066: Masking the Problem

In This Episode: Some of the stories told in Uncommon Sense are wonderful, but we can’t always relate to the person in the sense we can’t necessarily emulate them: we’re not all well-connected technology geeks, born at the right point in history, or whatever. But here’s a couple of stories about regular people who got past whatever fears they have of the coronavirus, and stepped up to make a difference that anyone can do — if they apply a little Uncommon Sense.

066: Masking the Problem

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Show Notes

  • Help Support Uncommon Sense — yes, $5 helps!
  • My blog post about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic: Stay Put., and the podcast episode about our “adopted” kids is Uncommon Sense in Kids (aka “How to Help Your Kids be Millionaires …when you aren’t rich.”)
  • The photos mentioned are included in the transcript below.


Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham.

We’re living in times that haven’t been seen since the days of our grandparents …or, depending on how old you are, maybe your great- or even great-great grandparents. In 1918, there was a flu that swept the world during World War I that killed a lot more people than Covid ever will — almost certainly. But I’m not going to go into that; if you’re interested in that story, the previous post in my blog right before this podcast talks about it, called “Stay Put”. I’ll link to it on the Show Page.

What I do want to talk about are the people who let Uncommon Sense guide their actions as they stay home to ensure they don’t get Covid, or pass it to someone else if they have it and don’t know it yet. Or the people who are turning their “essential” businesses to new things, like story after story of small liquor distilleries making hand sanitizer.

You know, the positive stories.

But before we start, I want to acknowledge something important. There are some people who get energized by an emergency like this pandemic. They spring to action either to directly respond to the challenges we’re seeing all around us, or they use the time they have while confined to their homes to learn something new. They’re the ones who have wished they had time to write a novel, or a family history — and now, they’re actually doing it. The ones who wanted to learn a new language, or learn how to paint, or even learn a new profession, and they signed up for classes online to do that.

But there are also those who are truly fearful, or depressed — or sick. If it’s bad enough, they’re lucky if they can get out of bed to eat.

Most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes. Including me. I’m built for emergencies. The now-retired EMS chief put me in charge of the First Responder squad for two reasons: first I had years of experience as a medic, even though I had let my certifications expire. The knowledge I already had made it very easy to re-certify. And two, I’m a supernaturally calm person in emergencies. Few of the volunteers have seen truly serious injuries or illnesses before they signed up as volunteers, and they can get pretty stressed in a true emergency. Me, I’ve seen just about everything, and don’t tend to get jacked up anyway. So part of my job is to get not just patients calmed down, but the volunteer medics, too — to focus on the job at hand and work to make someone’s worst day better.

But an emergency that goes on for months? That’s something new to me, so yeah, I’m feeling it. It takes more energy to focus and get work done, and sometimes I can’t do it all. So how do I handle it? I simply don’t do it all. That’s why I didn’t do an episode last week: I was just out of energy, and I knew not to push myself beyond the brink and get exhausted.

Maybe you have the same difficulty, or other difficulties, and I’m here to tell you, that’s totally normal, and you’re far from alone. Give yourself a break if you need one, but do your best not to wallow in it. And if you’re one of the lucky ones to get energized by this? Well, then you really are fortunate, and I hope you’ll direct some of that energy to help others who aren’t as fortunate.

Like the two people I’m about to tell you about. I know about a number of such positive stories because I know these people; they’re the kind of people I like to hang around with.

I’m going to tell you about two of them. Cat lives near me, on the mesa in rural western Colorado where I’ve lived for more than 16 years now. She’s just a few miles up the road. And then there’s Linda in Reno. I’ll start with her.

When we met Linda some years back — a life-long friend of a friend — my wife and I were fascinated by what Linda did for a living. She custom-made costumes for professional competition dancers. Talk about a specialty! Her costumes had to look fantastic as the men and women who wore them stood there waiting to start, or waited to hear what the judges said. Their costumes had to look perfect while they were moving, whether their arms were at their sides, stretched high in the air, or somewhere in between. There couldn’t be bagginess no matter what; there couldn’t be fabric bunching up. They had to look and feel perfect all the time, because it’s often the tiny, subtle things that decide first place, or somewhere down the line.

You know how hard that is? But Linda was so good at her art — and trust me, it’s much more of an art than a craft — that she always had a backlog of orders. I can’t imagine how much it cost for that detailed custom work, but I know Linda spent hours and hours on every costume, and earned every penny she charged — that’s why she had a constant backlog of orders.

