July 22, 2020

Mask or ventilator?

It kind of baffles me that so many people seem to pop their clogs when asked to wear masks to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus.

If I wanted to get Freudian about it, which is kind of fun sometimes, I might speculate that they see this as some kind of symbolic neutering imposed on them by authorities unconsciously associated with father figures.

Holy Oedipus complex, Batman!

(There’s nothing like a little recreational psychoanalysis every now and then.)

However, I’m not wedded to that idea. After all, Freud supposedly said that, sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

Sometimes, I think some people see it as an attack on their sense of whiteness and/or masculinity. I haven’t done an exhaustive statistical demographic analysis, but I suspect that kind of reaction does seem to be most common among those who might strongly self-identify in one or both of those categories.

Whatever the case, I’d urgently like to say that, if you think masks are bad, just try a ventilator sometime.

I found that out the hard way more than 15 years ago. I’d been doing a lot of endurance events, including the Charleston Distance Run and an Olympic-distance triathlon, but I kept getting slower and slower.

Then, I started getting a weird pain in the right shoulder. Usually, I could push past things like that but, this time, it shut me down.

At the time, I thought it might be a shoulder injury sustained after I tried to do a judo throw on a guy built like a pyramid. I went to a physical therapist, who is now one of the most conservative members of the state Senate. He urged me to get a stress test.

I thought it was a crazy idea but went along with it, which might have been one of the few times we agreed on something. I say that with all respect and gratitude. That advice saved my life.

It turned out my major arteries were totally blocked. The term “widowmaker” was used. My capillaries were apparently keeping me alive, so all that running, however slow, paid off.

I got scheduled right away for a quadruple bypass.

I expected that to be a drag. In the days before minimally invasive surgery, this meant my sternum getting sawed in half and cracked open like a clam shell. There were other cuts and tubes to be endured.

What I didn’t know and wish someone would have told me was what waking up on a ventilator would be like.

I came to with a weird sensation in my throat. Some ginormous-seeming object was there that, in retrospect, reminds me of the space creature in the first “Alien” movie that latched on to that poor guy’s face before its baby popped out of his chest.

I wanted to gag, but that wasn’t an option. Then there was the fact that it was uncomfortable, to put it mildly.

Then there was the breathing. At first, I didn’t think it was happening but, eventually, I figured out that, since I wasn’t dead, the alien was breathing for me. But let’s just say it’s nothing like the real thing.

I think my reaction to all that, ironically, wound up keeping me on it longer than might have otherwise been the case.

Maybe things have changed since then. Maybe being intubated these days is like taking a ride on a magical unicorn. But that would surprise me.

Here’s the thing: I was on that for just a few hours. Some COVID-19 patients have been on one for days or weeks. Fortunately, those who are ventilated are generally put into a medically induced coma, so they don’t experience that kind of distress.

But still, the real or imagined indignity, discomfort or inconvenience of wearing a mask is pretty small stuff, considering other possibilities.

That person with a mask just might be keeping you from getting a tube down the throat. It might be nice to return the favor.

(This ran as an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have walked down the same path (and Camino) you did ... and am working my way back! Gotta to keep moving forward! Not crazy about the alternative. Keep moving ... or stop and die (seriously)!

Trust in science ... and the inherent goodness of humanity.

Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar. (A.Machado)