In a Plastic Bubble

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

  • Matthew 6:6

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

When my wife completed the second of her two kidney biopsies, one week apart, the first not coming close to her kidneys, we talked to the nurse as she wheeled my wife to our waiting automobile.

I asked if she ever had a break from wearing her mask, due to the COVID-19 procedures.

She said that sometimes she would go to the cafeteria and pretend to be eating a meal, just so she could get a break from it.

With this being my wife’s and my second all-day ordeal, we could sympathize, but then I remembered my ill-gotten “youth.”

I suggested to her that it beats being in a plastic suit all day.  The nurse thought of those people in the isolation ward, and I could see in her eyes that she saw a blessing in only having to wear a mask all day.

I have not dealt with handling an infectious disease, but I have dealt with nuclear contaminated equipment.  In one project, I converted some manual valves into motor-controlled valves.  I had to get them certified for duty along the way.  The old valves had been used at another nuclear reactor area that had been shut down.  We cannibalized the valves and changed their purpose.  I wrote the procedures and supervised everything except for the x-ray examination, done at night to reduce the x-ray exposure to the minimum.  I always thought that odd.  We had our heads and hands and hearts inside these valve parts, being exposed to nuclear radiation for eight hours each day, but heaven forbid we get anywhere close to an x-ray.

But we were protected from getting contamination onto ourselves, from penetration or absorption into the skin, or by ingestion or inhalation.  Unlike most contamination protective clothing made of some type of impervious cloth, we had plastic suits, head to toe.

We would walk a mile from the main gate, past the nuclear reactor building and around the corner, to an old home that had been converted into a maintenance outbuilding.  We went into what had been the kitchen and got undressed.  We put on a fresh set of coveralls, cotton booties over our steel-toed shoes, and we used masking tape to seal the coverall legs with the booties.  We did the same thing with our hands, one set of cotton gloves, then a set of rubber gloves taped to the coverall sleeves.  Then we put on plastic pants, fully sealed at the bottom, with a drawstring at the waste and suspenders.  The next step required a handler to help you.  They put you into a plastic coat.  Your head went through a neck seal.  Inside the sealed dome was a halo over your head.  Once you were in the coat, the handler hooked you up to the pressurized air supply, and the air came out of the halo.  Until that point, you held your breath.  We were lucky.  They found enough venturi air coolers for each of my crew members.  Otherwise, our breath would fog up the plastic dome and we would be unable to see – a lesson learned from the first day’s work.  The coats often had no glove on the end of the sleeve, so we would have to put the rubber gloves on, again sealing them with masking tape, in this case to the plastic coat.  This meant that you were wearing three pairs of gloves and you had to do fine, adjustments with your hands – not easy to do, and I was taking notes the entire time.  The gloves were too thick to pick up a pen from a table, so I would have the pen near the edge and slide it off the table into my other hand.  With everything inflated by the air supply, we looked like a clear version of the marshmallow man monster in the original Ghostbusters movie.  We then put rubber boots over the plastic feet of the suit pants.  The handler would also shove a couple of air hoses inside our pants.  Otherwise, we would get too hot and pass out before lunchtime.  As for lunchtime, there was none.  It took us about an hour getting into the suit.  We would lose two hours getting undressed and redressed to have lunch.  Besides, the cafeteria was a mile away, by foot.

In removing the plastic suit, any protective clothing for that matter, you tried your best to flip it inside out carefully while removing it to prevent shaking something loose.  That way, if you picked up any contamination, it would be rolled up inside the clothing, and not exposed so that someone could touch it.  They just touched the sweaty side of the suit.  But if you got sprayed with something while working or if there was some dust that was visible on your suit.  The handler would spray paint the contaminated area to fix the contamination against the plastic suit, and then they would cut you out of the suit to prevent you from shaking anything loose as you undressed, usually while you were holding your breath, because the air hose was one of the first things to be disconnected.  You were motivated in holding your breath by not wanting to breathe in the contamination.

The work of repurposing the valves was meticulous.  It took days to refurbish a single valve.  Then, it might fail on dye penetrant testing or on x-ray examination.  We got down to the last two available valves, needing both of them to pass inspection.  I think we needed a dozen altogether, but many had been rejected along the way.  If we had to swap parts, the sealing of the valve had to be polished using a rouge and tested to see if the valve would leak, rechecking with dye-penetrant and x-ray once we could ensure that the valve held against water pressure.

That was my job for about ten weeks, inside a plastic bubble every day, taking notes that had to remain on the inside of the contaminated area.  So, while everyone else piled into a waiting truck to go back to the parking lot, I copied my notes that I had carefully placed on the contaminated side to be read from the clean side of the rope.  Then I walked back to the parking lot, over a mile away, getting home late every day for ten weeks.

My little project was the last piece in a big puzzle that had taken years to accomplish.  When VP George H. W. Bush, our local senator, our local member of the house of representatives, and several other government officials came for the official ribbon cutting, my boss wanted me to be there, shaking hands with the big wigs.  I opted to stay in my office that night, turning my notes into a final report to make the ribbon cutting official.  I was not going to get fired because I partied while the paperwork had not been done properly.  So, I know a little about living in a plastic bubble suit.

If you are wondering about the two verses that are quoted at the beginning of this story, put them together.  I was having a little fun.  When you pray, go off to a quiet place, praying in private and solitude, and pray continually.  If we put these verses together, we will become mushrooms, off in a dark corner, alone, praying continually, until we starve to death.  Then again, if you are good boy scout, you could be prepared with snacks and last longer.  But I doubt if these two verses were meant to be tied together and taken literally while tied together.  We can pray silently while working or even at a ball game with a few thousand of our closest friends.  If that liberty of a large gathering can one day be restored.

But thinking of the ordeal in putting on and taking off (in technical terms: donning and doffing) of the plastic suits, my heart goes out to those medical professionals who are taking care of those people that have tested positive for the virus.  Just getting dressed for work and then undressed is not an easy task.

And the wearing of a mask, for the sake of everyone around you, gets put into perspective.  It is not that tough of a sacrifice.  I have read too many articles from people who ignored the rule, got other people sick before they knew that they had the disease.  It is much tougher on you to know that someone might die because you were careless.

Remain patient.  Remain vigilant.  Wash your hands and wear your mask.  Someone’s life might depend upon it.  And always look to God for strength.  He is the Grand Master of Patience.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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