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Andrew Li, 11
Ann Arbor, MI

A Day in the Life of a Mask

Andrew Li, 11

A used face mask lay in the biohazard bin, where it had been placed once the doctor had finished his workday. He remembered the days of when he had just been created and was waiting to be shipped away. He was loaded into a box with other masks, then loaded into another box, then those boxes were loaded into a large steel shipping container. The containers were put on trucks. The trucks drove to the port, and the containers were loaded onto a large cargo ship. The masks sailed for about a week and arrived in Seattle. They were unloaded from the ship and taken from the container and loaded onto trucks. They then were driven for a few days and arrived in New York City. They were unloaded from the truck and stocked into a Walmart.

A few days after the masks’ arrival, before the pandemic, in the small pharmacy section of the Walmart, the surgical masks were being bullied.

“You’re worthless!” sneered a bottle of Tylenol.

“And useless!” agreed a box of Band-aids.

They were stuck on the bottom shelf, while the bullies were on the top. The masks were at the bottom of the pharmaceutical hierarchy, and they were bullied by nearly everyone: the painkillers, bandages, vitamins, shampoo, and even the adult diapers. Most customers walked past, and barely anyone even looked at them. Those who did were mostly kids who were playing while their parents picked up a prescription. The masks endured weeks of this teasing and neglect until finally, they were bought.

They sat in a garage cabinet for a few months. They were then loaded into a bag along with other masks and boxes of rubber gloves, and driven to the hospital. They were bookended on one side by boxes of pizza, and on the other by jugs of water. The trunk also smelled of wet dogs and mold. The pizzas kept singing the word “pizza” to the tune of Nessun Dorma, and the jugs kept rolling around the trunk, slamming into everyone.

“Will you please stop rolling around?” the masks pleaded.

“Gwe gwant gwap gwolling garound! Gwe gware gwottles, gou gnow!” (“We can’t stop rolling around! We are bottles, you know!”) the jugs responded, in a very bubbly way.

Once the masks arrived at the hospital after what seemed like hours, they were dumped into a box marked “Donations.” They sat there, quite uncomfortably, for the night, then they were unceremoniously yanked out of the box at an ungodly hour, and plopped onto a table by the receptionist, then distributed to the doctors. The masks had been taken by a Dr. Smith.

Dr. Smith took them back to his office and put one of the masks on. He was walking down the hall when a fellow doctor stopped him.

“Hey, John, your mask isn’t tucked down right. Remember, these are dangerous times,” the doctor said.  Dr. Smith fixed his mask and thanked his colleague. He then went to check on his patients. He first stopped to check on some elderly flu patients.  There were flu viruses in the air, but they were blocked by the mask. Suddenly, the hospital PA system called him to the ICU ward, where the coronavirus patients were being treated.

“Dr. Smith, please report to ICU ward 3. One of your patients is vomiting,” the voice said.

He rushed down the hall and down a flight of stairs. The room was full of patients. Most were coughing and were running a fever, as shown on their status monitors next to the beds. One or two had bottled oxygen, and in the far corner, away from everyone else, were a few patients with ventilators. Dr. Smith leaned in to administer some anti-nausea medicine to the patient, whose name was Bill, as shown by the ID tag on his wrist.  Bill coughed, and some virus particles floated onto the doctor’s mask. The mask went into action as the viruses flowed in. Some of the larger particles had too much inertia and crashed into the filter’s fibers. The smaller ones spun out of control, being buffeted by the air molecules, and they too crashed into the mask. Only a few middle-sized viruses remained.

Luckily, just at that second, Dr. Smith sneezed into his mask. The viruses were repelled back out, and the doctor was not infected. The patient’s stomach had also calmed down, possibly because it had nothing left to regurgitate. The doctor finished checking on some other patients, completed some paperwork, and finally took the mask off.  He then washed his hands and face and took his temperature before finally leaving. The mask lay there in the biohazard bin and was nostalgic for his old pharmacy days. He missed being able to sit around and be carefree, without the threat of a virus.


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