Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Why Wear Masks?

Former COVID patient now wearng mask…..

During the several decades that I worked as a hospital doctor, I spent many of my working hours wearing a mask.

In my early years, these masks were made of gauze with attached ribbon tapes that were uilised to tie the mask firmly behind one’s neck. After we finished an operating session, the masks were removed and placed in a bowl of antiseptic to soak, then machine washed in boiling water, dried and heat sterilised in heavy steel drums before being re-used. The hospital used to employ one or more seamstresses to stitch these masks as well as the surgical hats and scrub suits that we used to wear in the operating theatres.

As time progressed, the heavy re-usable gauze masks were replaced by single use paper masks which appeared much more modern and light – but once used were disposed of to be incinerated or go into landfill.

Although the masks we wore were not always comfortable, we did not question the need to cover our noses and mouths while at work. The masks were not worn to protect ourselves catching germs from others – they were worn to protect others from us!

Masks are worn by doctors, nurses and operating theatre attendants as a matter of course. It is part of our culture or ethos, intended to prevent us transmitting to others the germs that we may be harbouring.   They are a barrier to ensure that health personnel working over a patient do not breathe or cough the germs in our respiratory passages into open operation wounds or patients’ open throats.

In Japan, it is not just health personnel in hospitals and clinics who wear masks. In that society, it is part of their natural culture to always wear a face covering if one believes that one is ill – whether with a cold, a cough or a sore throat – because it is part of one’s responsibility as an individual member of that society to be responsible to not spread germs to others in the community.

So it was with sadness that I have watched some of those videos now gone viral on the internet that show folk refusing to wear masks, protesting and even threatening law enforcement officers and shop employees for insisting that they wear a mask before entering a store or a public place. Claiming that masks impede their personal freedom, that mask wearing interferes with their right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, that masks are like muzzles that should not be inflicted in a free society – all these are views that fly in the face of scientific and logical thinking.

Many countries – even those that initially had greater success than others in controlling COVID – have or will face second and even third waves of infection. The germ responsible for this pandemic is not one that can be destroyed by common antibiotics or antiviral medications. Some of those people that the virus infects it kills. Others get the virus into their system where it remains without causing symptoms but can be transmitted to others.

So for the moment, our best methods of keeping this deadly virus under control is to follow the simple measures of washing hands and staying socially distanced from others (who may or not be obviously infected).

And, of course, by making sure we wear masks.


One comment on “Why Wear Masks?

  1. Sri Varman
    October 7, 2020

    Initially I, as a Medical student in the operating theatre, and later as doctor in training and as a surgeon, have worn a mask for over 48 years.
    Initially every one in the OR wore a mask and as time passed, the anaesthetists stopped wearing masks.
    I feel that I wore masks for my own protection as well as for other people’s protection.


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This entry was posted on October 6, 2020 by in Health Matters, Opinion and tagged , , .

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