Save the N95s for Those Who Need Them

By Todd Trigg, CRNA

MNA Steward

A few days ago, I was out to do my bi-weekly run for essentials. I had my lists, my route planned, my homemade cloth mask, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes to wipe things down. I was ready. I started by going to my local membership warehouse. Once there, I notice a majority of people wearing cloth masks and practicing good social distancing. I saw a few with N95 masks on, and I wondered where they got them and why they choose to wear this mask since it has become such a sacred, very limited, and treasured item to healthcare providers. Everyone in healthcare is re-using their N95 masks, something that just a few months ago would have been inconceivable. So, I try to calm myself by asking, “Are they immunosuppressed?  Is a loved one at home going through chemotherapy?” I complete my shopping and take off for my next place on my list, a local grocery store.

I’m a nurse anesthetist, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the CRNA practices that is getting some attention is intubation, which means inserting a tube so a patient can be placed on a ventilator to assist with breathing. This is an aerosolizing procedure, and we have to wear airborne precaution PPE. Because of the lack of N95s for any non-aerosolizing procedures or patient care that is not considered high risk, our healthcare staff are wearing surgical masks. Many of my fellow healthcare workers would love to have a cache of N95s! And it is hard to put into words what it feels like to see people wearing N95s while out getting groceries.

Next on my errand run was the grocery store. I quickly completed my list, and as I approached the checkout area, I noticed the cashier was wearing an N95 and gloves. I put my items up to be scanned, and in doing so, I had just barely side-stepped the plexiglass partition that had been recently installed. The cashier noticed, stopped, and promptly asked me to position myself to be directly in front of the plexiglass partition and herself. Now I am a rule-following person; I follow the guidelines as set forth by the CDC and others as put in place by any business or institution I am in. But that comment nearly made me break down. I did as instructed by the cashier, but could feel myself wanting to call her out on the use of her N95, the proper use of gloves, my recent experiences as a healthcare provider. However, I did not. I took a deep breath and calmed myself by asking those questions again, “Are they immunosuppressed? Are they so scared…?”

This leads me to my conclusion for writing this. I am scared, just like everyone. I hope and long for the days when things may begin to return to normal, but what is the new normal?  I am just like everyone in that I wonder what will happen next, not only in healthcare but for our nation and the world. I have thoughts that keep me up at night like a lot of people. What will happen at my job tomorrow? When can things start to resume? The list goes on.

I want everyone to continue to follow the CDC guidelines: hand washing, social distancing, covering your mouth and nose, staying at home if not feeling well. I want the general public to know that gloves need be used properly, an N95 needs to be properly fit tested, and right now is so urgently needed that it should be reserved for first responders and healthcare providers. Cloth masks will work to help contain your germs. The more people who wear them, the better. In closing, I remember the words from President Kennedy during his inaugural address “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We need this reminder now more than ever.

I’d like to ask everyone to really ask themselves, what can you do for your healthcare workers who are risking their lives to take care of our communities and our country?