Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

I don’t want to put a hex on the situation with a premature celebration, but the downward trajectory of the pandemic makes it appear that long-term care people can finally perhaps maybe start discretely considering the conceivable possibility of potentially mulling over the notion of feasibly working someday in a facility without wearing a mask. 

For many, if my own experience is a guide, the eventual removal of this requirement will be extremely disorienting at first. Earlier this week, in a non-facility setting where mask rules were recently relaxed for vaccinated staff, I happened upon another maskless co-worker, and a Beatles song started going through my head, “I’ve just seen a face, I can’t forget the time or place …” 

It was a startling, magical, disconcerting encounter. So much so that I paused at her office door and just stared at that unexpectedly naked face for an awkward period of time, whereupon she asked with alarm, “Gary, is everything OK? You seem upset.” 

That’s when I realized that under my mask over the past year or 10, or however long the pandemic has been, my facial features have become disconnected from my thoughts, and my expressions no longer reflect my moods. At some point, the puppet strings were cut and my face seceded from my brain, making its own independent rules as a sovereign nation, and twisting my features uncontrollably into a variety of troubling and incongruous shapes.  

It was nothing but delightful to see her cheerful, unobstructed face, so to realize I was apparently scowling during this moment of joy was a rude awakening. I’ve subsequently diagnosed myself as having RPF — resting pandemic face — and am now forced to constantly micro-analyze and second-guess every smile, frown or grimace I might be making. If self-analysis doesn’t work, the next step will be to check myself into a long-term care facility and have a therapist help me reestablish the neural pathways and muscle movements that facilitate appropriate expressions.

Obviously, I’m still working through this, and I fear it could be a lengthy and difficult path to full recovery. So when facility mask requirements eventually and inevitably end in your long-term care facility or workplace, I can only offer one bit of advice: When in doubt, smile — people can see your face.  

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the recent APEX 2020 Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.