N95

New N95

It reminded me of a panic attack. A claustrophobic, closed-in feeling. Restricted breathing and obscured vision—except it lasted for forty minutes. I just shopped at Lowe’s wearing an N95 mask. Bear with me, lots to explain:

Lowe’s – The other day, a blogger mentioned watching a TV show on ABC. Oh, interesting, I thought, they have the American Broadcasting Corporation in Australia too. Later that day, it occurred to me… I’m so American. I go through life assuming the entire world follows the same conventions as I do. I’m trying to do better. For those of you not living in North America:

Lowe’s is a home improvement retailer. A giant box store selling tools, building supplies, small appliances, landscaping and garden supplies, etc. I go there almost every weekend with my son, Eli. He’s fourteen, his hobby is scouring YouTube looking for videos of people destroying stuff. Almost every week, he’ll announce that he needs to go to Lowe’s for some obscure item to help him make a bomb or a weapon. We’ve shopped for stump remover and septic cleaner (bombs), PVC pipe and a propane grill lighter (cannon), last week we bought a power tool called an angle grinder. This allowed him to cut a spear-head out of an old circular saw blade that he later baked in the oven for three hours to harden the metal.

I’m sure many people reading this think I’m an irresponsible and indulgent father. What good could come from a teenager fooling around with this crap. I disagree, he’s learning about chemistry and physics and mechanical engineering. He’s learning to solve physical puzzles when things don’t work out exactly right. He’s learning to research and follow instructions.

A couple of months ago, one of our car headlights burned out. In the summertime, replacing a headlight is a time consuming and frustrating endeavor that includes manipulating levers and fasteners without looking. In the winter, it’s equally difficult except my hands crack and bleed from the frigid temperature. As I complained that our headlights only burn out in the winter, and I didn’t think my hands could stand that abuse, Eli volunteered to do it. He watched a video on YouTube and quickly replaced the light. All of his bomb and weapon building have provided him with solid experience to begin working on cars.

Given the frivolous reasons we frequent Lowe’s, I thought it would be deemed an unessential business and shutter for March and April. Then my garbage disposal stopped working. Right, I know that half of America lives without a garbage disposal, and I thought I could too, but this is what I learned: Bits of food make it through the slots in the sink strainer. Without a garbage disposal, those bits wash right down the drain. But when filtered into a nonworking garbage disposal, they accumulate, create a barrier, and the sink backs up. Every couple of days, I need to stick my hand into the drain and dredge up minuscule chunks of food and coffee grounds.

Garbage disposals are essential.

Sitting in the Lowe’s parking lot, Susan and I each put on our personal N95 mask. If you live in America, you’ve heard the director of the Center for Disease Control admonish citizens for trying to buy N95 masks. We need to keep them for the medical personnel, he says. Because I knew this pandemic was coming in January, I ordered masks for my family. This was before news of shortages or concerns that our national supply would run out. So now I have a package of masks, and it makes no sense not to wear them. Susan and I risked aggression and shaming by wearing our N95 masks into the store.

I don’t know how doctors and nurses do it. I could hardly concentrate on buying the right garbage disposal, let alone performs surgery. Breathing is a chore. After exhaling carbon dioxide into my mask, I seemingly breathed it right back in. With every breath, I imagined, I got less and less oxygen. Frequently, I stopped what I was doing and took some deep breaths to hopefully exchange some of the air molecules that lingered in my mask. I couldn’t spend my workday like that, I think I would freak out.

Besides feeling like I was on the edge of suffocation, I spent the whole shopping trip wondering what people thought about me. About half the people wore masks, but because we were in a home repair store, most of the masks were the type people wear when sanding lead-painted walls. Each time I passed someone without a mask, in my head I could hear their thoughts: Look at this idiot.

Since we were already shopping for an essential item, Susan and I took the opportunity to visit the garden center and select some plants for our garden. Our new neighbors practically live in their backyard—playing on their swing set, eating lunch, or gardening. This is new for us. With our former neighbor, a seventy-something single woman, that space was our private domain. We need some large bushes to build a screen. I don’t want anyone watching me while I sit on my back-porch reading. This seems like essential shopping as well.

