An autumn day in one masked life

Human beings seem to be remarkably adaptable. That is, I seem to be remarkably adaptable.

Since March, I have been wearing a surgical mask (the ugly blue one) whenever I leave my apartment, which I do nearly every day to shop for food and staples.

At the beginning, I wore gloves. I’d come home, wash the gloves, remove them, lay them on the side of the sink to dry, and would then wash my hands and wrists for the requisite 20 seconds.

Until I realized if I were washing my hands, I did not need to wear the gloves.

It’s true, though, that breathing with the mask on is not as comfortable as without one. No, that’s not quite correct: breathing with the mask on was not as comfortable as without one.

Two weeks ago, I went across town and up thirty blocks to a hospital to see a pulmonologist. For the past two and a half years, I’ve had off-and-on-again clogged lungs. Often I find breathing labored. I wheeze and cough. It is not ideal.

A couple of CT scans demonstrated what was going on in my lungs: they are indeed spottily clogged with some sort of non-infectious, non-contagious, non-spreadable thing. So I very much wanted to see a lung specialist to learn if this thing had a name and if it could be permanently erased.

There are a couple of ways to get to the hospital. I could walk to a crosstown bus which would get me through Central Park, and then walk uptown. If I wanted to cheat, I could switch to an uptown bus.

But I’m not a cheater; walking sixty blocks in total had been normal for me before COVID and despite my lungs, I wasn’t about to cave. I bused and then walked.

It was a beautiful day, the sort of autumn day New York does better than any place on earth. Even though I haven’t been every place on earth, I know this as a fact. (I will accept credible challenges.)

All of us experience gorgeous New York autumn days with greater intensity since September 11, 2001 and its aftermath, when the blue skies went on forever, so walking around in this kind of day is both ecstatic and deeply agonizing.

After my appointment, I crossed Fifth Avenue to visit the park’s Conservatory Gardens. I wandered around for a while, seeing areas I’d barely noticed in previous visits. So beautiful. One unusual thing: there were no brides, grooms and weddings parties posing for photographers.

Then I took the crosstown bus back through the park and walked home. Where, before removing the mask, I washed my hands and wrists for the requisite 20 seconds.

I tell you this because only after I got home did I realize I hadn’t found my breathing to be restricted with the mask. Indeed, I didn’t even think about the mask all day.

People who live or travel in high altitudes accommodate themselves to the lower oxygen saturation, as do football teams when they play in Denver, Colorado (Mile High Stadium). And I have so successfully adjusted to moving around with a mask, I no longer notice it.


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