This photo of me was taken at the Mayo Clinic, on November 6, 2018. It was at the height of the dark days of my recovery from autoimmune encephalitis.
I was back at Mayo to rule out having breast cancer, to deal with a few new diagnoses, and to see my brilliant autoimmune neurologist, Dr. Andrew McKeon.
I was on heavy doses of daily steroids, and had been for months. I had many months to go. The steroids were doing what they were supposed to; they were suppressing my immune system and saving my brain. They were also ravaging my body.
I felt dreadful. And, I hated the way I looked. But, I had already started a religious practice for going to the clinic and on my rare public outings. I wore a mask. And it wasn’t to hide my swollen steroid face.
Upon the prescription, I was immediately warned that steroids were going to strip my immune system, and that I had to be very careful to not get sick. I heeded that advice and when the early fall rolled around, I purchased masks to wear. No one told me to, no one asked me to, I just did it out of an abundance of caution and good judgment.
When I saw Dr. McKeon, he noted my mask and asked me whether I was sick. I told him, “No, but I don’t want anyone to make me sick.” He paused, nodded along and said, “You’re smart.”
I’m no rocket scientist, truly, you could have confused my head in Chemistry for Geology, but it was a no-brainer to me. And it seemed to win the approval of my most important doctor at Mayo. I wore a mask to make sure I didn’t get sick, because I feared it could be disastrous for me.
Fast forward two years and the dreaded Covid-19 virus is tearing through the world and wreaking havoc. And there’s still a debate on masks! I haven’t yet publicly weighed in, but seeing this picture today reminded me that I should.
During my city council’s mask mandate meeting the other night, I heard from many experts, mostly physicians. I’ve heard from them before too. They all said it: wearing a mask works, and along with social distance and hygiene, it’s what we need to do. I even heard one say that the worst side effect of a mask, was possibly some face acne. (Spoiler alert, it’s not dying from carbon dioxide)
Sure I’m a political person. My hat and shirt in the pic gives that away (that and the Democratic megaphone I carried during my college and law school years), but masks have nothing to do with politics. Masks have everything to do with public health and safety. Please, spare me the freedom arguments. I’m no Constitutional Law scholar, but I learned that you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. No one has a right to make someone sick. And, you shouldn’t claim it’s your “right” to not give a damn about others.
I watched a Covid webinar from The Encephalitis Society where I learned that because I wasn’t actively treating my AE, I didn’t seem to run any greater risk of complications than the average Joe. But, I take 0 chances. My family cannot run any risks. No one wants to again take my immune system for a test drive. Thus, until a lot about Covid changes, my family is very isolated. And, it sucks.
I have many friends who tell me they’re concerned about two groups: the elderly and their AE-friend Jackie. I hate to sound pathetic, but maybe I am. I thank them for their concern, but I prefer that they continue to do their part, so they can see me out in the wild again. Masks, distance, hygiene.
To all my AE people out there – please take care. Stay well. Who knows what Covid could do to us, but let’s try hard to not find out. To everyone who feels vulnerable and afraid of Covid, I hear you, please take care. To all the essential workers and medical professionals who are on the front line, you have my unending thanks and prayers. And to those who continue to question or deny masks …
We’re truly all in this together.
“And all those things I didn’t say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?
“This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me” Fight Song ~ by Rachel Platten