Will Complacency Be The Death Of Me? The N95 Mask
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It is only human nature, but individuals can be hypervigilant for only so long.
The body and mind is not designed to be at DEFCON 1 for prolonged periods and the current state of affairs with the COVID-19 pandemic only highlights this.
I admit that I myself have fallen trap to these natural tendencies.
When the first waves of the coronavirus started hitting our shores, I was on absolute high alert.
I was very fortunate to obtain an N95 mask from my clinic which I initially used religiously.
I would, quite awkwardly, put this mask on while still in my car every morning after I arrived on the grounds.
This was no simple maneuver as this mask had to be reused for several weeks and thus extra precautions had to be followed..
I essentially had to treat the front of the mask as if it was contaminated with the virus and thus could not touch any part of it every time I would put it on or take it off.
I came across the following video and essentially incorporated this into my routine.
As you can see it was quite a process and would sometimes garner some strange looks if someone just happened to catch me doing it.
In the “safety” of my office I would remove the mask in order to dictate reports effectively.
Each time I had to leave the confines of my office, to do a procedure or visit the bathroom, I would thus have to go through the same ritual.
Unlike a regular surgical mask which was a lot more comfortable to wear and take on and off, courtesy of ear loops, an N95 mask has 2 rubber straps that makes the mask quite tight fitting/uncomfortable (as well as messing up your hair during the process).
But, because of my heightened state of fear, I deemed it a worthwhile trade-off between protection and convenience/comfort.
On top of this, I actually completely changed my work attire.
I used to wear casual clothes (polo and khakis) but thought this might be the time to start wearing scrubs again (going back to my days as an interventional radiology fellow).
I chose to do this in order to make it easier to separate work clothes (with its higher potential for viral exposure) from my everyday clothes.
I even went as far as disrobing in the garage after coming home from work so as to not potentially spread any possible contaminants.
This became my routine, which I thought I would be tied to for the foreseeable future.
The predicted COVID-19 Tsunami was more like a ripple.
My state was quite fortunate that the first wave of COVID-19 was far less in magnitude than what was feared.
Local hospital systems were not overwhelmed, unlike our unfortunate counterparts in those hotspot states like New York.
My state death total remains in the mid 3 digit range unlike New York which has over 24k deaths from COVID-19.
In anticipation of the COVID-19 Tsunami of cases, some teaching hospitals went as far as making makeshift critical care units in their parking garages, which I believe were never utilized.
My mindset shift.
It was only a matter of time before my strict set of precautions began to loosen somewhat.
As the beginning of this post indicated, I could only maintain this hypervigilance for so long, especially since the worst case projection models never came to fruition.
As it was the donning and removing of the N95 mask that caused the most inconvenience/grief, it was the first safety measure to fall victim to my more relaxed state of COVID-19 precautions.
My current regimen, which is far easier to employ, is to put on a surgical mask in my car to protect from my walk to my office, where I would then take it off.
I would then use that same mask for activities outside of my office that are non-procedural in nature (bathroom breaks, signing documents, etc.).
For those times where I would have to perform a procedure, such as an MR guided breast biopsy or thyroid FNA, I would utilize the N95 mask which offered greater protection from COVID-19.
As for the other measures I adopted during the pandemic, such as wearing scrubs at work and changing in the garage, I continue to do so because they are not that much of an inconvenience.
In fact, I rather enjoy wearing scrubs as they are far more comfortable to work in and do not plan on going back to regular wear even when then pandemic completely subsides.
So will complacency be the death of me?
I honestly do not think I am placing that much more risk on myself or my family because of this reduced level of protection.
As a radiologist I belong to a specialty that is far less exposed to the viral dangers than my other medical colleagues, especially those on the frontline with far greater direct patient exposure.
On top of that, the low prevalence in my community also puts me in a reduced likelihood of exposure, regardless of protective equipment.
As shelter in place orders are phasing out and, by all accounts, on-campus learning set to resume in the fall, I am more likely to be exposed via my daughter rather than the other way around.
Hopefully a vaccine or viable treatment will be soon on the horizon as I fear that COVID-19 is here to stay and at one point we will all be exposed to it despite our best efforts.
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