Back home now, facing a couple of hours installing a new garbage disposal when I’d rather be out running, I’m wondering if Eli could watch a YouTube video and do the chore for me.

28 thoughts on “N95

  1. I’ve started wanting to work on our backyard, too. We went to Home Depot this morning to pick up some soil I ordered online (curbside so we didn’t go in). There were so many people there not wearing masks. I haven’t gone out much since this started, but every time I go out I judge everyone else for being out. Ha.

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    • We went on the early side so keeping 6 feet distance wasn’t much trouble. I probably would have felt fine without a mask. But there was a guy outside with a clicker counting people coming in and out of the store. So maybe it never gets so crowded.

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  2. I have one of those N95s. It’s from many years ago when I helped a friend strip paint off woodwork at his house. I tried putting it on last week and the strap broke immediately, it was so old and brittle. A friend of mine gave me a newly-made, hand-made mask made of fabric, which was incredibly kind of her. It’s hard to breathe through it, and I sometimes fog up my glasses. I wear it anyway.

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    • I bought a huge box of N95 masks when the H1N1 flu was coming. On December 31, I cleaned out my closet and threw them away. I heard about Covid-19 a couple of days later. I’m guessing the rubber bands had gone brittle on those masks too. I’m happy we have the masks, no one in my household sews.

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  3. Yup. Masks are a bit claustrophobic. Like many things, it gets easier over time. You learn to get used to the feeling of breathing hot and only somewhat recycled air, and it really trains you well not to touch your face. Took several months in medicine to get really practiced at it, and I was happy to discover that it is more or less in the “bicycle” category of skills. Except for one really sucky surprise–hearing aids tangle in the ear straps. A real expensive mistake to throw those puppies out. Oh well. Still healthy. Hope the you and your family stays that way. Gardening is excellent for sanity and produce, in my opinion. Maybe a good flowering vine will give you quicker privacy from your new neighbor.

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  4. Honestly, in my town, I am the “look at this idiot” for NOT wearing a mask. I am so in the minority when it comes to mask wearing. I read that a passenger on the city bus was removed by police for not wearing a mask. Gosh, I hate going out anymore.

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  5. California has made it mandatory for the essential workers to wear masks. Also, shops are allowed to refuse you entry without a mask. I was of the no mask crowd. Only m95 will protect you from getting the virus. The other masks stop people from spreading germs.
    A friend made some cloth masks for my family, so I wore a mask to the grocery store yesterday. I didn’t like it. But I think we’re all going to learn how to do it when in public. I’ll be staying in my house more than I ever did.

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  6. I don’t wear masks as I work in the hospital system.
    You need to wash your hands first before putting them on or else they are already contaminated.
    I don’t believe in masks. Masks are for sick people or medical staff not for the healthy.
    The reason medical staff gowns up for theatre or near the sick is so they don’t infect their patients.
    Washing hands and social isolating is the best tools in this climate.

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  7. Loved this perspective… from the point of view of this one non-mask-wearer, I can assure you that I spend a lot more time wondering if the mask-wearers are hating on me than I do hating on them (but both, in terms of time, relatively very little though). ;))

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  8. I hate wearing my mask and I don’t even have an N95. I think it is because as a child my older stepbrothers used to torture me by putting a pillow over my face until I cried “Uncle.” When I had an assessment of my fitness a year ago and had to run on the treadmill wearing a mask that measured my respiration capacity after five minutes I thought I was going to freak out and had to stop. Major panic attack averted! Now I have to wear one every time I go out. And my glasses get fogged up too. But, hey, if that’s the worst of it now I guess I’m luckier than the 9000 other New Yorkers who have succumbed.

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    • I’ve seen that oxygen uptake procedure on videos. I don’t know that I could do that either. I’m sure the mask is triggering your childhood bullying. So much is going on these days mentally, who can keep up. I hope things start settling down so you can begin to get a small semblance of normal.

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  9. N95s are awful. I get the sweats just thinking about them. I have to go in to clinic on Tuesday for a few in-person assessments and am already dreading that hot, moist air. We had to get tested for fit way back when, and that’s an awful test on top of wearing a gross mask. Better than dying though, so here we go. Good on you for DIY and masks and running and privacy hedges and staying sane!

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