(*I am NOT a medical professional and what I present here is simply my personal opinion on my personal blog and not meant as medical certainty)
For as long as I can remember, I have been getting a cold and the flu. I’ve had it so often, at one point and in frustration, I asked my dad (who seems to know most things related to health) what as the best thing to do. He gave me words of wisdom that I live by even today: if you take medicine, your cold will disappear in seven days, and if you don’t, it will disappear in a week’s time! Honestly, I don’t know if this is universally true, but it does work with me. I prefer the seven days with medicine because it just makes the period bearable. I mention this, because about two months ago, I had a particularly nasty deadline looming. As luck would have it two days before the deadline, I developed a really bad bout of the flu. The only difference this time is that I was sneezing in the time of “swine flu”!
Overnight I got unsolicited advice about what my symptoms were indicative of and how only the best hospitals would be able to diagnose what kind of flu I had. Of course they steered clear of me each time I sneezed for fear of catching it! I was even advised by my bosses to take a day off and rest – these self-same individuals who will call you back to work from an operating theater without any remorse were suddenly advising rest?
Suddenly everywhere I turned people whipped out bottles of hand sanitizers and began discussions on basic hygiene. At public places, face-masks began to make their presence felt. Of course being Indian, the normal disposable masks (surgical or otherwise) suddenly appreciated in value by at least a factor of 10! The kind of mask and its protection factor became a topic of debate. So I went online to find out what the fuss was all about.
Mask No. 1: The most common surgical masks seem to be those used in a hospital by doctors performing routine examinations or an operation. These were also the most common masks I saw being used by people. But they were hardly a fashion statement and certainly did not provide 100% protection – many websites state that a surgical mask will prevent fluid from the individual wearing it to enter into the atmosphere, but it certainly does not prevent atmospheric bacteria from affecting the individual wearing the mask! So on to Mask No. 2: the moulded surgical mask manufactured by companies such as 3M that lists among its advantages, a single elastic band allows you to slip on and remove mask quickly and easily, and the fact that it is soft and lightweight for comfortable wear. No indication here either of whether the user is protected – so points for looks, but not for protection. Mask No. 3 is called the N95 Respirator Mask. This super cool mask, reports US News, fits tightly around the mouth and nose and has filters that can block about 95 percent of the flu virus – and it is a significantly better look than the previous two masks. Some pictures online show how people have coloured in designs onto their masks as a fashion statement – case in point, the Aloha Masks with the tag line: “Staying healthy never looked so good”! (Also see “Swine Flu Fashion“)
Can you imagine what would happen if this idea caught on here especially as we are at the beginning of the festival season – we could have Ganpati masks, Eid masks, Diwali masks, Durga Puja masks, Navratri masks, and of course, Christmas masks (to name just a few) – the marriage of health and fashion probably never had such earning potential in India before. (seriously if anyone reading this decides to manufacture such masks, please remember that I would like due credit, preferably in monetary terms).
As luck would have it, after my one day of mandatory rest, I was packed off for a meeting to Bombay within the week. I took myself off to the airport and dutifully waited to board the flight. I tried my best to sneeze politely and quietly, but there is precious little you can do. Inevitably, there was the loud sneeze accompanied by the disapproving stares. The most disapproving was Mrs. A traveling with her husband and their two children aged around 10 and 12 – one boy and one girl. I would like to say that the children looked adorable, but unfortunately their faces were covered with surgical masks! So I did what any disapproving stare warranted, I smiled and struck up a conversation with Mrs. A. Initially I bent in the direction of the table as I spoke, but Mrs. A looked ready to round up her brood, turn tail and run, so I gave up and spoke louder instead. I found out that Mrs. A was traveling to Bombay on a holiday – why Mr. A couldn’t cancel and reschedule in such a difficult time was beyond her, and what would the photographs look like? All mouth-shout covered and all? I nodded in sympathy. You know, said Mrs. A, masks can prevent you from getting swine flu (apparently she read it on the WHO website; she gave me the website): you must place the mask carefully to cover the mouth and the nose and tie securely to minimise any gaps between the face and the mask; try it sometime beta you’re very pale. I nodded my thanks and said I would go and buy a mask right after my meal was over.
The waiter came along and served me coffee and Mrs. A and her brood with snacks. I watched in fascination – what would they do? Was there some magical provision to eat through the masks? or Would they save the food for later when they were in a safe area?
None of the above – Mrs. A and her brood proceeded to do what all of us Indians do, prioritize food above all else. They removed their masks and ate…..swine flu be damned, the food is hot. Lets eat – after all, what would happen in five minutes right?