I was shocked at a recent doctor appointment when practically nobody in the office was wearing a mask.
Is the pandemic over? Some of my health care providers believe so. “Nothing to worry about here, patients,” they seem to say. “Let’s just move on.”
Late this spring, I had two appointments that turned my world upside down. The first was with a specialist, where innocently I walked in the door of an unmasked office. Dutifully, I wore mine and asked that the medical assistant and doctor put theirs on. They made quite a scene before begrudgingly complying with my request.
A week later, my appointment with another specialist also caught me off guard. I was perhaps one of every seven patients covering their faces, but the doctors, APRNs and staff were not. I kept my mouth shut this time, not wanting to stir the pot.
The thing is, neither practice had announced a change in their masking policy ahead of time. Long ensconced in my pro-masking world, I felt like a Rip van Winkle waking up to new and unsettling experiences.
You see, as a cancer survivor, and an old one to boot, I’m doubly at risk for getting the coronavirus. As of this writing, many Americans were dying every day or being hospitalizedwith COVID-19. To be sure, the death rate from the coronavirus has been drastically cut, recently hovering around one-tenth it was during the worst period of the omicron variant.
Since we’re not entirely out of the woods yet, what is causing this sudden shift from pandemic to endemic?
Maybe my elderly neighbor and friend nailed it when he said, “Ron, there’s little or nothing we can do about it. They are just thinning the herd.”
Or, maybe the freedom to go bare faced without repercussions or guilt nowoutweighs the caution once exercised to keep us all breathing more easily.
In short, America appears to have moved on from COVID-19. For more than two years, virtually the only safe havens for cancer patients and elderly people alike were in doctors’ offices and on public transportation. Encouragingly, one notable exception for me has been the local hospital where I had a colonoscopy in mid-June. All patients, doctors and staff members were masked up. This felt like a slice of heaven!
And I have to send out some kudos to my family doctor. During my June check-up, he and his staff did not disappoint me in the masking department. All were donned appropriately and never once let their mask slip down under their nose!
But day-to-day, on my errands for groceries and other necessities, it is a rare thing indeed to find many shoppers who have chosen to cover their faces.
The way I’m fighting back against this insanity is probably too little too late, but cancer patients have a right and duty to speak out. So, I’ve lately started wearing a large “immunocompromised” button when I venture out into the public. And it has caught the eye of a few courteous souls.
At the grocery store, a few customers noticed my bright-red button and allowed me my six feet of distance, even in one case putting me ahead of the line for the public restroom. That’s one small gain in my favor. Most times, our long-abandoned social distancing has become no more than six inchesin our hurried world.
I’m a realist. I don’t for a minute think that most of my fellow shoppers will accommodate me and others like me in our struggle to demand virus-free air.
But we cancer patients can dream for meaningful change as we try our level best to survive. My advice? Don’t forget to put your button on before you leave the house!
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