Fashion advice from an OD on the frontlines of COVID-19

April 14, 2020
Michael Brown, OD, MHS-CL, FAAO

COVID-19 has one OD making life and style choices he never anticipated.

 

Disclaimer: The following blog post is presented in the hopes of honoring the best in the tradition of in-the-trenches gallows humor. We are all conscripted foot soldiers in this global pandemic war. As the line from the Broadway hit musical Hamilton says, “We tend to our wounded, we count our dead.” But we still need to laugh in order to survive and retain our humanity. So, take a breath and enjoy a chuckle or two at my expense.

Among the personal casualties of the global pandemic war on COVID-19 was my clinical fashion sense, which if I say so myself (because no one else will) was pretty good for a very young Boomer, okay?

The first to fall was my beard, a carefully curated masterpiece of bristly, Zeus-like perfection crafted over the past 14 years that, when combed over just-so and fluffed up a bit, hardly showed any tale-tell gaps at all.

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The tale it would tell: “My master is not a very hairy man, and frankly, this is exhausting.”

The reason I had to part ways with my shaggy mug was because the N95 mask that has been gathering dust in my office cabinet for years was a size too small, so I had to decrease my face’s circumference for it not to pucker as much at the sides and allow in stray coronavirus particles.

It does fit a little better, but the straps are still so tight on my cheeks I look like Simon the Chipmunk on 80 mg of oral prednisone.

Simon used to take hydroxychloroquine for his rheumatoid arthritis, but for some weird reason, all the drugstores seem to be out.

I am supposed to get one appropriately sized N95 to last me the entire indeterminate length of the pandemic, or so they tell me, but I’m not exactly holding my breath for that.

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Don ye mask
Speaking of breath, I have been feeling and smelling mine a lot more lately. How about you?
I have my sister’s homemade masks to thank for that. She’s an artisan seamstress who lives in Virginia and has become a regular Rosie the Riveter of cloth face masks in her neck of the woods.

She sent a package of “Close enough for the CDC” handcrafted masks across state lines just like our maternal grandfather once ran homemade moonshine.

Thankfully, the Feds didn’t intercept it, and the package arrived on time.

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I celebrated with a shot of the now-legal hooch, the kind you can buy down at the local ABC store (still open in Alabama, Roll Tide!) when you stand behind the makeshift toddler gate and point to a bottle of it on the far wall so the masked and gloved employee can go fetch it for you.

I raise my Mason jar to you, Clyde, you old rascal!

I’m partial to the gray and black one, striped on one side, checked on the other, that used to match most of my wardrobe (more on that below).

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I also like the elastic ear straps instead of ties since I have discovered that reaching around and trying to tie them around my head is a more perplexing problem for me than a Rubik’s Cube, which I never came close to solving, anyway.

However, the lack of a stiff yet malleable thingamajig to seal it over my nose left my eyeglasses in a fog.

Fortunately, I happened to have several rolls of medical tape which I had been using to wrap splints since rupturing my left D5 (pinky) phalanx extensor tendon in January (don’t even ask).

A little strip closed the gap and did the trick. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” as they say.

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Clinic attire
In response to the perennial, “What to wear and not to wear in the clinic” question, I thought I had crushed that one until COVID-19 came along.

After decades of experimentation, I had ditched ties and white coats because of the potential, whether real or imagined, for microbes to cling to their surfaces.

Oh sure, I still slip on a clinic jacket if a gaggle of muckety mucks from the head shed come strutting through and poking around the clinic because that gives them one less thing to nitpick about. But for the most part, it has been relegated to a peg on the back of my office door.

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In warmer weather, I would wear short-sleeve, moisture-wicking polo shirts and travel pants, and when it turned cold,  I would roll up the sleeves of my dress shirts or push up my sweater sleeves so I’m “bare below the elbows,” just like Viggo Mortenson, the “Dr. McDreamy” on the right in this picture.

