The Mask Controversy Is Difficult to Hear as a Chronically Ill Patient

Charlene Marshall avatar

by Charlene Marshall |

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As a person living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a chronic respiratory condition characterized by progressive scarring of the lungs and reduced oxygen, I’ve been wearing a mask for years in public places. Learning to wear a mask to protect my now-compromised lungs was difficult for me, so I understand the general public’s hesitation and dislike of mandatory mask orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends wearing masks to help slow the spread of the virus, so we all must do our part.

Reactions to the global pandemic have brought out the best and the worst in people, both on social media and in person. You don’t have to look hard to find glimmers of positivity that have emerged from COVID-19 and the social isolation we’ve all had to endure; drive-by birthday parties and quality time via digital correspondence are just a few examples. Unfortunately, the other end of that spectrum includes negativity, complaining, and controversy when it comes to the pandemic.

The controversy flooding my social media pages is about the use of masks. Many Canadian provinces and U.S. states have implemented mandatory mask laws to reduce the spread of the virus. As a lung disease patient, I understand masks are uncomfortable and may feel unnatural to wear in public or around others. However, I am pleading with you to abide by these orders and help stop the controversy surrounding their use.

I am deeply angered and upset when I hear comments that masks infringe on someone’s rights or freedoms, or cause those with perfectly healthy lungs to experience a drop in oxygen saturation levels. The physicians, nurses, and surgeons who have saved my life on multiple occasions (and possibly yours or your loved one’s as well) wear masks for 12-hour shifts on a regular basis. To dispel the myth that masks decrease your oxygen saturation, several nurses and medical professionals have also shared videos showing that oxygen levels are normally maintained after wearing a mask for several hours. The American Lung Association confirmed this in a recent post.

While people who are healthy may have the choice to wear a mask, I do not. Due to IPF, I am at an increased risk of getting sick all year; a mask is not optional for me. I’ve learned the hard way how damaging acute illnesses can be on my lungs and how hard it is to recover from them. If you do have the choice, please make the right one and follow the World Health Organization’s recommendations on wearing a mask to help slow the spread of this virus.

Wearing a mask is an act of love for your neighbor and those in your community. While I acknowledge that it is uncomfortable, choosing to wear a mask tells those of us who are more vulnerable to this disease that you see us. It is a collective effort that protects all of us. I am pleading with those who are creating this controversy to educate themselves using credible sources of information that address their concerns.

To better understand how a mask can help cease the spread of this virus, or how wearing a mask does not damage your lungs or oxygen levels, please see the following resources. Feel free to share with your friends and family if they are contributing to the controversy. We all need to do our part. Please note that this list is not exhaustive. The following articles can be helpful in addition to the ones linked throughout this column:

As a patient living with IPF/PF, how are you dealing with the mask controversy amid the global pandemic?


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Holly W Patient avatar

Holly W Patient

Thank you for an articulate and reasoned article. I hope you will share it on social media.
I am post- transplant, and all of my friends and family comply with mask- wearing when around me, which is always outdoors and at a distance. When on walks, if I come across someone without a mask, I step far off the trail and have my own mask on.
I grapple with the fact that this issue is controversial. It's not complicated science; the reasoning is logical and should make sense to anyone. Like you, it angers me that people can be so selfish and, well, stupid.
Stay well, my friend and fellow IPF folks. We ARE in this together.

Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Holly,

Thank you so much for reading my column and reaching out via the comments. As always, it is wonderful to hear from you! I know you (and many others) would resonate with this topic as a patient post-transplant, and I think of you often when I hear others' complaining about wearing a mask. I just want to say to them, "if you only knew"... but that isn't an effective use of my already-limited energy. I have been sharing the article on social media, as will Pulmonary Fibrosis News. I'm so glad your friends and family comply with wearing a mask around you, it truly is "an act of love" as I cited in my article. It just seems surreal that anyone needs to argue it.

Take good care and thanks for writing. You're absolutely correct: We're in this together!

Ginger Adelstone avatar

Ginger Adelstone

Though I have IPF, I’m refusing to wear a mask here in the US because this has become a political control issue. No masks for me.

Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Ginger,

Thank you for reading my columns and reaching out via the comments. I've heard of the mask controversy in the US becoming political, very sad indeed when politics interfere with health recommendations. Stay safe!

Linda Paradise avatar

Linda Paradise

Hi Charlene!
So happy that you write this column! I received the diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis in July of this year (2020). (I am a 67 year
old female.)
It was such a surprise.
The doctor ordered a CATSCAN which showed some very mild scarring and he also found a second CATSCAN taken 12 years ago which shows the exact same amount of scarring! So little to no progression in 12 years! However based on how I feel ( easy shortness of breath) he may find ,at my next visit find some progression. Anyway, I feel like I’ve been given a death sentence! I’m looking for something positive , Thats what feel your column and readers who post comments offers!
Thank you so much for your valuable contribution to life?

Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Linda,

Thank you so much for reading my columns and reaching out via the comments. So sorry to hear of your recent PF diagnosis, I bet it was a surprise! Were you symptomatic at all or was it a routine CT scan? Be gentle with yourself during these days; I remember when I was diagnosed vividly and it was tough. Balance your need for research, and use credible sources of information - some of the stuff out there is outdated and scary on Google! I really hope the progression remains slow for you, and that your symptoms can be managed.

I'm glad you found our platform... I am bias (of course!) but there are some incredible people here! They are always willing to offer support, share their experience and talk about this disease from a patient perspective, which I find helpful. You can also join our forums community: .... we'd love to have you, lots of positive, wonderful people there! Thank you again for your kind words, and do feel free to write any time.


Rebecca A. Wilson avatar

Rebecca A. Wilson

I was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis in 2017. I am currently age 80 years of age and I'm doing all I can to take good care of myself during this Corona Virus Pandemic. Following my doctor's orders, I am putting forth the effort to nurture my health and do what I can to protect myself from folks who have refused to get vaccines, who refuse to wear masks, and who are so caught un in their own unhealthy, selfish beliefs. As my doctor has pointed out, we do NOT know all we need to understand about the Virus nor do we know all we need to understand about the Vaccinations. But we DO understand what we have learned about Pulmonary Fibrosis, so far, and we do know that Wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, and washing our hands frequently with soap and water is the best we can do because we understand that Pulmonary Fibrosis is a progressive DISEASE, and we also know that we do NOT have a cure for this disease! And I respect what my physicians have told me and I am determined to do what I can to keep on keeping on as long as I possibly can.

Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Rebecca,

Thanks so much for reading my column and reaching out via the comments. I couldn't have said it better myself; you're right - we don't know the full extent of the vaccines or the virus, but we do know we've learnt a lot from PF and other respiratory viruses. I certainly trust science, and respect what my physicians tell me too. Stay safe - it sounds like you're doing everything you can to take care of yourself, kudos to you!


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