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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 291

I wear the mask, it does not wear me (out)!

Department of Neonatology, Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India

Date of Submission22-Apr-2021
Date of Decision07-Oct-2021
Date of Acceptance30-Oct-2021
Date of Web Publication29-Nov-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Femitha Pournami
Department of Neonatology, Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences, Thiruvananthapuram - 695 029, Kerala
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ipcares.ipcares_126_21

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How to cite this article:
Pournami F. I wear the mask, it does not wear me (out)!. Indian Pediatr Case Rep 2021;1:291

How to cite this URL:
Pournami F. I wear the mask, it does not wear me (out)!. Indian Pediatr Case Rep [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Jan 20];1:291. Available from: http://www.ipcares.org/text.asp?2021/1/4/291/331365

In “The three musketeers,” Athos, Porthos, and Aramis planned the rescue of Phillipe, an unfortunate member of the royal family who had been wrongly imprisoned by his identical twin, the brutal King Louis XIV, and forced to wear an iron mask. One of their concerns was that the tribulations Phillipe had faced might have permanently scarred his soul for the worse. However, when they finally managed to liberate him after a series of tumultuous events, Phillipe declared “I wear the mask, it does not wear me!” That statement has stuck tenaciously onto me since I was 12 years old, and first read the book. Little did Alexandre Dumas realize in the 1800s that these words would hold a whole new meaning, a little more than two centuries later. However, the essence remains the same. Circumstances and situations around us will change (and not always for the better), but we would be expected to remain strong, resilient, and positive. It is in this context that I am inspired to relate three incidents in my life that revolve around this theme.

My smartphone pinged at 6.15 am. I opened one bleary eye to focus on the picture of the unknown sender – “Do you remember me doctor?” I snapped to attention as the eyes looked very familiar. The rest of the face in the image was masked, as is everybody else for more than a year now. Racking my memory's deepest recesses was to no avail. After a brief moment, I heard a second ping. This time viewing an “unmasked” picture caused realization to finally dawn, and I felt a sharp stab of pain in my heart. It was the mother of a neonatal patient from years ago, who happened to be a burn victim. Her lower face, neck, and torso were a mangled mess of a scar. She had painfully endured the stolen glances of strangers, muted comments of passers-by, and ostracization from even her own family, ever since an accidental domestic cooking gas explosion had changed her life forever at the tender age of 22 years. “I walk free now doctor; I am not the only one who has to cover my face. I am the same as everyone else around me.” She followed it up with an emoji that brought a smile to my face, and made my day.

It was a routine outpatient service day, barring the fact that I was wearing my N95 mask. A family walked in with a jaundiced baby, comprising the parents and an overly enthusiastic grandmother who monopolized the entire conversation. It irked me no end that the parents seemed completely disinterested in the proceedings. I wanted to explain the chances of rising jaundice over the next few days and the need for close follow-up, to the parents directly. When I pointedly turned toward them and began my usual barrage of medical jargon, the grandmother interrupted. “Doctor,” she said, “they are both deaf-mute, but they can lip read. You will have to remove your mask and speak slowly and deliberately.” Suitably chastised, I moved away to a safe distance, removed my mask, and started my explanation to the now very attentive young couple. There is always another side to every story!

In 2007, I ventured to appear for my first postdoctoral entrance examination for super specialty training in neonatology. Outside the hall were innumerable aspirants, all of whom were competing for the only two seats in the country. There I bumped into an old schoolmate, who introduced me to his wife. She was clad in the traditional burqa with a veil that left only her eyes uncovered. All I could see were two palpebral fissures. It made me wonder how I would recognize her again if we ever met without her husband being present. Retrospectively, that seems to be a skill that we have all been forced to learn. In fact, it has now become difficult to recognize people whom you met for the first time in the COVID era, when they are sans their masks!

All is not lost, hang in there!

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There are no conflicts of interest.


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