Linda is retired now, but obviously she still knows how to sew. So maybe you can figure out what she decided to do in this era of Covid-19 quarantines, “social distancing,” and massive shortages of “PPE” or “Personal Protective Equipment”: she started making face masks.

And because she has so many years of experience and had so many pieces of left-over high-end interesting fabrics, her masks are pieces of art, even if she has been making them all day every day without taking a break until she was exhausted.

Which happened after she sent me 20 masks for the volunteer medics at my Emergency Medical Services agency. The supply officer saw me ask Linda for some on Facebook, and sent me a private message to say we’re doing pretty well on disposable masks, and maybe we didn’t need them. I replied that I thought this is going to last longer than we think, and at some point we’re going to need them. By the time they arrived, we needed them! One of the first of those masks went to …our supply officer, and she posted a selfie on Facebook wearing it.

Pandemic chic: not just the nice mask, courtesy of Linda, but the longer this goes, the more “wild hair” will be the norm!

I kept two so I’d have one to wear while the other was being washed. I never know how many calls I’ll be going on. I’ll put a selfie of that on the Show Page too.

Linda’s friends who can’t sew, or don’t have a machine, or whatever, have pitched in by getting her elastic or other materials she might need. Have you ever noticed that when someone says in public they’re on a truly worthy mission, lots of people step up to help?

. . .

Then there’s my friend Cat. I didn’t really know Cat until one day when all of the on-duty EMS crews were busy on back-to-back emergency calls. I was heading to town to secure a landing site for a medical helicopter for one of their critical patients when my cell phone rang. Cat, who was a volunteer ambulance driver, had been listening on her pager to what was going on, heard what I was doing, looked up my number in the roster, and called. She said she was available to drive if needed, and what did I want her to do?

Before I could answer, she offered to go by the station and pick up a backup ambulance and meet me at the landing site in case there was yet another emergency call: she could drive while I played medic. “Do it!,” I said.

Twenty minutes later she pulled up where I had secured the landing zone at our county fairgrounds. While waiting for the patient and the helicopter to arrive so the patient could get on their way, I got the chance to talk with Cat one on one for the first time. She pointed me to something I hadn’t noticed before: the entrance to a den there in the fairgrounds where some foxes lived — and sure enough, a couple of the kits were right there, playing. Made my day.

That was a few years ago: fast forward to the Covid pandemic. Cat and I are friends on Facebook, and after Linda sent me some masks, I saw Cat was making them too. Lots and lots of masks. Cat is a quilter, so she knows how to sew. And she has a lot of fabric scraps.

Cat’s workbench has fabric cut to size to be sewn into masks for anyone willing to come get one. (Photo ©2020 Cat Lichtenbelt, used with permission.)

Cat posted a meme that said, “And just like that I went from fabric hoarding to being prepared.” I’ve put that meme onto one of Cat’s Facebook photos on the Show Page: it shows the stacks of cut-to-size fabric pieces on her workbench, ready to be sewn into masks, all in colorful patterns and, again, high-quality fabric. Cat said she can churn out scores of masks a day for whoever needs them. If a recipient offers to give her some money for her trouble, she tells them to instead donate it to the local pandemic relief fund. I didn’t even know that existed, but someone with Uncommon Sense saw the need and made it happen, and Cat wanted to support that effort.

I talked about the children Kit and I “adopted” in episode 60, and yeah, I’ll link to that one on the Show Page too. On one of Cat’s posts, the kids’ grandmother asked if she could get four masks — one for each of the three kids, and one for her. I was heading into town anyway for medical supplies, so I replied to the post to say I’d run by Cat’s and bring four masks down the hill, 20 minutes into town, and deliver them. The grandmother was so relieved; she sent a donation back to Cat for the county relief fund, even though she’s retired, and living on a fixed income, and exhausting herself bringing up three orphaned teenagers.

A couple of Cat’s friends posting their gratitude. The variety of fabrics is not only stylish, but helps to tell your mask from one someone else’s. (Facebook)

Other recipients of Cat’s masks are posting selfies of themselves wearing them to show their gratitude. I’ll put an example on the Show Page.

That’s a critically important thing — gratitude. I’d love it if you hit pause on the playback of this episode for about a minute and think of five things you’re grateful for. Really, trust me, it’s worth it. You might be grateful for your health. Grateful if you still have a job, or enough savings to see you through for awhile. Grateful for the Internet, bringing you new and interesting things to think about while sitting at home. Grateful for a good friend you can call. Whatever it is, pause now and come up with a few.

. . .

