POV: The Benevolent Violence of an Unmasked Hospital

Last week I was rushed to the ER in a potentially life and death situation. I remember panic. I remember stillness. I remember things moving too fast, too slow.

Through debilitating pain, I said I was fine with a convincing voice. Conditioned to deny my pain for the comfort of others to the last. 

Throughout this very strange ordeal of the utmost seriousness, ungrounded thoughts jumped through my mind—

Is this what a heart attack feels like?

Did I have enough time with my daughter that she will remember me if I die? 

Our Father who art in heaven…

Do I even have a will? I can’t remember. 

What if I survive, but I am further disabled by this? How will I manage?

Did my daughter eat lunch?

No one is wearing a mask…No one is wearing a mask…

“Please put a mask on. My wife is high risk,” I heard my husband say. Then they were in my room with their newly donned ill fitting masks. Then I was in the back of an ambulance. Flanked by two medics. With masks below their noses. 

The thought, Covid is a vascular disease, looped through my mind.

I stared up at their noses. Anger building inside. If I were to actually make it through this immediate crisis—G-d damn it—Covid wasn’t going to take me out. 

Not after three years of mask wearing. Three years of no indoor restaurants. Three years of homeschool. Three years of semi-isolation. To get Covid this way is just…

I made myself smaller on the gurney pulling into a ball, as I once did as a child hiding in the closet from the yelling in my home, unconscious of the similarity at the time. 

I am now at home resting, but the juxtaposition of my time in the hospital lingers. I bore witness to the benevolent violence of the ER, for the first time on the receiving end. The sense of relief followed by alarm at the sight of maskless medical staff. The grotesque power imbalance on display at their choice to go maskless and my lack of choice to be medically vulnerable clutching my chest exposed to the shared air. 

I watched one nurse unconsciously wipe her maskless nose on the back of her hand before approaching me and heard the wet cough of another nurse, also maskless. 

Their symptoms reflected the exposure levels expected at a hospital intensifying my internal alarms. I registered the increased tension in my compromised body.

The broken trust thick in the air choking my unspoken words went unacknowledged by the rapidly moving bodies swarming around me. 

“Please put a mask on,” I mumbled weakly. “I am high risk.” The nurses froze at my request, and exchanged looks. Then stiffly grabbed blue masks.

I felt the words, sorry to be an inconvenience, form on my lips, but caught them before they slipped out. Swallowing them whole, leaving a lump in my throat.

Rage welled in my eyes, as I recognized the power dynamics at play, and my own fawning, as someone on the losing end. 

I do not consent, I silently screamed, as delicate tears slipped from the corners of my eyes.

“Honey, it’s okay. We will take care of you,” the unmasked nurse said as she hastily wiped my tears before putting on her gapping mask. 

Then she paused looking at me closer, “My goodness, what pretty eyes you have.” 

More silent rage spilled from the corners of those pretty eyes. 

The incessant beeping of human vitals later poured into my hospital room competing with my own. 

My refusal to remove my N95 even when briefly throwing up. Waited until I was done to swap out masks. I had survived a heart attack. G-d damn if Covid was going to take me out. 

The threat to my safety coming from all directions including smiling faces stayed with me. The confusion of seeking safety from those who also triggered fear stirred memories of abusers from long, long ago. 

How can you be here to help me when your maskless face could harm me?

I do not consent—the words bubbled inside me—I do not consent to no masks. I do not consent to this needless risk. 

I want to live. Please do not further disable me, I begged internally.

What world is this, that values the lives of the vulnerable so little? I do not consent to my own erasure. I do not consent to this world. 

I closed my eyes and turned inward to re-establish my peace, to increase my odds of surviving another day. 

May my existence be resistance to this current world—for however long—my existence may last.