With school opening up again a lot of my friends ask, “will you wear a mask?”
“Yes,” I say without much thought. It is an easy choice for me, although maybe not for everyone else. Even though I am fully vaccinated, even though I have not caught COVID yet, mask-wearing is an easy choice for me.
My friends may be confused as to why I am so willing to wear a mask after two years of life with fabric covering my face, but what they do not know was what happened last time I got sick.
They do not know that in seventh grade I caught a viral illness, although it wasn’t COVID-19. And even still, I nearly died. The illness itself went away after a few days and some medication. But the issues the sickness left me with were life-threatening.
What they don’t know is that the last time I got seriously sick, I was in the hospital for three days, so close to a coma, so close to death from undiagnosed diabetes triggered by a case of strep. I was only thirteen.
And what they don’t know is how a few months after my hospital trip I was also diagnosed with celiac, caused just like my type one. They don’t know my mother has celiac, too, and that the average diagnosis time is 6 to 10 years for people like us. They don’t know that we have become accustomed to being forgotten about and ignored. We have grown use to pain without a doctor to help or even a reason as to why. Otherwise healthy and well people, my younger self included, do not know the same healthcare system as my mother and I.
And while my friends say they understand my choice what they really don’t know is that the reason I wear my mask even though everybody will ask is because I remember what happened last time and it’s something I don’t want to live twice. Because I am too scared of being ignored even more by medical staff, being exploited more often by drug companies, and being made fun of for my disabilities times two. I wear my mask because I remember what death felt like last time. I don’t want to live that again. I am only seventeen.
And the reason I urge everyone to wear a mask, if not for me, is because anyone could become someone just like me. My last time could become someone’s first time. And then they, too, would finally understand why I wear a mask today.
I wear my mask because I once got sick and was hospitalized for three days. Sure, I didn’t die, but my life has been irreversably changed. And while I’m proud of who I am now, sometimes I am forced to grieve life’s hatred of me and the world’s inaccessibility. While I am proud of having gotten this far, I have also accepted that there are many people who will never fully embrace me. I have accepted that I will not have friends who understand how lonely I am, how somedays it feels like I live with a chronic pain that no one else will ever know but me. All because once in seventh grade I caught a case of strep that one of my classmates gave to me.
So when you ask why I still wear a mask, my answer will be quite simple:
I wear it because I remember what happened last time. Sure, I guess I didn’t die. But I was only thirteen.
Original work by Hazel J. Hall, all photos are from Pexels.com as I did not have any pieces that I felt matched what I was truly hoping to convey with this work.
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