When DIY healthcare supplies are the new normal

I can sew, but I’ve yet to make one of the protective masks for healthcare workers. I want to help, but I’m not sure I will get to the stage where I’m mass producing masks for other people. I selfishly made a few to use so we could take care of my mother. I am in awe of the people that step up and find solutions for our country’s lack of basic supplies. There are patterns online and Facebook groups dedicated to distributing necessary medical supplies to those in need.

I am thrilled and dismayed in equal parts to see the enthusiasm and generosity of a community of sewists. (I had to look up the word because seamstress only covers the women helping to sew masks and a sewer is an underground conduit. Neither word fits the task at hand.)

To explain my mixed emotions I will use one of my 91-year-old mother’s stories she would share about growing up during WWII. During wartime, there are supply shortages. One of my mother’s chores was to unravel old sweaters to reuse the yarn to make enlisted men socks or mittens. My mother hates knitting because her childhood is tied to keeping some boy warm when he sat in a ditch protecting his country from harm’s way. Knitting isn’t about recreation, it’s about survival. To her, knitting isn’t about creating something, but the undoing of something else.

Now it is the healthcare professionals that are protecting us from harm’s way. Replace yarn with cotton and socks with masks. People around the nation are making homemade items to try to protect those people on the front lines. We all know a nurse, doctor, delivery person, a police officer or first responder. Are we at war? It may not look like war, but in many aspects, it seems like war. We have healthcare workers reusing masks, using garbage bags as makeshift gowns, and willingly put themselves in the danger zone. I saw that TV show: it’s called “M*A*S*H.” It’s a comedy and this is not. It is a strange First World in which we live when we are making our own healthcare supplies.

I am not belittling the herculean efforts of everyone involved with making homemade masks. I applaud all of you for trying to protect our healthcare workers and vulnerable populations. These are selfless acts and beyond generous. Let’s not be hard on ourselves. Sewing masks is just one way to provide aid. The smallest act can be helpful, whether it’s a kind word, action, or just staying out of the way. So here is a virtual hug to all the helpers. Thank you.


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