I’ve been a little nervous about this upcoming infusion, as so much has changed from 4 weeks ago. We are now under a shelter in place order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Essential workers and activities are still allowed, but people everywhere are taking all the advised precautions. I’m wearing a hand-sewn paisley face mask a dear friend dropped off for me last week, as well as a pair of latex gloves.
My husband dropped me off, and we tossed virtual kisses at each other as I got out of the truck. I walked into the cancer center, where my infusion center is held on the 2nd floor. In the entrance area, between two sets of automatic double doors, a man is sitting on a bench, wearing a face mask. I walk through the interior double doors and I’m summoned to a Purell stand and asked to sanitize the latex gloves I’m wearing. The woman at the station then asks where I’m headed. When I tell her the infusion center, she informs me that they have their own procedures and will ask me the necessary questions and check my temperature. I’m wondering if she can read my timid hesitation and confusion through my half-covered face.
I took the elevator this time, to get to the second floor. I usually take the stairs, but I still have poor balance and wanted to avoid needing to touch the handrail, even though I was wearing gloves.
On the second floor there are two women blocking the check in area. They are standing at makeshift stations, tall, round tables holding boxes of face masks. Each table is proceeded by a line of red tape on the carpet several feet away. This is where I’m asked politely to stand. Everyone is wearing a white face mask. I wait patiently for my turn.
When it’s my turn I’m instructed to remove the mask I’m wearing and put on the mask they have provided. They said I could wear my mask over the white mask if I wanted, but I declined and put it in my purse. I’ll save it for another day. I’m asked a series of questions and my temperature is taken, and the woman signs the form for me. So I don’t have to touch anything.
Once I’m cleared they tell me to stand at a red paper square on the floor, several feet ahead. I walk over and wait to be called but it’s tricky because the masks muffle all the sound and I can’t read lips that are covered, obviously. I forget how much lipreading plays a part in my speech comprehension.
A woman far ahead looks in my direction and points at me, because it seemed clear to her I wasn’t getting the message to come over to her desk. She checks me in, quickly, puts an ID bracelet on my wrist, and then I’m sent over to the waiting area. I find a seat away from other patients, breathe deeply, and wait.
When my intake nurse comes through the doors ahead, she sees me immediately and I can tell from her eyes that she’s smiling. As we walk back to my corner station, she mentions that it’s probably hard for me with all these masks on. She remembers me well; I’m a regular at this place. I say yes, that I forget how much I use lipreading until it’s not available anymore. It’s not impossible to understand, just a little more challenging than normal. Nothing I can’t deal with.
To be perfectly honest, the rest of the infusion went just as usual. It was a bit strange to see everyone walking around with face masks on, but I didn’t feel a heightened sense of dread or anything. It felt like business as usual for everyone. For all the nurses and staff, this has become their new normal (for now, at least) and they are well adjusted to it. Once I was sitting in my infusion chair, I felt completely at ease and had no reason to be fearful. And once I had my mask on properly, it was actually quite comfortable to wear. To quote the Dread Pirate Roberts, “I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.”