My N-99 masks came–two of them with filters on the mask. They are black and make me look like Bane from the Batman series.
To be honest, I’d feel guilty for having ordered them, knowing in hindsight they could’ve gone to someone in a hospital, except I ordered them back in February, before anyone was calling it a “pandemic,” and living with someone who is immunocompromised, I have no regrets about taking smart precautions so we stay alive.
I thought to check and see what the news was on the day I ordered the masks. A few of the headlines from that day include the following: “It is ‘highly probable’ New York will have cases of coronavirus, governor says;” “Trump says a vaccine is ‘coming along well.’ Here’s what we know;” “Walt Disney World officials keeping a close eye on employees who recently traveled to Italy;” “Coronavirus risk to American public is low, health secretary says;” and “President Trump on coronavirus: ‘We’re very ready for it.'”
That seems crazy to me now, all that time that passed us by when people could have been preparing, and we–and by “we” I mean the GOP–just absolutely botched it because of feckless ignorance.
I’m fortunate enough to work for an organization that was documenting the spread of coronavirus publicly about a month before I bought a mask and had been paying close attention to the news on it before it had spread beyond Wuhan Province.
So, I’m grateful for being able to be a little “in the know,” that small shield of protection in a little advanced preparation, whether it did anything or not. And I’m grateful to have the masks, but I’m not sure they’ve helped my anxiety.
When I’ve put on the N-99 and take a stroll to the cemetery, my nearest green space for a good walk, I’ve noticed that I have some trouble adjusting to the feeling of the mask on my face. I have more trouble breathing and the mask becomes the only thing I can think about. Honestly, I don’t now how the doctors do it wearing those all day long.
On the other hand, I can’t decide if the trouble breathing is a result of feeling sick, the crippling anxiety that comes with this moment, or just the constricting feeling of not being used to wearing a mask.
Lately, the soreness in my throat has managed to move its way into my chest cavity, and with that I’ve had some occasional, dull chest pain. With no fever, I’m chalking it up to anxiety and allergies, especially given that Quest Diagnostics–the New Jersey company handling testing–is backlogged some 160,000 tests.
Piled on top of those worries and the inability to get tested is the constant news we’re starting to get up here, learning of a coworker’s colleagues in another job who have died or learning of a friend’s father who has died. For now, those tales of coming news still seem just removed enough that, as awful as it sounds, it’s not quite personal yet, but with the best-case scenario still forecast to be nearly 100,000 dead in the United States, there’s this creeping dread I can’t seem to shake that in the next three or four weeks, or during the next wave of this in the autumn, it’ll eventually impact someone that I know or that I love: or it’ll be me.
On the other hand, every once in a while, the anxiety and existential dread subsides momentarily, as if our humanity must reject it. We find reasons to cry not from sadness but out of shear joy that the human spirit prevails. We dive into hilarious internet memes, binge hours of Netflix stand-up, sing or clap from balconies to honor tireless medical professionals, we hug–tighter than we did before–the people and pets we’re quarantined with when we’re fortunate enough to have them by our sides. We find, in this time, reason to reach out to people we haven’t talked to in forever, to reconnect and remind one another that we care, to check in, to find emotional closeness in the midst of social distancing. We learn, hopefully from one another, from our mistakes, from this moment we hope we’ll never have to learn from again. We go outside for a walk we never would’ve taken just for the sake of a walk and find the air fresher that it has ever been. We offer forgiveness, if not with words, then by our shear existing and ability to know the universe wills that now that, facing down death, we all want to be able to be reconciled with all that has torn us asunder from ourselves and from one another. We love and be human and no virus, not even any degree of righteous anger we might hold onto, can zap that from us.
It’s not all bad, this virus. It’s not all dread. We are each other’s emotional masks–the kind you don’t have to pay for, the kind there is no shortage of.
I’ll share mine if and when you need it.