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A Piece of My Mind
July 16, 2020

Dressing Up

Author Affiliations
  • 1Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
JAMA. 2020;324(7):633-634. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.12779

When the dread starts to set in, when it gets hard to breathe, I adjust my N95 mask and remind myself of this: I am the granddaughter of a man who worked the depths of Idaho mines and knew a thing or two about personal protective equipment (PPE) hell.

My challenges as an emergency medicine physician during a modern pandemic marked by PPE shortages that require me to wear a single-use mask for an entire shift pale in comparison. Every piece of protective equipment my grandfather wore in the fiery bowels of the earth was a hard-won victory. He and his fellow miners had to fight tooth and nail to wear safety gloves, for example, because mine owners thought the time it took workers to remove and replace them slowed them down sufficiently that it cut too far into their profit margin. Lost fingers were just collateral damage in the wake of unmitigated greed.

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    7 Comments for this article
    Dressing Up
    Robert Di Blasi, MD Assoc Prof Adjunct | Retired: USAR > 31yrs; TPMG Ob/Gyn > 20 yrs; Stanford Adjnct Faculty 18 yrs; CMO DoD x 15 yrs.
    Very moving, and a reminder that there is always someone who has hauled a tougher load. Our burden (I laugh at that word) to wear a mask is minuscule compared to what our grandparents suffered. Bringing that into perspective when I complain about my physical ailments (AFib>permanent, S/P Surgical Correction of ASD, Apnea etc) I remind myself of how lucky I am and I say "There is always someone worse off than I." 

    R J Di Blasi, MD
    Catherine Moore, Certified Nurse Midwife | Brigham and Women's
    Well written. Really appreciate this. I have similarly questioned the "hero" moniker.
    Cost of Mine Safety
    James Nicholas, MD | Retired
    The cost of miners' safety gloves for your grandfather's mine owners reminds me of a story my grandfather told me in 1940 of an interchange in about 1910 between him and the superintendent of an iron ore mine in northern Minnesota. As night foreman of the mine, my grandfather asked for more timbers to shore up the walls and ceiling of the drift they were following, to make the mining safer. The response of the superintendent was 'Men are cheaper than timbers'.

    He and his son, my father, lived hard lives. Yet I have no memory of hearing
    them either complain about or brag about how hard it was. We owe our forebears much.
    Beautiful Piece
    Amelia Silkworth, RN, BSN | Integrated Services of Kalamazoo (Community Mental Health)
    Lovely reflection. I printed copies (!) and shared with the front line staff. Thank you!
    Justine Wu, MD, MPH | University of Michigan
    Thank you for an eloquent, moving, and deeply personal reflection about your role as a "hero" in this pandemic. As a primary care doctor- not doing inpatient care anymore- and primarily engaged in research behind a desk most days, I have cringed and felt discomfort when neighbors and friends thank me for my service. I shrug and thank them without feeling like it is deserved compared to the risks my patients take every day without the essential things they need to get by.

    Your grandfather was a hero and you honor him beautifully here. Thank you for sharing.
    "Un-American" PPE
    Anthony Glaser, MD, PhD | Paladina Health
    "He not only fought for protective equipment for himself and his fellow miners, but he also organized unions at a time when doing so was considered anti-American" . . . and now we have some people who consider not unions, but using protective equipment, or being told to use protective equipment, un-American.
    Resilience in Action - Beautiful!
    David Fessell, MD | University of Michigan
    Many thanks for sharing this beautiful piece. Reframing challenges through the lens of family--a grandfather who cleared a very difficult path for so many--nice! I feel your strength, and that of your grandfather. Your eloquent words let us know that you feel his strength each day, too. I'm imagining he's watching you with a smile, and lots and lots of pride. Thank you for all you are doing, and for sharing such an inspiring and connecting piece with us.
    CONFLICT OF INTEREST: I speak on the topic of resilience