October 20, 2020

A nurse’s plea: ‘Please tell me my life is worth a LITTLE of your discomfort?’

When an employee told a group of 20-somethings they needed face masks to enter his fast-food restaurant, one woman fired off a stream of expletives. “Isn’t this Orange County?” snapped another member of the group. “We don’t have to wear masks!”

The responses came as a shock — but not really a surprise — to Nilu Patel, a certified registered nurse anesthetist at nearby UC Irvine Medical Center, who observed the conflict while waiting for takeout. Healthcare workers suffer these angry encounters daily as they move between treacherous hospital settings and their communities, where mixed messaging from politicians has muddied common-sense public health precautions.

“Healthcare are workers are scared, but we show up to work every single day,” Patel said. Wearing masks, she said, “is a very small thing to ask.”

Patel administers anesthesia to patients in the operating room, and her husband is a healthcare worker as well. They’ve suffered sleepless nights worrying about how to keep their two young children safe and schooled at home. The small but vocal chorus of people who view face coverings as a violation of their rights makes it all worse, she said.

That resistance to the public health advice didn’t grow in a vacuum. Healthcare workers blame political leadership at all levels, from President Trump on down, for issuing confusing and contradictory messages.

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