If I’m honest, PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment isn’t something I ever really thought about until the pandemic found its way into our lives. The gas mask is a kind of PPE, but I always found gas masks quite eerie, so I tended to rush past them in the museum. This was not helped by the very creepy episode of Dr Who (2005), The Empty Child, with children in gas masks asking ‘are you my mummy?’ Eerie or not, they provided vital protection during World War II, when everyone carried them – children included. The link to the coronavirus pandemic again is through this war, but it is the ointment in the museum’s collection that seemed the more unusual story. Ointment was used, and had to be rubbed in for a minute as soon after exposure as possible, to help prevent potential skin damage from mustard gas. Ointment number two (as shown in the photograph) was made for the temperate climate zones of the UK and Western Europe.
For those on the frontline who have to wear PPE for their own protection, the issue is the damage it can do, and does to the skin. The Nursing Standard’s article includes images of two nurses after long shifts of wearing PPE. It shows them with bruises and aggravated skin. Ointment isn’t supplied with the PPE, but the NHS issued guidelines to help avoid such damage. However, in the face of the pandemic, shifts were long with frontline staff wearing PPE for much longer than was ideal. Add that to sore, cracked hands, and the impact can be felt long after a shift has ended.
The politics of PPE drove the headlines in the early days of lockdown, and the government was under fire for a lack of equipment. In due course, perhaps, we will understand more of the reasons, but we should not forget that knowledge about the virus, and what was needed in terms of PPE changed. The Financial Times has an infographic that charts the change over a short span of time. Everyone seems to agree that the UK response was slow, but that did not help those out on the coalface of the pandemic. In Cornwall too there were real shortages, and understandable outrage by Cornwall Councillors.
In every lockdown crisis there seems to have been a humbling response from people in Cornwall, and for PPE it is no different. There are many stories, but these struck me particularly.
- For the Love of Scrubs is a national campaign, with a local presence. They have received their funding target for materials, SKB Sails (Penryn) cut the materials, and now the needleworkers are making up the scrubs.
- Ryan Curnow has made 17,000 face visors (and counting!), free to those in the frontline, from a 3D printer. Donations can be made to support his venture via his Facebook page.
Guidance remains discretionary for the rest of the population about face coverings (except a requirement for those using public transport from 15th June 2020). We shouldn’t need to concern ourselves with ointment, but for those who wear glasses, a face mask is a nightmare for making them steam up. A top-tip from me (I’ve worn glasses since I was three, and PE used to be a nightmare). Rub washing-up liquid into the glass of your spectacles, don’t rinse it, but polish it until your lens is clear. Try the ‘hah’ test on it! Hopefully it will stop you bumping into things if/when we all need to wear face coverings when out and about.
Citizen Curator Volunteer.