Annemarie Ward - What’s truly behind the mask?
For those who have had any form of immune suppression, you likely had to wear a surgical face mask as a form of protection from getting sick. Before I continue, I want to say that I am going to try to put all this medical hoopla in the simplest of terms, because it can get tricky to understand.
When you have a heart transplant they have to shut your immune system down, COMPLETELY. They cannot have any risk of your body attacking your transplanted heart, which is known as rejection. You think being rejected by a boy or girl is hard, try being worried about your own organ rejecting you. Your body views the transplanted organ as a foreign object and will attempt to kill it, like any other form of virus or infection.
This is why being sterile and excessively sanitary is so important, during the recovery stage of transplant. A part of the healing process includes wearing a surgical face mask, in public places, to ensure your safety from sickness. This is usually required within the first few months, post-transplant, because your immune system is still very weak. However, this is not a very understanding world and trying to integrate back into society, after a serious surgery, I found to be a rather difficult task.
I wanted to feel normal again and once I was home from the hospital, I wanted to do your typical activities such as: go see a movie, go to the mall, or grab coffee. The feedback I received from society was not very forgiving. Here I was trying to be a normal teenager, doing normal things, while wearing my mask and I would hear comments such as, “Ew, is she infected? Why is she out in public?” and “Does she have a zombie virus?”
One instance in particular that I will never forget; I was browsing in a book store, while wearing my mask, and a group of about five girls around 15 years old were pointing at me and snickering. I just kept to myself and ignored them, until one of them approached me and literally stated, “What is that on your face?” and I proceeded to answer, “I had a heart transplant and literally have no immune system, anything else you want to know?” and she covered her mouth in shock, apologized, and ran away.
What hurt me the most about all these comments was no one knew the literal hell I had gone through to get to this point, to simply be a teenage girl shopping in a mall. I was wearing this mask to protect myself from other people, not to protect people from me. No one knew what truly was going on behind my mask. Talk about judging a book by its cover.
I learned so much from those experiences and if I can be a resource to someone who has dealt with the same thing, this is what I have to say: the approval of people is insignificant. YOU know why you are wearing a face mask and if people are going to automatically be judgmental, they are not worth your time or energy. That mask is visible proof of your resilience and persistence, to integrate back to normalcy.
I’m not saying that it won’t be hurtful to hear those comments, because it will be. I was very hurt and confused, as to why people would be so cruel, when they had no idea what was going on. All I have to say is, in those moments, rock that face mask. Treat it as if you are setting a trend and you are rocking a designer brand. You are being smart by protecting your body, your immune system, and your heart.
With that said, do not be embarrassed or ashamed, because behind that mask is a beautiful, strong, and resilient person and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.