Brown paper bags used to pack lunches or make whimsical costumes. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, brown paper bags have found a new use. Frontline healthcare workers store their most prized possession in them: their used N95 mask. That’s right, used. The systems of rationing protective gear and worse, patient care, have become all too familiar. With the flow of patients outpacing the supply of ventilators, hospital beds, and personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to care for them, physicians must face tough decisions every day to stay safe while caring for their patients. Today, we are spotlighting some of these amazing frontline health workers, two first-year Emergency Medicine residents—Dr. Michelle Myles and Dr. Luke Messac, who trained their entire lives for this moment but never anticipated it would come.
Dr. Myles never imagined her first year as a doctor would include battling a pandemic, much less battling one without proper PPE. She and her colleagues fear what will happen when the elastic on their used N95 masks finally gives way. What then? These anxieties crowd the minds of frontline health workers. Now, more than ever, mental health among health workers is at risk. Coming home, denying hugs from children and loved ones. Going to work, fighting the pandemic with fears of spreading the virus from one patient’s room to another. Seeing death on a regular basis after doing everything one could do to prevent it. And through it all, smiling with faces bruised by tight-fitting PPE over long shifts providing patient care. Dr. Messac’s workplace is reusing surgical masks for days at a time and reserving N95 respirators for specific procedures. Even for those procedures, the N95 masks are often reused. “I don’t want to get sick, not only because I don’t want to experience coronavirus,” Dr. Messac says, “but also because I don’t want to be sitting at home when my colleagues are working in the Emergency Department. I also don’t want to be an unwitting vector of the virus, transmitting it to people when I am asymptomatic, because I didn’t have the equipment that I needed.” Dr. Messac, who witnessed friends and family members pass away due to COVID-19, knows how long and serious this fight will be.
Dr. Myles and Dr. Messac are grateful for the grassroots community response and donations they have received from organizations including GetUsPPE, but health workers are still facing a daunting shortage. They encourage reaching out to any manufacturers or makers you may know, to donate masks, gloves, face shields, or goggles. They are also bringing attention to the need for PPE by calling on representatives and senators to increase funding and production through the Defense Protection Act. Together, we can bring upon change. To learn more, volunteer, or donate, visit GetUsPPE.org to join our movement.
By Zayba Syed, a blog contributor at GetUsPPE.org.