Wearing a Mask is Not About You

It's troubling that many people without chronic illness feel wearing a mask is too much of an inconvenience for them.

| 5 min read
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Gina Alejandra
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Remember when flu season came along and we were reminded to cover our mouths when we coughed, wash our hands, go to the doctor if we felt sick, and keep our distance to avoid infecting others? It all felt so simple; a time all of us took for granted, especially during this time of uncertainty and mystery. However, even as we reminisce on these simple times, the reality is people living with chronic illness, specifically cystic fibrosis, live in a constant state of uncertainty and cross-contamination every day.

Let that sink in for a moment. Every flu season, we run the risk of the virus infecting our lungs, and we must do everything necessary to stay avoid that. Now consider COVID-19 -- a virus that attacks the respiratory system -- and it's a whole new level of “Jumanji,” as the jokes on the internet go. But all jokes aside, living with CF is a constant battle, physically and mentally.

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When we first learned about the novel coronavirus (the virus that causes COVID-19) in January, I would joke and say is was a new form of the Black Death (bubonic plague), or that it would all settle down or go away by the summer, but I -- and the rest of the country -- was in for a rude awakening. I like to compare this virus to an evil villain so everyone can understand what this means to me. This virus started off as a masked criminal, it soon became identifiable by its symptoms, but it was still impossible to predict its next move. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first advised that we not wear masks and then -- before I knew it -- it had become mandatory to wear a mask where I live.

It almost felt like an ironic fresh breath of air; everyone will finally know what it's like to be stared at when wearing a mask. I'm not alone! Something so small -- that had always triggered me when I wore one -- quickly became a social norm.

After two months had passed, masks had become an inconvenience for everyone. Once the weather got warmer, one “couldn't breathe” under the thin facial covering that shielded us from the evil villain. Now imagine how CF patients feel during every clinic visit, hospitalization, airplane ride, or commute on public transportation. It almost felt like people were fed up with protecting themselves, that they traded the face covering for the villain's mask; willingly becoming blinded to the harms and dangers of this virus.

In the beginning of quarantine, we were all in this together. Finally, I felt I could somewhat relate to the rest of society, even being reminded daily that I may be at high risk for severe illness. By July, the fear we all felt was replaced with society acting like social distancing only applies to me because of my risk. Everyone else does run their own risk but, I cannot be surprised when others attend crowded BBQs, parties, or beach bars. I simply must ask myself, “What's best for me?” But that's the irony of this whole pandemic, because what's best for me is also what's best for you.

Wearing a mask doesn't make you any less than the person next to you, and physical distancing doesn't mean you're being an annoyance by following the rules. Crucially, isolating someone you know with a chronic illness is not the way to go about this either. It's just plain unsympathetic.

Something I have been learning throughout this pandemic is that people are going to do what they want regardless if it's selfless or selfish. Since I have a chronic illness, I will forever see the world from a completely different perspective, a perspective that others will never grasp because they haven't had the experiences I have -- and that's OK. What I and other high-risk patients ask for is more understanding. We now know what we need to do individually. It's not about being selfish, it's choosing to be. When you choose to become blind to a worldwide pandemic you are not only hurting yourself, you're hurting others whose vulnerabilities are not always visible. CF patients, like me, cannot return to a world that was once “normal” like you. For us, the world was never normal. Now, trying to function in an environment in which we're battling more than the virus, seems impossible.

Take this pandemic seriously and wear a mask. Most important, check on your chronically ill friends if you have them. It's not an easy world out there but by showing you care and taking the right precautions you will help us all move in the right direction together.

Interested in sharing your story? The CF Community Blog wants to hear from you.

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Topics
Coronavirus (COVID-19)
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Gina Alejandra is an adult enjoying every breath -- despite having Burkholderia cepacia and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes. She is a proud graduate of Montclair State University with a bachelor's degree in early childhood education. Gina currently resides in New Jersey with her family and two pets, Sophia and Moon. Gina plans to continue raising awareness of CF through social media. Follow her moves on Instagram! @ginaladiva

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This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.