Nurse shamed in hospital for wearing a mask

An Australian nurse who was shamed for protecting herself and wearing a mask to work is calling for people to stop stigmatising protective face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The nurse, who spoke to Yahoo News Australia on the condition of anonymity, said she purchased a face mask for herself for the commute to work and once she arrived at the hospital, her superior told her to remove it, saying it was causing “unnecessary panic”.

“I get that no one really knows what to do,” the nurse said, acknowledging these are uncertain times for everyone across the nation.

A nurse at the Tanunda medical centre screens patients outside the clinic in the Barossa Valley. Source: AAP

“I know that masks traditionally are for people that are sick, to protect us against them, but when we are surrounded by so much uncertainty and this disease, I just think it was crazy that I was told off.”

The nurse, who does not work directly with coronavirus patients, acknowledged health officials have said masks are ineffective when it comes to protecting individuals from COVID-19.

She believes every health care worker should have the choice to wear one if they want, especially when some patients are not showing symptoms of the disease which has infected more than 800,000 people worldwide.

“I get that the health minister made a big speech about how we don’t need them if we’re not sick,” she said.

“But given that often we can’t tell who is sick and not everyone is being tested, I don’t think it is too much to ask to allow nurses to wear their own masks to and from work, and if we’re working in a surgical ward where absolutely no one has tested positive for COVID-19 and we still want to wear one.”

Does wearing a mask help?

The World Health Organisation advises you do not need to wear a mask if you are healthy, unless you are taking care of a suspected case of COVID-19.

The nurse said it is not just staff in hospitals putting themselves at risks, if they are not able to wear protective gear, they are also putting their loved ones at risk.

“If we’re not allowed to wear masks and then we come home, having breathing in whatever, and we are now carrying the disease and we don’t know about it, we are infecting the people that we live with,” she said.

She said nurses like herself would not usually go to work in a mask, but she did so on that day to protect herself.

“It should be our choice, whether we want to wear one,” she said.

“I was trying to do the right thing by everyone and I was shamed for it.”

Staff wearing face masks outside the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) in Camperdown, Sydney. Source: AAP

Getting rid of the stigma

“Nurses aren’t stupid,” this nurse told Yahoo News Australia.

“We’re not going to go to work if we’re sick and the same goes for doctors. We are very valuable, but we know how serious this pandemic is and we would not risk people’s lives for a bit of dosh.”

She says the stigmatising masks and the potential panic they may cause needs to end.

“I think it is more panicking if nurses and doctors aren’t looking after themselves.”

South Australia Hospital staff simulate a drive through coronavirus testing at the Repatriation Hospital in Adelaide. Source: AAP

After she was confronted by her superior to remove the mask, the nurse said she was apprehensive to wear one to the dedicated shopping time for healthcare workers and ultimately decided against it.

“I didn’t take my mask because I thought I would be ridiculed, I thought I would be scorned at and not let into the shop, that’s how traumatised I was for being told off in the hospital.”

However, she said 90 per cent of the healthcare workers doing their shopping during that dedicated hour, were wearing masks.

“If we can wear them in the community, where we’re probably less at risk because we’re all clean, why can’t we wear them in a room full of people, caring one-on-one really close up.”

She urges the public not to panic if they see someone wearing a mask.

“We shouldn’t be leaving the house at all if we are ill,” she said.

“So wearing a mask in public is simply a way to protect ourselves and it shouldn’t be causing unnecessary panic.”

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