Last week I wrote rather optimistically that my blood counts were high and this didn’t place me in any sort of immunocompromised position. Well, it seems like that was a false-positive of sorts. Last Friday, my next blood test put me, for the first time, in immunocompromised territory. I’m learning as I go – the high result on Tuesday was expected from the G-CSF shot I spoke about last week, but it is a false positive as these white blood cells are just being created and not yet in full service of the immune system.
This second cycle of chemotherapy gave me a better sense of what’s ahead than the first round. In each three week cycle(one week chemo, two weeks off), during the second week my cells continue to die and decrease towards a low point commonly referred to as nadir, about 7-10 days after the chemotherapy treatment. Most people who have been through this describe it as the time when fatigue is at its highest and side effects at their worst. It’s also the time I need to be super careful with exposure to any bacteria or virus as my body simply isn’t prepared to fight it off these invaders. After chemotherapy, for some, their immune systems remain compromised for years or the rest of their lives. For others (and I hope to be in this category), they bounce back to a healthy or even stronger immunity.
With that news, and already low energy, I went very low emotionally last weekend. Numb, not quite depressed. I had a few visits planned, and in general have had the option of company when friends deliver my dinner. I had to really think about the value of that human connection versus the risk of infection at this time. I grumbled and whined internally for a while as I wrestled with the choice, but in the end its an easy one given my medical status. In this life, I’ve done five 100-day Zen retreats, walked alone across the state of Colorado in 2005 and a few years ago spent 3 months alone in a cabin in the mountains. Living in my basement alone for a couple of months isn’t really so bad!
Therefore I will be mostly isolating myself. Ironically Boulder decreed a stay at home order effective today. I will take solace with everyone else in my isolation! I’ve also made the decision to wear an N95 mask if I go anywhere in public- which has caused an interesting experience and reflection for me.
As I am (and have always had) difficulty trusting the media and government, I looked into the mask issue myself. The surgeon general, CDC and media was and (still is) telling Americans that unless one is sick, mask wearing is not effective for the average person and may even make them more prone to infection if wearing masks incorrectly. I hate to say this, but that is just blatant disinformation. I fully understand and agree that the majority of our masks need to be reserved for doctors and nurses. HOWEVER, the government should have told us the truth – masks DO work to prevent transmission and infection, yet we do not have enough of them because of poor planning, incompetency, etc., and therefore we need to save the ones we do have for healthcare workers who are the soldiers in this ‘war on coronavirus’.
Last week when I went to the healing center, I was the only person (patients or staff) wearing a mask. Today all the staff and some patients had masks. I was glad to see this change. What I also noticed in the few public things I needed to do last week, a very strange energy from those that I interacted with (outside the healing center). This comes from the fact that in our society, mask wearing is generally reserved only for the sick. And when one is wearing one, I think it can evoke a feeling of disgust or fear in the observer. Hopefully this will change – watch any video that shows the subway or airport or crowded place in South Korea- 90%+ of individuals have their face covered. This was one factor of several of them being the one western country to turn the corner on coronavirus without severe impingements on human movement and their economy.
And yes, even cotton masks are better than nothing. They bring awareness to our face and prevent us from touching it. We have some kind of primal instinct that has most of us touching our face 23 times a minute unless we retrain ourselves. Let’s retrain ourselves and normalize mask wearing in times of pandemic!
OK Public service announcement over!
Here is some research on homemade masks.:
This study examined homemade masks as an alternative to commercial face masks.
Several household materials were evaluated for the capacity to block bacterial and viral aerosols. Twenty-one healthy volunteers made their own face masks from cotton t-shirts; the masks were then tested for fit. The number of microorganisms isolated from coughs of healthy volunteers wearing their homemade mask, a surgical mask, or no mask was compared using several air-sampling techniques.
The median-fit factor of the homemade masks was one-half that of the surgical masks. Both masks significantly reduced the number of microorganisms expelled by volunteers, although the surgical mask was 3 times more effective in blocking transmission than the homemade mask.
Our findings suggest that a homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals, but it would be better than no protection