I busied myself. Took care of a pile of bills. Made some mind-numbing phone calls for sold house/new house stuff. Passed the morning productively. I glanced at the bottom shelf over my left desk that was filled with taped up memos. One caught my eye, and I decided to take care of it. It was from the head of cytology.
March 27, 2014
All pathologists need to go to Employee Health to be fitted for an N95 respirator mask and send the results to us for our records by the end of 2014.
It's only September, I thought. I'm jumping the gun.
I wandered over to the adjacent building and took the elevator to Employee Health - I was there a couple of weeks ago for my annual (negative again!) TB skin test. I take those a little more seriously. The receptionist told me that the person in charge of the respirator fitting was luckily available - "Did you call and set up an appointment?" she asked. I didn't know I needed too, and told her I was close by I would be happy to return at his convenience. "It's ok, he's here."
I was led into a small office and after we chit-chatted about why we both wondered there were three fire trucks outside the hospital (one of the girls up front was drooling over them - she declared that the only good reason a man was allowed to wear suspenders was if he was a fireman) he showed me the mask. It looked like any cup-shaped over the nose and mouth mask I have worn many times in my career. "Have you ever been fitted?" He asked. I said, "No."
He gave me a tutorial about how to place a mask. There were two elastic strings - he told me you place the first above the ears behind your head and drag the second down on your neck for the most secure fit. Then, importantly, you squeeze the aluminum inserts around the top of your nose. I watched, copied successfully, and wondered aloud, somewhat muffled, what comes next.
He handed me a large HazMat head piece (think E.T.), and asked if I was claustrophobic (Um, no) before placing it on my head. I could see through the sheer plastic face shield. There was a hole near the neck; he told me he was going to insert aerosolized sweetener (don't worry it's patented he assured me) into the hole to fill my small space.
"Read this passage." He handed me a piece of crumpled paper. "If at any time you taste the sweetener while you read it's an indication your mask is not fitting right." I glanced at the passage and laughed. He said, somewhat surprised, "It's designed to test all of your mouth movements to make sure anything you might do behind the mask will keep you protected from whatever you are exposed to." "Like Ebola?" I quipped. He sighed, "I hope it's not coming. But yes, this will be a first step if it does."
I've worn these masks sporadically, mainly in the presence of reading smears in radiology for TB patients. But I've never been fitted until now. I started reading.
When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act like a prism and form a rainbow. The rainbow is a division of white light into many beautiful colors. These take the shape of a long round arch, with its path high above and its two ends apparently beyond the horizon. There is, according to legend, a boiling pot of gold at one end. People look, but no one ever finds it. When a man looks for something beyond his reach, his friends say he is looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
At the conclusion I declared that I did not inhale any sweetener. He looked satisfied and started filling out a card. "Here this is to remind you that when you need an N95 respirator to ask for the Model: 1860 Size: Reg. If you get the small you will automatically know it is not the right fit. These are available in surgery and radiology and on all the floors. Always throw away your N95 after each use. Whatever you are protecting yourself from is all over the outside of the mask. Don't try to reduce waste with these things by reusing. It would be very dangerous. Any questions?"
"Can I have a copy of the Rainbow Passage?"
"I've never been asked that before, but here you can have this one, I can print out a new one."
"I'm just wanting to show it to my kids, thanks."