That new mask smell.

There’s nothing like the smell of a new mask every morning. Now that the PPE shortage is over, our instructions have changed from “wear a mask as long as you possibly can, and protect it with a face shield at all times” to “get a new mask every day and face shields are strongly recommended but not required.” This is still not the same as the pre-COVID standard where a mask was never worn with more than one patient and was disposed of upon leaving the room. A year ago we were wearing the same mask for months.

The protocols haven’t changed otherwise. I still wear hospital-issued scrubs that I change out of before I leave the building and that are laundered by the hospital. I still wear a fresh isolation gown and gloves for each patient. I wear a PAPR (powered air-purifying respirator) with COVID patients and a mask the rest of the day. If you watch Grey’s Anatomy, those doctors are all wearing PAPRs – except theirs are so loose you could stick your hand between the hood and their cheek and theirs aren’t turned on. We also don’t wear microphones inside of ours. And they never seem to sanitize them – it would slow the narrative to watch them spend minutes after every patient wiping everything down.

Each patient in the non-COVID parts of the hospital is now allowed one visitor – not one visitor at a time, or one per day, but the same one person. In rare circumstances they can change that person. It is odd to see visitors after so many months without them. In the COVID units there are no visitors.

I just finished another tour of duty in the COVID unit. The census is down considerably. This time it was just me and I still saw a few of my regular patients. Last time it was three of us full time. Each time I go there I learn something new, or see first hand what I’ve read about.

I saw a long-hauler – someone with symptoms that just won’t go away, and who continues to be sick and test positive months after the initial infection. They haven’t been in the hospital the whole time, as the illness waxes and wanes. I saw incidental findings – asymptomatic people whose infection was discovered on hospital admission when they came in for something else. I saw a COVID denier who can’t explain why he has a persistent cough and shortness of breath but he is sure it isn’t COVID because that’s fake. He can’t explain why he can barely make it from the bed to the chair with two of us helping, or why he is incontinent. He wants to go home because he thinks this is all our fault and he’d be fine if we just let him go home. He hasn’t really thought through how he’d get there, or even into the car. Is this thinking disorder a COVID symptom, or is this a manifestation of the same thought process that led him to thinking the whole think is a conspiratorial hoax?

I had another COVID dream last night; like the universal dream of finding yourself somewhere in public naked or in your underwear. In my version I find myself somewhere without a mask. The potential consequences are much worse than embarrassment.