Surgical Masks

By George Giles

April 20, 2020

As always government turns things upside down. I spent nine years working in Cardiac Surgery and I learned a thing or two about healthcare during this time. Here are my opinions along with a little science.

Surgeons. nurses and other operating room personnel in a surgical suite wear a mask. They wear these masks trying to mitigate the effects of the normal human body. During surgery the body cavity is open, exposing the sterile interior to the outside un-sterile world. This world is a biological soup of dirt, debris, chemicals, viruses and bacteria. Any of these landing in the sterile interior can potentially be very bad leading to infections, sepsis and death.

Human beings respire and with the warm breath can come any number of things of the aforementioned biological soup. Surgical suites cannot prevent airflow and the wind can bring lots of un-sterile things into the sterile field. I have never seen a gas tight surgical suite with an airlock so when the patient/staff enter/exit the air we breathe can drag a lot of other things along for the ride.

Surgical masks protect the patient from the surgical staff they were not designed to protect the wearer of the mask from the patient!

Fast forward to the current mess the government has thrown us into and daily there is a cry for more masks to protect everyone from the coronoavirus. Social distancing is a policy designed to implement this along with masks. I go to the grocery store every day to get a feel for what is available and what is not, my own economic research. I also buy things that were not available yesterday but might be today. In the past week about half the customers in the store have started to wear masks so the other half do not. Same thing with the staff. Many of these masks you can tell have been worn many times, not the use once and discard one finds in a surgical environment. This means they have been put on, taken off and stored (who knows where) so much for their cleanliness.

A little physics here is what the ideal gas law and kinetic theory can tell us. Gases at room temperature have an average velocity around 400 meters per second. Fast. Now gas molecules bump into one another thus the mean free path (how far they move between collisions) is relatively small; which means gas molecules do not go very far before they bump into one another. In vacuum a feather and an iron shot-put fall at the same speed but in the atmosphere at ground level the feather will stay in the air much longer than the shot put, same thing with a virus particle. A coronavirus is much bigger than an atom but is still tiny compared to the macroscopic world of multi-cellular animal life like us. This means that they will stay in the air for some time before being pulled down by gravity. Coronavirus particles can and will seep around the edges of the surgical mask. These masks do not make a gas tight seal. They were designed to contain spittle and particles from talking, breathing, coughing or sneezing of the surgical staff from getting into the sterile body cavity! Same thing goes for whatever is found in mustaches and beards.

Washing one’s hands every time you are outside of your home promptly when you return and not touching your eyes, face and mouth are very important as these are the portal through which viruses can enter the body. In my opinion this is more important than wearing a mask unless you are positive for coronavirus and you do not want to infect others! I would also recommend buying a sterile saline nose spray to keep the lining of your nose moist which is known to prevent viruses and bacteria from getting across the skin barrier into the blood stream.

Hand sanitizer is in short supply. My local Walgreen’s ran out of rubbing alcohol a day or two into the declared social distancing. Rubbing alcohol (also known as isopropyl alcohol) is what ‘sanitizes’ as it in effect will posion any virus or bacteria it comes in contact with.

A little chemistry here: liquid dish detergent is a superb cleaning agent. Put a spot the size of a quarter in your hand, rub it all over your hands before wetting with water. Detergents are a class of chemicals called surfactants; they lower the surface tension of water thus serve to dissolve contamination from the surface of the skin. Add a small amount of water and vigorously rub your hands together before rinsing with flowing water. You will be able to feel when your hands are rinsed clean. I always recommend buying generic household chemicals as they are less expensive since they do not have advertising budgets and TV time priced into their contents. Sam’s Club sells a gallon of pink dish washing liquid for $5, a cost-effective solution. While they limit purchases to one per day they have not run out so far.

If all else fails and you are desperate for a sanitizing solution go to your local hardware store, Lowe’s or Home Depot and buy a gallon of denatured alcohol, it costs about $15. Quarts are about $8. Use a tablespoon in place of hand sanitizer and it will get the job done. There are a lot of tablespoons in a gallon. You CANNOT drink it, it is not that kind of ethyl alcohol!!! The government requires a poison be added, this is the denaturing part, to prevent drinking! It will work just fine as a hand sanitizer. Do not buy acetone, mineral spirits or turpentine if you cannot get denatured alcohol, as they really are poisonous.

These sanitizing agents also strip the natural oils and chemicals the body coats the surface of the skin with. Every pore of your skin exudes these chemicals. They are an essential part of your immune system! Use a ‘skin moisturizing’ lotion. I prefer Lubriderm and Cerave but almost any will do. Read the ingredients listed. Ingredients are required by law to be listed in the order of decreasing amount. The first chemical listed will be present in the greatest amount, the second next largest on down. A useful federal law! Use this to restore ‘moisture’. You can use tis to compare contents of the different brands. This moisture is actually a layer of an oily chemicals and it will help protect the skin while your metabolism restores its chemical balance.

Americans have been conditioned by advertising to bathe daily and keep ‘clean’. This is a product of the marketing department to increase sales but works to the detriment of society at large. Animals spent roughly 500 million years evolving and nature always knows best. If nature went to the trouble of developing skin as part of your immune system then it is best to try and preserve it. We do not need to use/scrub surfactant chemicals every day to get that clean feeling; we are stripping these essential chemicals from our skin. I recommend washing the crotch/arm pits with surfactant cleaners and let flowing water do the rest. Shampoo strips natural chemicals from your hair. Back when I had hair I did a test of rinsing my hair with water when showering but not using shampoo and I found that after about three weeks the luster returned once I stopped stripping away the essential chemicals that nature provided. no more shampoo, not that I need it anymore.

Asthma is literally unknown in the third world; a world with a lot less bathing and daily surfactant application. Many believe this is the cause of asthma. I do not know but I do know someone severely asthmatic and their solution was to cut down on showering, a natural solution.

A little chemistry here can go a long way with helping the body and its natural biochemistry provide the immunity which is what always saves us. The great Roman orator Cicero wrote, roughly fifty years before Christ was born that, “the physician treats but nature heals.” He was beheaded by the Roman government at age 63, a classic government program if ever there was one.

George Giles spent 15 years working at an elite private University and Medical Center. Mercifully he got early retirement for time served. In college in Detroit he worked in the meat processing industry. If you like sausage/healthcare then you do not want to see what goes on behind the scenes at the slaughterhouse.

Copyright © George Giles