“Can I ask you a weird question?”
“Do you have a cold?”
During treatment, that conversation plagued so many of my interactions.
My husband and I finally got a date night at a nice steak house. We could steal a few moments away from our infant son to reconnect and converse about topics that didn’t include barf or drool. Or at least wear clothing that didn’t have it on them. It was my first experience wearing a wig. My choice for that evening was an auburn one with bouncy layers and side-swept bangs. I could blend in tonight. No one would see the few stray hairs on my bald head. No one would know that I was currently undergoing treatment for cancer.
The expression that we gave each other after the waitress dropped off the menus and dictated that night’s specials. Her throaty speech about filet mignon and roasted carrots suggested that she was battling a cold. When she returned to take our orders, I piped up, “Can I ask you a weird question?” and then justified asking for a new waitress by saying, “I am immune-compromised because I have cancer and I’m currently undergoing treatment. If I were to get sick, it could be really bad.”
The cat was out of the bag. No more blending in. My craving to blend in, just for one night, was trumped by not wanting to hurt the waitress’ feelings by asking for a new server.
Serving food is an intimate exchange of many germs. She touched the menu. My water glass. My wine glass. My plate. The napkin that holds my utensils.
I couldn’t relax either when I was shopping in a store. Did I hear someone cough? The kid behind me in the checkout keeps coughing. Should I pull the mask out from my purse that I keep in case of an emergency? The guy in front just wiped his nose with his finger and then touched the pinpad when he paid with his credit card. God, I hope they have the tap option.
I had developed a germ radar overnight. Every little cough, sneeze, nasaly expression was detected and catalogued into a potential risk category for actionable behaviour from using hand gel or holding my breath on the elevator to leaving the store without making a purchase. Or not going out at all because it wasn’t worth the risk.
It was incredibly restricting to only venture out for medical appointments. I craved those moments out.
So when you see someone walking around a store with a mask on and think “What does that person have? Stay away from me!” (I literally had a lady see me, stop, turn around, and go down the next aisle because I was wearing a mask). Think instead “That person is probably protecting herself from germs because a sickness could mean weeks of recovery or hospitalization, or worse.”
Don’t spread your germs. Stay home when you’re contagious. Don’t be the jerk who coughs and sneezes into the air.
Instead, spread some love. Shoot a smile to the person wearing a mask. It’s such an easy way to brighten someone’s day.