Why is Masking Such a Big Deal?

We have habits that become reflexive. We wake up and brush our teeth, shower, dress, make a cup of coffee, grab our wallet, keys and get on with the day. These are habits. Add one more- the mask.

I remember when I had my first child. The weight of the carrier still haunts me. The inevitable tendonitis and switching the carrier from forearm to forearm to try and even out the weight. And of course, the baby bag replete with a change of clothes, diapers, changing pad and wipes. I distinctly remember the first time I hit the mall on my own, leaving my infant son at home with my husband. When I emerged from my car, I turned back, ruminating over what I had forgotten. I felt so light, inappropriately unencumbered by weight or responsibility. I could not believe I would be navigating the mall with neither a baby carrier, bag, nor his stroller.

The same has become of the mask. As I amass my keys, my wallet and my bag for work, I look down against the door for the mask that is tucked in the pocket. It is reflexive. I cannot leave the car without it. My children will often jump out of the car before we leave on an errand – ‘forgot to get my mask’.

The behavior of mask wearing does not represent mere reflex, it represents life. I imagine the elders in my wake, or individuals who may be immune compromised, medical issues that are otherwise invisible to me, but not lost. My nod to their health is my commitment to wearing my mask, consistently and correctly. The mask represents a mutual covenant to protect the safety of self and neighbor.

I do not understand how the mask became a symbol of the deep state, or an attempt to take away rights, or a blue or red issue. Since when did wearing a mask take away someone’s right? To the contrary, the mask affords us the capacity to collect indoors, to gather safely – it is our ticket into an event, a store, or a place of work. It enables us to assemble, with caution, but also with protection. It is in effect our talisman, our superpower.

I am a physician. I wear a mask and even don a plastic face shield when I must get close to my patients, and I can see that people are becoming lax – often removing their masks, speaking freely without cover, and quick to apologize when I chide them.

So interesting is this concept of the mask, that even as I watch tv, I flinch and react to the actors hugging and assembling without one. I laugh as I remind myself – the shows are pre-COVID.

I do not believe masks are going anywhere. I think for many of us, the reflexive search for the mask and the donning of this facial layer is here to stay. Like washing up in the morning, and dressing for the day, the mask is another accoutrement in our daily design. I believe the day that we feel a shred of relief that COVID might have been conquered, or at least mass vaccination will have succeeded in its design, is the day we tiptoe and tread carefully, looking to see what our neighbors and fellow shoppers our doing. We will hesitantly reassess our ritual and eventually take it off if the atmosphere feels receptive to our abandonment, however, rest assured – like a masked hero at the ready, our masks will also be on hand and available for the donning when science and virus require it.

Yours in health,

Dr. Abha

2 replies
  1. Colleen Mittal
    Colleen Mittal says:

    Very well written! I blame our political climate at the start of the pandemic. Trumps epitomized making the mask the “villain.” A sign of weakness! Strong men don’t need mask! Science is fake. Making mask wearing a “liberal” symbol. No wonder mask wearing got off on the wrong foot. But, true to the American spirit, even in 1918 pandemic, anti- mask wearing was popular. My individual freedom shall never be tamed! What a country!

    • Dr. Abha
      Dr. Abha says:

      I love that you are always and forever engaged and truly on the correct side of history. Tormented as you were as Californians, you persevered. Bravo to you, your courage, your determination and your try me attitude. Thank you 🙏🏾


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