As We Start to Re-Open, an RN Pleads: Wear a Mask!

He is a hero. He says No … but he is: a Canadian front line Registered Nurse, working in a US hospital with patients who others might try to avoid.

He’s also a friend I’ve known for more than 30 years.

And he has allowed me to share a letter … and the message … he sent me days ago:

“Hey Harv,  I miss you .   Hope you are staying safe and staying healthy… and at home as much as possible.. please wear a mask.   

Ya I’m in the middle of it.  It’s not like I work in the ICU.  Those folks are the real heroes.  I don’t have any vents here,   But the majority of my patients are homeless, are mentally ill, and/ or are addicts and alcoholics… end result they are at a higher risk of being infected than most people.

“If you’ve ever seen a homeless shelter you would understand.  Imagine 200 people, unwashed, no access to showers,  hand sanitizer etc , sleeping on yoga mats on a church basement floor, usually with less than two feet away from the next persons… on the street is just as bad, out in the cold,  the rain, sleeping under a bridge or in a doorway..

Our patients rarely have insurance or the cognitive abilities to know how to apply for Social Security Insurance, and often require prolonged hospitalization to stabilize their condition, only to relapse or stop being medication compliant once discharged , thus starting the cycle all over again, beginning with the police bringing them in, often shivering, naked, “strung out”/intoxicated and/or psychotic.  We often see the same patients several times a years,  month after month or multiple times each month.  In reality the vast majority require long term institutionalization, but so many of the mental health institutions were shut down back in the 1970’s, so today there are only about 5 % of the beds available that were there in the 70’s, and most of the addiction treatment programs only accept private insurance.

Currently about a dozen of my coworkers in this department, have become infected.  Many have become infected from psychotic and violent patients, who come in fighting, biting, spitting and now, intentionally coughing on staff.     Almost every one of our staff have been assaulted. I personally have been bit several times, have required sutures, have been punched, and even choked unconscious once.

In the entire building where my department is located (as a satellite location away from the main hospital) we have only one PAPR (Powered Air-Purifying Respirator) for the entire building, which includes several floors in inpatient Psych, a Chemical dependency detox unit, Methadone/Suboxone Clinics etc.

i95 masks are in high demand and/or just not available for our building. Since we have only one PAPR, that PAPR gets used daily , again and again.  Each time it must be decontaminated before and after use, and the battery pack fully charged.  You do not want to run out of power, … imagine trying to breath in a plastic bag…. and more than a few of us have came close to passing out because the battery ran out in the course of a COVID Testing (the Swab up the nose) procedure.

Most of the time we use simple surgical masks with a face shield (not acceptable when doing COVID testing) .   Since we are being told to reuse our masks over and over again, some of us have resorted to putting paper-towels or coffee filters inside them.   We are not supposed to (per management) but it seems safer, especially when for example I’ve had to use the same mask for over two weeks.  Over a twelve to sixteen hour shift those masks get pretty moist and it is nice to be able to change the paper-towel/coffee-filter a few times a shift.     

When this whole thing began, I told my wife that she should move in with her sister and her family.   Instead she suggested I move into the basement den. I set up a makeshift shower in the garage (garden hose from laundry sink) and for the last almost three months have not been in the same room.  When I get in,  I strip and shower in the garage.   All my cloths get immediately washed and everything from my badge, belt , shoes, keys, cell phone etc get disinfected. 

  The entire house smells of bleach & Lysol as everything is being routinely wiped down.  Its has become normal to walk around with a latex glove on and a wet wash cloth (with disinfectant) wiping down everything  you touch as you go.  The closest I’ve come to my wife is through a vinyl shower curtain that separates the dining room so we can kinda have dinner together, but otherwise we are masked and are seldom ever in the same room together.  What I wouldn’t give to be able to hug, to kiss on the forehead, but i can’t.   I know dozens of staff who are going through variations of the same scenario, from the care-giver sleeping in a camper in the driveway because his child has Cerebral Palsy & Autism, to nurse living in the She-Shed in the back yard….. Doctors, Respiratory Therapists, Nurses like myself who so desperately want to hug our families.

At present, I have lost two friends, nurses like me, to COVID. They died in hospital on a vent, and their families were not able to come say good-bye.

When I see people in the grocery store who refuse to wear masks, or pictures and videos of packed bars, Terrorists with no mask but instead an assault weapon,  I get so angry.  I would never wish this illness on anyone.  Maybe if they get sick, they’ll be strong enough not get seriously ill, but what of the hundreds of persons that they infect, and those that these people also infect, directly or indirectly, they could be responsible for infecting someone’s elderly parents, a spouse with diabetes or hypertension, someone’s child with special needs, cerebral palsy, immune deficiencies, even simple asthma. So why can’t they wear a mask when they go into the grocery store or the post office?

