I can’t wear a mask

Not without an oxygen tank

Shefali O'Hara


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

With the Delta variant of Covid making its rounds, people are once again masking up. Well, some never stopped masking. But many of my friends who had gotten their vaccines decided they could safely remove their masks in many situations where they had prior masked.

Now, though, they are re-masking.

I get it. No one wants to end up in the hospital fighting for their life.

Of course, I am already there — not in a hospital, thankfully, but fighting for my life.

3 months ago I had surgery to remove a lemon sized brain tumor, and it was discovered I also had lung cancer. The doctors gave me 3–6 months to live. I’m hoping to be around longer than that, of course.

One issue though — I can’t wear a mask for more than a few minutes.

The last time I wore a mask, after about 5 minutes, I started to hyperventilate and had to take the mask off and sit in a corner with my head between my knees fighting for breath. I also have adult onset asthma which probably does not help.

I have an oxygen sensor and the other day I tried an experiment to make sure it wasn’t psychosomatic.

I tested my oxygen levels. They were at 94%. Prior to my getting lung cancer, whenever I had my oxygen levels tested, they were around 98%. So they’ve gone down a bit, not unexpected given my situation.

However, after I put a mask on, and I tested my oxygen levels — they started to go down. After a couple of minutes they were in the high 80s. Not good.

Obviously wearing a mask for more than a few minutes is not a possibility for me, because I need to breathe. Obviously, other people need to be safe. I know that I don’t have Covid (I have had weekly blood tests as well as temperature checks) and that I am avoiding risky situations, but other people don’t know this.

So I avoid going shopping — which I can’t do these days anyway. I avoid church even though I’d love to go because there are elderly people and immunocompromised people and they might get nervous to see me without a mask even if I’m careful to keep a lot of distance.



Shefali O'Hara

Cancer survivor, writer, engineer. BSEE from MIT, MSEE, and MA in history. Love nature, animals, books, art, and interesting discussions.