My Multipurpose Mask
To look at the picture, and realize that I live in the sunny state of Florida, you could ask yourself what in the world am I doing wearing a ski sleeve? A perfectly legitimate question as southwestern Florida typically does not see “cold” (by Florida definition, anything below 70 degrees until January and then we wear socks with our flip flops).
In 2020, as I take my daily walks, I normally would be wearing a standard cloth face mask as many people are wearing to protect themselves from Covid19. But this morning, I woke up to a chilly 48 degrees (it was cold enough without hearing the wind chill was in the 30’s). My cloth mask was not going to cut it for me this morning.
My green ski sleeve came in handy decades ago on the many mountains I got to ski when I was able to. Living in the northeast of the US most of my life, it also helped a lot when it came to the frigid temperatures of winter.
But as the close of the first decade of the new century approached, a condition that had been developing over the years, courtesy of side effects from cancer treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It is kind of difficult to describe, as it is more of an onset, more than an “attack.” The condition feels similar to an asthma attack, yet does not respond to asthma medication. The duration lasted depending on the weather conditions and it did not matter hot or cold. Recovery was even determined by the climate, indoor and outdoor.
Caused by damage resulting from radiation therapy and the drug Bleomycin in my chemo cocktail, I have several diagnosed issues with my lungs. I have something called radiation fibrosis, restrictive lung disease (currently at 76% capacity – my lower left lung lobe is no longer functional or “dead”), and I have several unidentified spots on both lungs, being watched for potential development into lung cancer.
High humidity, cool windy air, and cold temperatures all produce the same effect with my lungs, almost a “hardening” or loss of flexibility, making it difficult to breath, often resulting in me taking rapid short breaths as I struggle for air. The only thing that helps me resolve this, is getting into a climate controlled environment, either air conditioned (if dealing with heat and humidity), or at least a comfortable low 70’s internal temperature. Once inside, I must sit, and slow my breathing down, allowing the comfortable internal air to get into my lungs.
How long these episodes would last would depend. From my house to the car, it was not a problem. But from the ten minute walk from the parking garage to the building that I worked in, was problematic. There were other contributing factors as well, such as stress load, if I was starting my day off in a bad way, that would also impact my breathing. Once inside, it would take anywhere between 30-45 minutes, though there were at least a handful of episodes that lasted over an hour.
Complete pulmonary function testing and imaging only confirmed that I do have limited lung capacity and functionality. These episodes are not fun, and definitely not convenient, especially when you have a timeline you have to meet.
Having the knowledge that I was likely to face an episode, and that I knew how to deal with one if it occurred, and I could count on it to be resolved, the only thing left to do, was to prevent it.
When it came to dealing with heat and humidity, there was not much I could do to avoid the conditions, other than remaining indoors when conditions were not favorable. Definitely not convenient, but my employer appreciated the fact that I spent a lot of time, reliably, working overtime hours just so that I did not need to take the long, hot, and humid walk to my car. At home, in spite of having a cozy inground swimming pool, there was no relief as long as my head was above the water, and I was breathing the hot and humid air in. There was little I could do, other than just follow my plans to deal with the episodes when they came on.
Cooler weather was a different story. Though my ski scarf had spent its last many years in storage, I began to use the scarf to filter the cooler air before it got into my lungs. But the image of me wearing this scarf, when the temperature was only hitting below sixty degrees (with heavy wind), or below fifty degrees or lower without wind, I got my balls busted a lot by my co-workers.
You see, I was known for not dressing appropriately for the cold weather, wearing shorts as late as January, in 20 degree weather. But it had gotten to the point, with either cool blowing air, or frigid air, I needed to do what I could do, to prevent these episodes from happening. And it helped.
So, years ago, I moved to one of the hottest and most humid states in the country, an odd move given this lung condition. There is no ideal climate for me to live in. But during the hottest summer months, I do spend most of my time indoors, in the air conditioning. My time spent outdoors if I must, is limited usually from car to building, and almost never during peak heat and humid conditions.
But during the Fall and Winter months, unlike back in Pennsylvania, I have reduced the frequency of the colder attacks nearly 85%. The most extreme temperatures I normally have to deal with, end up briefly in the fifties at most two weeks, at which I pull out the ski scarf. It does come in handy for sure whenever I have to travel north during the colder months.
Yes, it looks odd, wearing a ski scarf in southwest Florida, but it serves its purpose, not for how it was intended. Warmer temperatures will come back in another day or so, and then it will be back to the cloth mask again to protect me from exposure to Covid19, another unintended use for those masks. Just like my ski scarf, it serves its purpose.