But to pull off that look, you’ve got to have scrubs, and in “these challenging times,” as every commercial on TV now intones, I figure the smaller the surface area for microbes to cling to and the less clothes I wear around patients-up to a degree, at least-the better.

As a famous rootin’ tootin’ former U.S. President, who I oddly once again find myself longing for, once said, “Mission accomplished!”

I am now the proud owner of five pairs of good-fitting, multi-colored, ultra-soft, outrageously priced Figs “premium” scrubs that I was attracted to by their quality and good reviews, as well as how the brand name reminds me of one of my favorite snacks, Fig Newtons, which readers living in the Huntsville metro area may have noticed are totally gone from store shelves.

But, um, if you need a hookup, I, uh, “know a guy…”

Related: AOA Optometry’s Meeting 2020 cancelled

For the foreseeable future, I picture myself “dressing for disinfection,” if not success, and donning a mask of some sort for every patient encounter. Let’s be honest, masks paired with business casual or dress clothes look a little off putting and creepy, amirite?

Pre-coronavirus, I would often hang up my pants after work and wear them several times before washing-probably not such a good move in the “new normal.” Scrubs are easier than business casual and dress wear to wash every night.

I know that, technically, it is best to change into and out of scrubs at work, but I figure outpatient care gives me more leeway there, and if I have had a particularly “icky” kind of clinic day, I can always strip and pop them in our washing machine which is conveniently located next to the garage and run through the house streaking, an activity I might have participated in back in the late ‘70s, although I can’t say for sure because the details of that time period have always been a little hazy.

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Wearing scrubs home from work is also advantageous stops if you have to make a quick stop at Target or Kroger to pick up a few items, since your fellow shoppers, upon seeing you walk their way, grant you an extra wide berth, effectively doubling the recommended social distance from 6 to 12 feet.

I still maintain my Euro-NYC fashion vibe with a pair of black and charcoal gray scrubs, but I have added navy, ceil blue, and teal.

That last pair has produced some marital discord. My wife and I argue because she says they are really “turquoise,” and I assert they are “aqua green” (insert eye roll emoji here).

I’m an anomalous trichomat, and even though my wife’s probably right, I double down and fight on.

That brings me to shoes, a matter that, as a certified, card-carrying “sneaker head,” I take very seriously.

I have a large and growing collection of retro kicks-Adidas, Nike, New Balance, Converse, Puma, you name it, I’ve probably got it-which my psychoanalyst tells me is my way of compensating for the childhood trauma of a having a mother who thought Kmart sneakers were “good enough.”

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I have worn them often with my clinic ensembles because they are comfortable and stylishly hip enough to lend me some street cred with younger students and residents. I still wear them. Now I slip them off when I arrive at work and slip into, and oh how it hurts to admit this, but “this moment we find ourselves in” requires transparency and honest communication-a pair of black Crocs.

WTF? Good question, dear readers.

Yes, I have always secretly snickered behind the back of my OB/GYN brother-in-law who has been standing on hard hospital floors his entire career delivering a gazillion babies.

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And true, Crocs look like the sad last remains of The Little Dutch Boy who, contrary to the popular 19th century story, did not actually heroically save Holland by sticking his finger in a dike but instead tragically lost his life when he was goofing off and fell into a vat of boiling Goodyear rubber.

But they are convenient to disinfect and leave under my desk at the end of the day and easy to slip into and go see a patient after standing in socks on the ergonomic mat which came with my new sit-to-stand desk riser I recently installed (now there is another blog post unto itself).

The truth is hard to admit: Crocs are damn ugly, and I now wear them. But it’s equally true that they are damn comfortable.

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Regardless of how many clothes I’ve shed during this pandemic, I still haven’t gone as far as Twitter superstar, comedian, and ophthalmologist Dr. Glaucomflecken did when he discovered just how much a “risky business” telemedicine could be.

Whether you believe telemedicine is the second coming of Dr. Irvin Borish or optometry’s Grim Reaper, if you don’t laugh at that little clip of genius homespun humor, I wouldn’t come within 6 feet of you even in the “best of times,” which these days most certainly are not.

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