In 2014, I was given a multiple diagnosis of MCTD (a form of lupus) arthritis in my knees and to top it off, ankylosing spondylitis (AS), another autoimmune disease which causes the bony plates in the spine to grow and fuse the vertebrae together. It also causes a constant pain in the sciatic nerve which gives you an actual pain in the ass.

As the years went by, I was on various medications, had a tantrum and refused to take medication. I went back to the doctor and was told, "It's not MCTD, but we don't know which other autoimmune disease you have." I repeated trips to various doctors including a hematologist and went to the ER this past March.

It was during the trip to the ER that my life changed again. I went to Bakersfield Heart Hospital because I was having really horrible pain not only in my chest, but my entire rib cage. As I have previously had cardiac issues, it seemed the best course of action. There was nothing going on with my heart; the AS had decided to cause inflammation in the cartilage in my rib cage. Not fun at all. So, it was back to the rheumatologist.

I am now on immunosuppressants. This means I have little to no immune system. What the doctor is attempting to do is reset my immune system, kind of like you would reboot a computer. Therefore, I will be on this therapy for about three to six months. I must not get sick. If I catch something now, it's a hospital stay for me. I will be rocking the medical filter mask fashion until this therapy is concluded.

The mask is a royal pain at times. It's hot sometimes, pulls on my ears, snags in my hair, fogs up my glasses, but I have to keep it on. Occasionally, I'll get so tired of it I'll think to myself, "Screw this, I'm taking it off." Then I'll hear someone sneeze or cough or clear their throat and boy does my mind change fast.

Some people are really cool about it. People at church ask me about it and tell me they will pray for me. Friends and coworkers check to make sure I'm wearing it and keeping safe. But of course, there are some real dorks who make jokes or act like they're scared every single time they see me. Every single time. It wasn't funny the first time, it's not funny now, it won't ever be funny.

If you see a person wearing a mask in public, please be kind. They may be undergoing a therapy like me or are really sensitive to pollen or are sick and protecting the rest of us. I would like to see us here become more used to wearing medical masks when we are ill like they do in Japan and other countries. There it's considered good manners to wear one when you are sick so as not to spread your germs. Also, people wear them on public transit and out shopping so as not to get sick. I think it makes sense and it costs so little in comparison to an illness that could cost a person their life.

Odilia Araujo de Camacho was born in Bakersfield and raised in Lamont. She is currently employed by the County of Kern. She can be reached at odilia410@yahoo.com.

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