A letter to my mask-less friends

Dear friend,

I’ve seen your social media posts about how you refuse to wear a mask. I know they’re uncomfortable, and you think they’re trying to take away your freedom by forcing you to wear one. You’ve mentioned that you’re unlikely to get COVID-19 anyway, and even if you did, you’re perfectly healthy so it wouldn’t be a big deal. I understand where you’re coming from, but wanted to let you know that your refusal to wear a mask is putting my life at risk. That might surprise you, because you probably only think of people in nursing homes or cancer patients as being at risk. But I am, too.

I’m only 50, and other than having MS, I’m perfectly healthy. I was diagnosed when I was 28, and my symptoms have gotten worse over the past 10 years. I have trouble walking sometimes. I trip and fall a lot and have multiple injuries to show for it. I have stinging pains in my feet at night and shooting pains in my brain. I’ve been through several treatments and am on one now that’s a bit risky, but it’s supposed to stop MS in its tracks. I need my next and hopefully final treatment in August, but it will leave me with a compromised immune system for the next year. Before COVID, I wasn’t too worried about it. But now, my doctor said if I get COVID, I’ll probably end up on a respirator (and we all know how that goes.) To be honest, I’m pretty terrified.

MS is an autoimmune disease, which means my immune system goes wonky and attacks normal, healthy tissue. More than 23 million Americans have autoimmune diseases, and chances are you know someone with one – type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, lupus, Lyme disease, celiac disease, vitiligo, narcolepsy, inflammatory bowel disease (there are actually 100+ different ones).

Many of the treatments for these diseases, like the one I’m on, purposefully slow down the immune system so it stops attacking the body. That leaves us with a much greater risk of serious complications if we’re exposed to COVID-19. I find myself in the scary position of having to decide whether to keep going with my treatment to avoid having a lifelong disability, or risk dying if I get COVID. It’s not a choice I ever thought I’d have to make.

Because many people who get COVID-19 don’t show any symptoms, they can easily pass it to someone who is at risk. It’s fine for the authorities to say they’ll do everything they can to keep the “at risk” people safe, but that’s impossible because we’re everywhere, not just tucked away in hospitals. We’re trying to live our life just like you.

So the next time you head to Walmart without a mask on, I hope you’ll stop and think about all the people you know who have one of these conditions, and all the people you run into who might. Chances are, it’s the young mother with a baby in the stroller next to you. Or the dad buying fishing poles with his teenage son. Or the kid stocking Oreos on the shelf. Or your next door neighbor or cousin. You could unknowingly pass COVID-19 to one of these people and result in their death.

I hope that puts things into perspective a little and changes your mind about masks. I know they suck, but it’s such a tiny inconvenience, and it would mean so much to me if you wore one.

Thanks for considering it!

Jenn

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