I wear a mask to protect others

I wear a mask to protect others

In 1971 something happened that would change my family’s future forever. My dad contracted an autoimmune disease at the age of 39. He worked in a steel mill at the time. At first, he noticed he was having trouble lifting his hands above his head and his speech was starting to slur.

Our primary physician was puzzled as to the cause and sent him to Pittsburgh for additional tests. When the results came back, they confirmed the diagnosis was myasthenia gravis, a very serious autoimmune disease that effects one in 5,000 people.

MG damages the neuromuscular junction where nerves and muscles meet and communicate. You may want to move your hand, but the message never makes it from the brain to the muscle. There is no known cure, but people who are afflicted can go into remission or control the disease with medication.

After the initial diagnosis, my dad’s condition worsened, and he was on a ventilator for almost three months. My dad was always big and strong, and seeing him on the flat of his back, going from 210 pounds down to 155, was frightening.

I came to dread visits to the hospital while he was attached to the ventilator with his hands tied down. There was always that puffing sound from the ventilator, making us very aware how tenuous his condition was.

He had to retire soon after his diagnosis, and our family faced some difficult financial decisions. For several years he was profoundly weak and depended on a wheel chair to travel outside the house. He also had a trachea tube in place to allow him to be attached to a breathing machine just in case his condition worsened.

My dad was able to control his disease for nearly 33 years, but eventually he died from melanoma, skin cancer, which was attributed to his lack of a properly functioning immune system.

Autoimmune diseases are on the rise. There are over 80 chronic autoimmune diseases, and according to the National Institute of Health, about 7% of our population, nearly 24 million Americans, have an autoimmune disease.

In May 2013 I found myself again dealing with a horrible autoimmune disease as my husband had been diagnosed with Guillain Barre syndrome. I had heard about this rare disease years ago in a biochemistry class.

Like MG, it manifests itself as weakness, usually in the legs and arms. The body’s immune system literally attacks itself, specifically the peripheral nervous system.

On a Friday night, we lifted weights in our weight room, and by Sunday morning my husband was so weak he couldn’t even crawl across the floor. We had no idea what was going on, and so after a brief trip to a local hospital, he was taken to intensive care at Aultman in Akron. By midnight they told us the diagnosis. This disease is even more rare with two cases per 100,000 people each year.

The disease starts as a weakness or numbing of the extremities and works its way up toward the torso. By day four my husband could no longer breathe on his own, and like my dad, he had to be intubated. He was so weak he couldn’t even use my touch-screen computer to write. We communicated via a set of posters with alphabet letters written on them. He would blink when we pointed to the right letter. It took 10 minutes to form a sentence.

Like my dad, he too lost weight, going from 200 pounds down to 155 in less than three weeks. For a time it was touch and go, and he was in intensive care for close to two weeks. We were told there are cases where patients die because they fail to diagnose the condition in time. We were lucky. He did recover, but he had to completely relearn how to perform all his motor-skill functions like walking.

Today, I can only marvel at how bravely he handled this. I could not imagine being flat on my back, totally helpless, dependent on machines for my very life. This is why I cannot imagine how people can so carelessly refuse to wear a mask in an attempt to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

I am sure most of you have read or heard some of the justifications for this refusal. I know I have, and it’s really hard to comprehend: things like it’s my right not to wear one, it’s a hoax, COVID-19 isn’t that bad.

They go on and on. The statistics are there. The science is there. The epidemiologists and other medical professionals don’t lie. I have two nieces and a nephew who are nurses in Maryland. They will tell you it’s not a hoax and wear a mask.

I worked with an X-ray diffraction scanning electron microscope for 12 years. I had to wear a dosimeter badge, as do many other people working in professions where they could be exposed to X-rays.

One could theoretically be exposed to massive amounts of radiation and not feel a thing but a few days later be deathly ill. Without a dosimeter there is no way to know if one has been exposed until they get sick.

This is true of COVID-19. You could be exposed to someone who has it and not feel a thing until a few days later when you get symptoms. People who have no symptoms yet carry the virus might be walking among us, not knowing they are spreaders.

Like people who carry the HIV virus, unless you get tested, you cannot really say if you are positive or not. Some never get symptoms with COVID-19, yet that doesn’t make them any less dangerous to the rest of the population that can contract it. Wearing a mask protects those of the population who are older or have other health issues like autoimmune conditions.

When I see someone without a mask, as I often do in the area, I think of my hubby lying flat on his back fighting for his life. I think of all the COVID-19 victims who had to die alone or ones that face long-term health effects.

COVID-19 can cause Guillain Barre syndrome. Are you really that uncomfortable that you would risk another’s life to make a point? I am not. If I can save one person from having to see their loved one die or go through weeks of a debilitating disease, I will. I will wear my mask and be empathetic and conscious that I care about others more than the slight discomfort of a mask.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load