After a month of wearing masks, twelve and sixteen hours a day,  the back of my ears had started to breakdown from the elastic constantly rubbing on the area, and one day I realized I had started bleeding. I’ve since got creative with rubber bands, and the area is finally healed,  but most of us have bruise lines across our noises or on our cheeks from our masks.

I do not think wearing my mask is a loss of my freedom. I think that with freedom comes responsibility.

Now that I have had the chance to vent, I just want your readers to answer themselves one question: if they chose not to wear a mask, to please think of your family, your parents, your children, your coworkers or neighbors families, and ask yourself, whom of them would I be willing to kill so that I’m not inconvenienced by wearing a mask.  Its not an easy question to ask yourself. No decent human being could make that decision.

Hugs my friend.

(Name withheld at his request.)

Not much I can add to that, to repeat my HERO friend’s appeal: as you’re out and about and as we open stores, cafes, restaurants, barbers, salons, etc. …. WEAR A MASK.


The life you save may be your own … or someone you love.

Harv Oberfeld

(Reminder: You can get First Alerts to all new posting on my blog by following @harveyoberfeld on Twitter. No spam … just First Alerts of new topics.)

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15 Responses to As We Start to Re-Open, an RN Pleads: Wear a Mask!

  1. 13 says:

    Harvey its a very interesting letter. It opens up more areas of discussion well beyond masks.
    Ive heard so many people tell me that covid was only in the old folks homes. We over reacted
    Ive heard many people say I dont know anyone that has or had covid
    I have often wondered if were just lucky to have dodged a bullet
    The list goes on but sooner or later it comes down to masks
    At first our fearless leaders told us
    We dont need to wear masks then we were told to not wear masks becuase of a shortage for health care workers. Then we were told we SHOULD wear masks. Next we were told not to worry the government had plenty of masks . Then we were told the masks were coming from China ( Thats a real hoot). Then people were caught selling masks out of their cars tsk tsk tsk. Then their was the N95 crisis . Everyone has plenty but 3m was not going to ship to Canada. An international incident? Masks yes masks no. Home made masks effective yes or no. Trudeau assuring us that Canada had more than enough masks. People stealing masks from hospitals. Asians have been wearing masks in BC for many years, what do they know what we dont know?
    Dont even get me started on hand sanitizer. If you call Canadian Tire the FIRST thing their recorded msg says is ” Can Tire has 20 liter Pails of hand saniitizer available.
    Masks in Chilliwack before the may long weekend maybe 65 % or more. After the may long weekend less than 10 %. After reading your friends letter I am going to rethink using my home made mask

    (Response: The mask recommended for the masses, of course, is not the N95 needed by frontline workers .. just a simpler one aimed mostly at stopping us from emitting our own spray. I don’t like wearing them … but at my age and with my various conditions, I now do so when anywhere where there it’s hard to avoid others. And now knowing what front line health workers face, thanks to my friend’s letter, we should all feel much more obliged to do our part. Wear a mask! h.o)

  2. G. Barry Stewart says:

    Powerful words, from someone in the trenches.

    The rest of us have it relatively easy, so the least we can do is be sensible when we’re out and about and wear masks when we can’t keep our distance.

    I’m glad that our border crossings remain closed to most traffic for another month!

    (Response: Your second sentence says it all. Right on! h.o)

  3. Booey says:

    Hi Harv
    This issue on masks is extremely confusing I looked up with two sources both BCCDC and Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) I list below what they suggest. I guess wearing one wouldn’t hurt but when you get conflicting suggestions like this from health officials then one would most likely not wear one.

    BCCDC states about masks:
    Medical masks and N95 respirators should be reserved for healthcare workers.
    Wearing a cloth mask is a matter of personal choice. Some people can spread the virus when they have very mild symptoms or may be unaware they are infected. In this case, wearing a mask can help in containing your own droplets and protect others but it will not protect you from COVID-19. Masks may give a person a false sense of security and are likely to increase the number of times a person will touch their own face (e.g., to adjust the mask). Any mask, no matter how efficient at filtration or how good the seal, will have minimal effect if it is not used together with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand washing and physical distancing.
    It is important to treat people wearing masks with respect.
    VIHA states:
    Masks are not recommended for people who are well.
    Face masks, when used properly, may have benefits for people experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness, such as a cough, and help reduce the spread of disease.
    Homemade masks are not proven to protect you from getting sick, or to protect others from becoming sick. However, homemade masks may not be harmful if you continue to wash your hands frequently, keep two metres or six feet away from others, and stay home if you are sick.

