As I reach the bottom of the stairs, I yank off the mask. The pedal bin lid clangs with mutual relish as I drop it forcefully in. And I greedily inhale glorious sinus and lung-filling breaths of fresh tingling air as I step outside at the end of the day.
I’m not one of those healthcare professionals who work in intensive care, dressed up in space suits of infection control, but I have been wearing a mask for eight and a half hours, apart from a couple of breaks to eat or grab a drink.
I’ve got used to clamping the nose bridge as tight as possible to prevent my glasses steaming up – and I’m mostly successful, except when I’ve come in from cold weather to warm building. I’ve almost got used to the scratchiness of the stitching over my cheekbones. But it’s hard to get used to the soreness behind my ears caused by the combination of mask elastic, glasses arm, and goggles weight (when I’m seeing patients) that builds up increasingly quickly as the day progresses. Sometimes I worry that I might be developing a pressure ulcer there.
We change our masks more frequently now so at least I don’t have to put up with the stale smell that builds up otherwise over the day. And I’m grateful that I’m not getting the daily headaches anymore.
I don’t like wearing a mask. It creates a psychological as well as a physical barrier between me and my patients. Deaf patients struggle to hear me on the phone so I have to assess through a relative. Home visits take longer as we don and doff PPE at the beginning and end. I’m always conscious of the mask covering half my face and having to work at gestures and non verbal communication through my eyes and eyebrows to compensate. Gone are the days of discussing patients’ concerns over a cup of tea in a relaxed human way.
But each time I feel discouraged by the limitations, inconvenience, and discomfort, I remind myself that this is a small thing to do to keep my patients and their families (and my colleagues and my family) safe. I remind myself how blessed I am to live in a country where I have access to such protection and at a time where viruses’ transmission is understood and can be guarded against. I remind myself how blessed I am to have an employer who is so conscientious to look after its staff by providing this equipment and up to date guidelines how to use it.
And each time I step outside and take those first unhindered breaths, I am thankful, as perhaps I never have been before, for the blessing of something as basic as fresh air.
This post links with the weekly Five Minute Friday community and this week’s prompt: FRESH. You can find more here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2021/01/14/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-fresh/