female figure with back to viewer pointing to chalk drawing of surgical face mask

The Teacher with the Face Mask

A few years ago I was hospitalized after picking up a virus from students soon after I started teaching. Thankfully, nothing serious happened except I needed another course of strong antibiotics for a recurrent sinus infection.

Infections with RA

I teach at different schools and each have their own sets of bacteria and cycles. Ever since my hospitalization, I wear a mask whenever something is going around. Even the smallest cold is not worth the risk. I am so immune-compromised, the smallest cold, in addition to bad luck, could turn deadly.

Wearing a mask is not a new thing. During the winter, most health professionals wear them while dealing with sick patients and hospitals pass them out like candy. Though, outside of colder months, rarely anyone wears them, regardless of circumstance.

On the flip side, East Asians wear them all the time; no matter the time of year, whether they are inside or outdoors. They take cleanliness seriously and that includes airborne bacteria.

I was handing in my health certificate for substitute teaching and the nurse said “I noticed you were wearing a mask. Is it because of your autoimmune?” and I said “yes, I really can’t get sick”. She replied with “it’s a little unusual for people to wear masks in school so I was just curious”.

Avoiding illness with masks

It is unusual for people to wear masks in schools. Why, though? A school sounds like the perfect place (after a hospital and doctor’s office) to wear a mask! Children are dirty. They are not the best at washing their hands. They touch everything after their fingers have a quick stint in their noses or mouths. Kids go outside, crawl on the floor, touch every known surface. It doesn’t end there, more often than not they can’t catch their cough and openly sneeze on each other. I can’t count how many times a student has coughed directly in my face.

Whenever I work with someone new I ask “is it okay if I wear a mask?”

Every teacher I have ever spoken to said “of course, that is a fantastic idea!”

The children often ask “why do you wear a mask?” I start saying “a lot of people are sick right now…” and they finish with “AND YOU DON’T WANT TO GET SICK!”

Adults ask “are you contagious??” because their first thought is that I’m the one who is ill. The more you know, I guess. I even had one parent look at me, wrinkle her nose in disgust and pull her child away from me. I really wanted to turn around and follow her while fake coughing and sniffling loudly.

"Are you contagious?"

Here in the US (from what I’ve observed) people equate facial masks with contagions. If you’re wearing a mask you must be contagious. In my opinion, that’s just silly. Why assume I’m the one sick. What if I’m a cancer patient who really honestly cannot get sick under any circumstances? What if I’m an organ donor and preparing for a procedure? Or maybe, I have an autoimmune condition and getting sick could possibly be fatal.

Most people don’t know what an autoimmune condition is and how it affects the people who live with them. People walk in the opposite direction because they are uninformed and only know what they’ve been taught.

I’m a teacher. Maybe the next time a parent looks down on me for being CONTAGIOUS OMG I can school them on the art of wearing a face mask.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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