    (Response: I think it has been an evolving policy because we have never dealt with a virus exactly like this before … that can travel several feet just by someone talking or via air circulation and can even hang in the air. And the really scary part is that, if you get it, the impact (on most) is devastating, crippling and painful. So I think a mask makes sense … even though it is not a guarantee that it will stop the virus from getting though. BUT , it just might! h.o)

  4. hawgwash says:

    Once again there is that P word; perception.
    I know far too many people who feel hard done by because they can’t partake of their favoured activity, can’t head for Mexico or take in a spa.

    Thanks Harvey for reminding us of, not only how tough it is for many, but how well off we are, really.

    Now, since the topic is masks, who among us has a source for reasonably priced, effective masks? I ask because I may need maybe one or two a month and putting out $50 for 50 masks seems a bit excessive.

    (Response: I heard Canadian Tire has them for sale in smaller quantities. And you can even make washable ones with a couple of layers of cloth and elastics or even shoelaces. h.o)

  5. e.a.f. says:

    have my masks ready once I am able to get down the stairs and go outside. You’d think people would want to wear a mask just to save themselves, if they’re that ego driven.

    we need to protect ourselves and each other. I want every one to wear masks, so this disease can be stamped into oblivion. That is not a reasonable wish, but we can all work towards the goal and wearing a mask and washing hands is a good start.

    Lots of people are making their own masks and being innovative by using coffee filters in them also. Mask wearing is going to be with us for years, in my opinion. On the upside, no one is going to see all your lower face wrinkles. . Fabrics are very cool, so you can get them to match all your favorite t shirts and sports teams. A friend of ours sent us some with Indigenous designs on them from the gallery in Comox, I-HOS. They look great.

    This disease is worse than the AIDS epidemic we lived through. At least you knew how to avoid it. this time no such luck. this isn’t about “freedom”, its about staying alive and the greater good. I do wonder though what Quebec is going to do with that law about no facial coverings.

    Any time any one thinks the Canadian health system ought to be more like the American, have a read of the letter once again.

    In a country as rich as the U.S.A. it is disgusting that people have to work and live like this. My thanks to your friend for his continued contribution to human kind. He is a hero. Harvey, thank you for printing your friend’s letter. its a good reminder to all of us how lucky we are to live in Canada and have the health care system we do. if Dr. Day had his way, we’d be in the same place the Americans are. we’re also very luck to have Dr. Henry and Dix.

    (Response: Covid is worse than Aids or HIV. This one you can get by just touching something that someone else has touched; or just by breathing in at the wrong time in the wrong place. Horrible! Scary! Yes, wear a mask! It really could save your life or prevent you, unknowingly, form passing Covid on to someone you care about. h.o)

  6. e.a.f. says:

    Just watched Rachel Maddox on MSNBC. topic: COVID 19. She listed 3 Republican states who no longer release the number of cases of COVID or deaths. One meat packing plant will not release the number of workers with the disease until its 10% of the work force. As Trump is taking his “victory’ lap at a Ford plant which has reopened, a couple of those which reopened had to close again. A survey of health care professionals in the U.S.A. resulted in 42% of those surveyed saying they did not have adequate protection on the job.

    Lets make sure the Canadian American border stays closed as it currently is.

  7. e.a.f. says:

    A dollar a mask is not expensive. It could save your life. Not sure what funerals cost these days, but the last time had to deal with some one dying, a low cost, no one present type thing was $2,300. So $50 or $2,300. Then there is the live or die thing. It is understood $50 is a lot of money for a lot of people, but given the alternative…….

    You can make one and place a coffee filter in between layers.

    OMG, it just hit me, a tan line on our faces, yikes! O.K. the alternative, I’m over it already.

    (Response: Don’t forget, people can always share a box of 50 too: that way, four or five relatives or friends or co-workers or neighbours could split them up … pretty reasonable way to protect yourself and many, many others from Covid spreading should you come down with the virus and don’t even know it or show symptoms for a week or two. h.o.)

  8. hawgwash says:

    e.a.f. While I was seeking advice on where I might find half a dozen quality masks and not looking for tutorials, I did try the coffee filter DIY.

    I found it to be an awkward fit, the plastic frame dug into my cheeks and the stainless steel mesh wasn’t very effective, but at the sight of it, people definitely moved farther away from me.

    I don’t have enough friends to share with or trust to share unused masks and by the time I would go through 50, if ever, they will surely have collected a few layers of unhealthy dust.

    But thanks anyway.

    (Response: Thanks for this: my laugh of the day!! h.o)

  9. SG says:

    It’s absolutely shameful that Dr Tam only started strongly suggesting that people start wearing masks yesterday, up until then she said wearing a mask won’t hurt, but it’s not really necessary. Many other countries around the globe either strongly suggested, or made mandatory, mask wearing back in March. Regardless, now that more and more businesses are reopening, and more people are finding excuses to get out, mask wearing should be mandatory when either in an enclosed public building, public transit, or any outdoor venue where physical distancing is unlikely because selfish people either don’t understand or don’t care that they’re crowding your space; such as the Costco lineup I was in yesterday. Too many people underestimate what two metres is.