The best thing you can do for your own mental health is to pause briefly every day to think about what you’re grateful for. Most people think about their problems, their fears, what they lack. Yet if you have the ability to listen to or read this online, you have something to be grateful for. Make it a ritual at some point in your day: when you wake up, bedtime, before you eat lunch, whatever. Take just a minute to pause and reflect on the good things, because they’re there.

One of the good things in my life is knowing people like Linda and Cat who took just a minute to think about what they can do to help out in this emergency. It’s a weird emergency: it’s slow, going on for weeks, months, and hopefully not a couple of years, like the 1918 flu pandemic. These people with Uncommon Sense, and there are a lot of them, they’re not just making the world a better place, they’re saving lives — and they’ll never know whose lives. That is definitely a result of the Uncommon Sense in the world. And that’s something to be grateful for too.

This era is going to be studied for generations to come: epidemiologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and a lot of other -ologists: this is the first severe worldwide pandemic in modern history, and it will be a field of study for a long, long time. We don’t have a lot of detail from the last one in 1918, when there were no computers to keep track of the details. We have them now. We have an opportunity to tell the future what we tried, what we changed, what worked and what didn’t — in great detail. What do we want them to know?

Because there are going to be future pandemics, and humans don’t do a great job of learning from mistakes made in the past, as we’re seeing right now. So the more we can communicate to the future in a coherent way, the more likely they’ll be able to apply the lessons — to learn from the mistakes we made to get here.

The next two episodes will explore a couple of things more deeply: first, a counterintuitive story about why someone chose not to do something extraordinary to help with this pandemic. It doesn’t sound like Uncommon Sense, but it is, and you’ll understand why when you hear it.

Second, a look into what we might want to change when all of this is over and we’re starting to rebuild. Because it will end, we will rebuild, and — well — we must change some things. If I need to, I’ll take another break, but that’s what’s coming up.

You’ll note something new on the Show Page: a little button to contribute to support the podcast. It’s a link to my new page on Ko-Fi, a funding platform without having to fool around with a shopping cart: it’s quick and easy, and they don’t take anything off the top of the contributions you make, like Patreon does. They in fact can’t take anything even if they wanted to: contributions go directly to my accounts, not Ko-Fi’s. If you’re specifically supporting the podcast, please note that in the comment on Ko-Fi so I know, and thank you. The direct address of my page there is ko-fi.com/thisistrue, and of course that’s linked on the Show Page. Thanks very much for your support.

The Show Notes for this episode are at thisistrue.com/podcast66, which has the links and photos I mentioned, and a place to comment.

I’m Randy Cassingham … and I’ll talk at you later.

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5 Comments on “066: Masking the Problem

  1. Thank you for this — I too have been suddenly ‘prepared’ and supplying PPE for folks who previously questioned my fabric & notions hoard. “What on earth are you going to do with a spool of 275 yards of elastic?” In a community where not many sew, I’ve found myself getting overwhelmed by the need and feeling guilty that I can’t do even more. For the last month I’ve been churning out mostly masks, including children’s sizes, on average a dozen a day. It feels like a drop in the bucket. It helps to know there are many others out there also stitching like mad to provide what is sadly needed.

    It is a drop in the bucket, and that’s why so many have stepped up to help. That’s something to be proud of, not guilty over. Keep getting the rest you need, since that’s the only way you can keep going. -rc

  2. “It is a drop in the bucket….”

    And THAT is how buckets get filled, drop by drop.

    Thanks, all.

    Exactly! -rc

  3. What a nice podcast. I’ve been fighting with the sewing machine today, so it was the boost I needed to keep going! Thank you.

    You’re very welcome, and thank YOU! -rc

    • I love all the creative ways people are stepping up to help others right now. It’s really inspiring. Have you seen the story about the young Boy Scout using a 3D printer to make little gadgets healthcare workers can use to hold their masks on without the pressure on the backs of their ears? Such a terrific idea, and so thoughtful!

      Randy, do either of your friends provide masks for people outside your area? If so, how could someone get them?

      I’ve seen several people doing the mask clip things — including one of Cat’s sons! As for out-of-area, I think both are more interested in “thinking local” (Linda made an exception for me, I’m pretty sure, because they were for first responders). One would think you could find them locally; there are a LOT of people making them. -rc

  4. I think it’s wonderful that while the mostly male politicians are posturing, tying themselves in knots about how to handle the situation and working out who to blame, the plucky women (and as far as I can tell it is mostly women) are diving in and helping in a practical way by turning out the masks. They are getting on with it! More power to the women.


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