This week’s COVID Catch-up: The mask dilemma

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When wearing a mask makes it difficult to do life

COVID Catch-up is a weekly column featuring Lansing Journal journalist Carrie Steinweg’s personal experience with COVID-19 and things she learned from others who shared their experiences. Subscribe today to make sure you don’t miss any COVID Catch-ups. Last week’s column is available here.

By Carrie Steinweg
COVID
Carrie Steinweg (photo provided)

LANSING, Ill. (March 10, 2021) – I have been very hesitant to write this column. I am sure I will get some backlash for it. I may be interpreted as being anti-mask or being insensitive or accused of putting others in danger or whining or lying. I’ve seen recent social media posts with opinions that range from “If you don’t want to wear a mask, you don’t care about anyone but yourself and you’re basically a murderer” to “There’s absolutely no excuse to not wear a mask outside of your home” to “Only a Trump supporter would leave their house without double masking.”

Trouble breathing

I’m not against the wearing of masks. I completely understand the rationale for and need for them to be worn. When more people wear them, less germs are spread. For me, though, they have been really hard to wear. Before I had COVID-19, they were inconvenient and uncomfortable—I’d get overheated and sometimes lightheaded when wearing one. Anywhere I’d go inside and had to wear one, I’d make the trip as short as possible and pull it off as soon as I was outside. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t been in a grocery store in almost a year and do almost all of my errands as curbside pick-ups.

But since having COVID-19, it’s not just a matter of discomfort. I have on occasions been gasping for air while wearing one. Trouble breathing is one of the last symptoms of COVID-19 that is hanging on and even though it has gotten much better, it still happens—usually when I am wearing a mask and standing in a line or hiking up a flight stairs.

When I first got home from the hospital I was having trouble breathing when walking farther than across the room, when going up stairs and when standing in one place for a while and even when I had a mask on for a few minutes while sitting still. I have gotten so much better and have walked a mile without getting winded and can do a few flights of stairs at home and feel fine. But I can’t do either of those things with a mask on.

Sitting to breathe

One day I was early getting to a doctor appointment and decided to run into the Dollar Store next door for a couple items. I put on my mask and went inside. I spent less about five minutes walking through the store and as I went up to the only open checkout lane, a man walked right in front of me with an overflowing cart. He looked back at me with my three items and asked if I wanted to go first. “Yes, please,” I said. The clerk said it was too late – she had already started ringing him up and I’d have to wait. Then a woman with another overflowing cart who was with him pushed her cart in front of me. I knew it would be a while. After 12 minutes, I had to sit down on the floor and pull down my mask. I was having very hard time breathing. I left and went to the my doctor appointment where I ended up having to sit and wait for a while because my blood pressure had risen to a high level as did my heart rate and they wanted me to stay until it decreased.

I went to a museum exhibit. I got inside and after five minutes I had to sit down on the floor. I sat there about 20 minutes and lifted my mask every minute or so to help me catch my breath. I was in a corner where there wasn’t a person within at least 20 feet, but I knew I had to keep it on. I saw what I could see from where I was seated and I then went up a flight of stairs to another part of the building and that was it. I was really having trouble breathing and had to leave. My one-hour time slot at the museum got cut down to less than a half hour.

Exceptions?

I keep wearing a mask wherever I go because I don’t anticipate people being understanding. There are supposed to be a few exceptions to mask wearing, according to the CDC. I looked on the CDC’s website, which had a list of people who “should not wear masks.” One is “anyone who has trouble breathing.” That would be me. And the trouble breathing comes from having COVID. I’ve considered printing that page off and highlighting that line then laminating it and wearing it from my neck. But it’s just easier to stay home. I do enjoy being able to dine out indoors now because it’s the only activity I can do where a mask isn’t required and I can breathe easily when I’m there.

When I was first released from the hospital, I was feeling bitter about having to wear a mask. I was told I had antibodies that were supposed to protect me and others around me. A doctor at the hospital told me I’d have at least a three to six month period of having antibodies where I wouldn’t contract the virus or spread it. A second doctor told told me I’d have antibodies for some time—maybe even a year—and that if I did happen to get it again, it should be much less severe.

I looked all over the internet for information on mask wearing after having COVID to find additional information to support what doctors told me. The only reasons I found for wearing a mask while recovering from COVID and in the weeks after were that it was “a good example for others” and “it would make others feel comfortable”—not that it would make you or anyone else safer (since you now had antibodies). Weeks later information was released about rare cases of reinfection. We’ve also learned of new variants since then. Both help the case for continuing to wear masks in public after being infected.

Looking forward to going mask-free

There’s good news in that vaccines are now available and more people are getting vaccinated every day. However, there’s no end in sight for relief of mask mandates—at least not where we live. In fact, the CDC is now encouraging double masks. If you have trouble breathing wearing one mask, going to two is not even a possibility. Last week Dr. Anthony Fauci also expressed that it is possible we will still need to wear masks in 2022.

I know I’m not the only person out there who has trouble breathing when wearing a mask. I’m trying to figure out how to adapt to it. I’m trying different masks and fabric ones seem to be harder to wear than paper ones. I don’t wear one when I am at home or when I’m in my car (except when at a drive-thru or doing a curbside pick-up). I’ve read articles where medical experts say that you’ll eventually get used to breathing normally in a mask and you just have to practice and work on adjusting your breathing. So, I’m trying to do that. But so far it’s not helping. I don’t attempt to go without one to avoid confrontations and primarily stay at home. Luckily, I can still work from home.

I’ll just have to hope that having to wear masks ends sooner rather than later. From the research I have done, I’ve learned that in trials there have not been any deaths due to COVID in those who received the two vaccines. That’s the goal—to save lives. It doesn’t mean no one will get sick from it anymore. Unfortunately vaccines aren’t 100% effective, so there’s still a chance someone can get sick even if they’ve been vaccinated. But it’s so nice to know that we are moving forward toward fewer cases of COVID. It will be even nicer when there’s a light at the end of the tunnel leading back to normalcy—and being able to uncover our faces.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I hope that you do not get any backlash from this article. Fortunately I have not had COVID so I do wear my mask where I need to. But I am a firm believer that people should not say anything to someone else because you do not know their situation. I had a friend who developed a lung condition when she was in her 20’s and like you she could barely walk more that 5 feet with out being out of breathe. People would look at her and think she was scamming the system because she had a handicap sticker for her car. She ended up having to have a lung transplant and did not survive the surgery. So I would hope that people would be just a little more understanding.

  2. Wonderful article, Carrie. Yes, I have trouble breathing through my mask at work sometimes and they are SO strict about it that sometimes I have to at least move it a little, very quickly, so that I can catch my breath! We also have fans at the counter – which help sometimes. From what I continue to read, I plan to keep wearing a mask for most of this year. We gals could perhaps look at it as a ‘fashion statement’ since there many are sold of every kind and color!! I continue to learn patience from all of this, but pray its heading to an end (mostly) very, very soon. Also, I know we’re all grateful that you pulled through your Covid ordeal and wish you continued good health!

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