a bubble). My wife, family and close friends can attest that I am NOT one to do that! I am a very social person and I am easily bored sitting at home. I can only absorb so much Netflix!

Wearing a mask is yet another level of accepting my disease. To admit I am sick and vulnerable drives home the reality that I am in a battle to literally save my life and that’s a big dose of reality to swallow! I have been resistant to wearing a mask, subconsciously because it meant facing that. A couple public events recently have made me reconsider. I thought if I was careful, kept my distance from people and didn’t hug or shake everyone’s hand, I would be fine. Not so. I felt like crap for a couple days after.

Friday night came and I wanted to celebrate the fact that I had just completed my first 5 day work week in months! I came home from work with a spring in my step and an abundance of energy that I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was ‘First Friday’ and there was a lot to go see and do in the arts district of town. As a precaution, I decided to wear a mask, but with a bit of flare. With my wife’s help, we put lips and a mustache on the mask. I had heard stories from a friend about how strangely people treated her when she went out in public with a mask. One person even went so far as to say to her “If you’re sick, why don’t you just stay home?” like she was the infectious one! Surely making my mask “fun” would remove that awkwardness?

The first stop was a very crowded art gallery. I felt very awkward and didn’t want to leave my wife’s side. We held hands and stayed close. At first, I felt myself avoiding eye contact with people. I felt shame. Eventually I realized this was the wrong approach. I needed to ‘own this’ so I started to look at people and try to say hello. NO ONE would make eye contact! As soon as I saw them looking, they quickly looked away. People moved out of my way or changed direction when their paths were about to cross mine. Kids would stare, but not speak. After the art gallery we strolled over to a wine shop for a wine tasting. Again, crowded and the same response from these people. No eye contact. No engagement in conversation.

The wine shop had a couple plates of cheese cubes with a shot glass of toothpicks to spear your cheese with. Suddenly, the thought of sharing a public platter of cheese opened the door for fear to creep in. “I wonder who coughed or sneezed on or near this?” “I wonder who fondled the toothpicks, cheese, plates…” An endless slew of little arrows of doubt and fear pierced my belly and the joy of the evening was in dire jeopardy. Given my conviction to not cave in to my fears and to not live in a bubble, I wrestled to not give these fears credence. My wife was well aware of these fears (very real risks) and kept as much space between us and the crowd as possible. She was my buffer zone. When someone sneezed, she quickly pulled us to a nearly empty corner of the shop for us to stand. The young couple that was already there soon vacated, perhaps fearful of this “masked man”?

A quick trip to Target, alone this time, netted the same results. People are either fearful of someone wearing a medical mask, or are just too uncomfortable to even say hello! Only one woman in that crowded store smiled and said hello (her husband did not). It’s sad really, that I would feel any kind of shame in protecting myself while so many people go out in public or to work sick! They cough and sneeze without covering. They risk infecting ME and I’m feeling shame?

Reality check, folks. If you see someone with a mask on, it’s for them not you. Don’t be afraid to say hello or make eye contact. They are still human beings with feelings that are taking a risk just being out in public! Cancer rarely kills people, infections do. The flu to an immune compromised or immune suppressed cancer patient can take their life! At the very least it can mean lengthy hospital stay for heavy antibiotics intravenously. It may only be a cold to you, but to someone with a fragile immune system, it’s a HUGE deal. WASH your hands. COVER your cough or sneeze, please. Be considerate and …say hello

One thought on “Fear behind the mask

  1. Pingback: Fear behind the mask | ourjourneythroughcancer

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