I feel a bit goofy about it. But the medical people insist that going around in public for the next couple of weeks with a surgical mask covering my mouth and nose are critical for my good health, preventing germs from attacking my system.
I’ve written before about the need to balance rejection-acceptance of my H2. Because, even though psycho-spiritually, my new heart is such a part of me already after such a short time, my body’s natural response remains to treat it as a foreign object. The body typically responds by fighting and rejecting the foreign object.
Part of my medication includes daily dosages – which can be changed to accommodate the level of rejection – of immunosuppressants, also known as anti-rejection drugs. These suppress the body’s ability to fight any foreign attack, including another heart by lowering the count of white blood cells, essential to the immune system.
So, ironically, while my body, courtesy of H2, is stronger now than it has ever been, certainly since 2007, it is also potentially in a very weakened state. Keeping away from the threat of infection mitigates that weakened state.
But it is the experience I have had these past two weeks of wearing a surgical mask in public which has been very interesting. My daily regime currently involves much rest, getting used to the schedule of medication I must take and the lifestyle changes that are underway, and slowly building up body strength through walking and movement generally. But we have been forced out twice during the week into crucial errands for medical supplies or for urgent administrative issues.
Of course, early in the morning, a relatively quiet shopping mall offers good space for stretching lazy muscles, and ample places for resting, even hanging 5 or 10 in front of a display window without appearing to be too odd. As long as one recognizes that malls are also the most unhygienic places around, so I avoid touching banisters of door handles, knobs or turnstiles, unless it’s absolutely necessary. And then, a portable sanitizer provides extra cover when touching is inevitable. It makes one a bit obsessive-compulsive, this H2, but it’s all good, worth the extra effort. So, each time we’ve gone out, my mask has been an essential item of clothing.
And here’s the rub.
I have had people stare, glare, raise eyebrows, react as if they’ve been jolted by a stun gun. Some have ostensibly ignored me, but their body language belied their discomfort. Some have completely turned away and faced the opposite direction for no apparent reason as I’ve walked past them in a shopping aisle. One woman was approaching to stand behind me in a checkout queue. As she stopped and realised I was wearing THE mask, she took two lo-ooong steps back to create a comfortable (for her) space between us.
When I was in hospital I considered having a sticker printed which would explain in a pithy phrase that I was recovering from major surgery and the mask didn’t mean anybody interacting with me was at risk of catching a serious ailment, but that I was the one who needed protection. Firstly, I struggled with the notion of pithy (there’s a reason Twitter has never really worked for me) and, secondly, it just seemed even more geeky to go around with a sticker explanation on a surgical mask than just with the mask itself.
Now I realise people’s squeamishness and natural prejudices about interacting with those who are different, can create unnecessary trauma for them – it’s unforgivable that we all respond like that, but to some extent understandable. We exhibit those totally unconscionable behaviours whether we encounter on the street or in the mall an amputee, a certain nationality of foreigner who hits our prejudice button or an albino child, among others. I considered which of these whom we regard as not worthy of our common humanity carries the biggest burden of rejection, but the reality is that every single act of prejudice is reprehensible and calls to be judged.
Many in our society each day are hurt deeply by the prejudiced responses, even killed. Some have simply opted to take their own lives to escape being the different one, the other in the community.
I have become inured (almost) to the stares, glares and “step backs” caused by my mask. It’s helped that there have been some (not many, but enough) whose eye contact has been warm and engaging, with one man even raising a hand in greeting as we passed each other and another person nodding her head with a huge smile of understanding. Perhaps she knew that goofiness is not contagious. Neither is bearing a new heart.
Our society needs heavy doses of a social form of anti-rejection medication.