I’m not going to come right out and tell you to wear a mask … but I hope you already are. Or will.*
I began my medical career in the small North Carolina mountain town where I grew up. I did everything from working in the emergency room to delivering babies. I had known many of my patients my whole life. I was never going to be the kind of doctor who told those folks what to do.
And I’m still not. I like to think my patients and I are a team. I may be the coach, but they’re the quarterback. I can educate them – about smoking cessation programs, for instance, if they smoke – but the decision about whether or not to quit is up to them.
It’s the same with masks. Nearly all my patients are on board with mask-wearing while we’re still fighting this pandemic. Nobody likes wearing them, but research shows they’re the most effective way to stop the spread of this deadly virus.
On a few occasions, a patient has told me she doesn’t want to wear a mask. I try to find out why and then address their concerns, if I can. I believe in meeting people where they are.
One patient, an older womans, told me she had been abused as a child and was nearly suffocated. I can’t imagine that trauma and would never try to convince her to put on a mask. But she can’t come into the clinic since we have a strict mask policy. Instead, I met her at her car. I was wearing a mask. Her daughter, who drove her to the appointment, was wearing a mask. We conducted her physical in the parking lot.
When patients tell me they don’t want to wear a mask, I say, “Neither do I. But I wear one every workday from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. The last thing I want to do is not know I have COVID-19 and pass it on to someone. It’s a minimal sacrifice.”
The place where I’ve met the most resistance to masks is in my own home. Neither my 16-year-old nor my 13-year-old wants to wear one. But they do.
A patient told me he thought the media was exaggerating COVID fallout; he suspected the death tolls were lower. I said, “If it’s your loved one who dies, it won’t matter if the death toll is 30 or 130,000.”
It can be hard to get our heads around a global pandemic. But it becomes personal when it strikes a friend or family member. I don’t want anyone to wait until that scary moment to take the coronavirus seriously.
Protecting the people you love is the No. 1 reason to wear a mask. Your mask safeguards them. It has the added benefit of protecting strangers you come into contact with. What’s good for your family’s health is also good for the public health. I’ll bet the vast majority of you reading this try to do the right thing as you make your way through life, day after day. This is the right thing. Protect your family, protect your community.
If more of us wore masks, we’d see the number of COVID-19 cases decrease. And that’s ultimately what we all want. It’s simple, really. Wearing a mask slows the spread of this pandemic and will get everyone back to school, work and life as we knew it sooner.
I’m not going to tell anyone (except my teenage daughter and son) that they have to wear a mask. But I am going to give you the facts. And I may even ask about the people you love and what inconvenience you’d put up with to protect them.
Wearing a mask is the easiest way I know to be a hero.
*As told to Page Leggett