    (Response: Making things mandatory in public can only be done if there are actual enforcements and penalties. The Vancouver Park Board issued 1,800 “Warnings” a couple of weekends ago to people ignoring distancing in parks and on beaches. Really? Does anyone believe that people who place their own health/lives at risk or the health/lives of those near them at risk, will respond to a “Warning” piece of paper? And making things mandatory does infringe on individual rights … so the politics of heavy enforcement could actually threaten politicians in power… so don’t expect to see it made mandatory … except on private properties, where masks can protect staff and customers … and maybe even be a good business move. h.o)

  10. G. Barry Stewart says:

    EAF says: “I do wonder though what Quebec is going to do with that law about no facial coverings.”

    Some Muslim women were way ahead of this COVID game, by wearing a burqa. It will be interesting to see how Quebec deals with the facial coverings law — especially since they have been hit the worst by COVID-19.

    (Response: What a great question! The media (Quebec and national) should be all over this: how can the province BAN Muslim face coverings by law but then urge everyone to wear face coverings??? Hilarious! Hypocritical to say the least! h.o)

  11. e.a.f. says:

    It is hypocritical, but when they imposed the ban the Quebec government knew religious women, who wanted to pursue careers, would leave the province and many did. Once the women of faith left, it would reduce the number of children being born into Muslim families. Wonder if any one in the Quebec press will ask Legault.

    (Response: Maybe I’ll send in a question/news tip to a couple. LOL! h.o)

  12. nonconfidencevote says:

    After reading some of the comments about the letter it got me to thinking about some conversations I have had over the past few weeks and the recurring comments.
    a) Testing for Covid-19? Where and who? I dont know anyone who has been tested in Canada.
    b) Contradictory information rules , etc. Wear gloves, dont wear gloves, wear a mask, dont wear a mask….. give me a break. One rule for everyone to follow. thats it.
    C) Everyone thinks this Covid-19 is winding down when, if other flu strains are indicative, This Fall will see the return of an even worse strain of Covid19.

    (Response: Dr Henry has clearly said she believes there will be a return of Covid in the Fall. As for gloves/masks … you really shouldn’t be so surprised: Covid-19 …with 323,000 deaths worldwide …and still mounting … is NOTHING we’ve ever faced before, so of course our “experts” are learning as time/spread goes on. The challenge is ordering public actions, inactions, coverings, treatments etc. is that officials don’t want to unnecessarily overstep their demands … or people will just stop listening/participating. So they adjust … as info accumulates …and so should we. h.o)

  13. G. Barry Stewart says:

    Noncon: testing is alive and well at the health unit in Chilliwack, for one.

    Results available in 48 hours. But yeah: the only person I know who has had one is me.

    Even if there’s a sign that says “Testing in rear,” never fear: it’s still up-the-nose. Not the most pleasant feeling , especially when it lasts a few more seconds than you’d like — but at least the swab stick is flexible, not rigid wood like I’ve seen in some news footage.

    The nurse said some people liken the feeling to when you’ve taken some water up your nose when swimming or jumping into water.

  14. hawgwash says:

    Harvey, your response to nonconfidencevote is about as good as it gets for a “hit the nail on the head” summary

    I think an overwhelming percentage of BCers get, and agree with Dr. Henry and most Canadians are happy with the job we have all done, together.

    That said, I’m again miffed at Alberta where 31% believe the US border should reopen, vs 12% in BC and 17% nationally.

    This is the same crowd (northern Alberta males, under 40) which had the largest percentage of Canadians who believed the pandemic was overblown and whose own chief medical health officer is urging them to not be complacent.

    Hmmmm…does oil equate to a more compatible alignment with Texans than Canadians?

  15. G. Barry Stewart says:

    I’m happy to report that my COVID test result showed negative — and whatever malady I had was short-lived; hardly lasted 12 hours. Even then… how did I get whatever bug THAT was?

    My family was relieved as well… but there was an interesting comment from one of the young adults at a small family gathering: “I sort of wished you DID have it, just to prove that it’s real.”

    I didn’t take offence, and it wasn’t intended. They understood that if I HAD been positive, my symptoms were minor and not life-threatening.

    As in Noncon’s case, where he didn’t know anyone who had been tested: nobody at the gathering (one a care-home worker) knew anyone who has had COVID-19 — yet EVERYONE has been affected by it.

    And so we walk around, with one voice telling us it’s not real — and the other telling us to take precautions. Which voice will win?

    (Response: With 346,000 dead worldwide from Covid … and still rising, I’m listening to the one that says try to take precautions. h.o)

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