Even as an adult, when you need help with something, you always call mom.
That’s true, even in the case of Blount Memorial Hospital medical director of anesthesia Dr. Amber Hampton.
Hampton, along with the hospital’s senior director of surgical services, Beverly Graham, had been doing their part to review the surgery department’s role in the hospital’s overall preparedness plans for a potential outbreak of COVID-19 in our community, when they got to discussions on possible ways to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) if and when supplies — specifically masks — became troublesome.
“We all know that there’s a limited supply available to us for the future,” Graham said. “Even though we’re getting them in, we have to be aware of the kinds we have and utilize them appropriately. It’s our duty to conserve what we have and use what we have appropriately.” Graham said that’s when memories of her early life as a registered nurse kicked in.
“When I started as a nurse in the 1970s, cloth masks were all we had,” Graham said. “I told Amber, ‘Why don’t we go back to what we did in the ’70s and use cloth masks,’ and we both started doing some research.” Graham said the reusable masks are helpful for many staff and using them where most appropriate would allow the hospital to stretch their supply.
Graham and Hampton’s research gave them the details they needed on materials, size and accessories, and Graham pointed out they just needed to find someone who could make a prototype for them to present to the hospital’s infection control team for clearance.
That’s when Hampton said she’d call her mom.
Hampton’s mother, Gail Garland, a former home economics teacher for the Loudon County school system, said her daughter’s call for sewing help was not uncommon, as she had always been used to both of her daughters calling in “favors” for sewing and embroidery projects.
Garland said she was glad to help, because she thought, “Maybe this is the one little thing I can do, using what I did for all those years, to help. We feel helpless and hopeless in these situations.”
The request for help came at a good time, too, Garland said. “I had been doing all the things you’re supposed to be doing when you’re homebound,” noting that she’d done projects such as cleaning cabinets and painting bedrooms and was now to the point of relaxing. “I had no idea that this need was there, but when Amber called, I got right on it.”
In fact, Garland said her husband had regularly been wearing a mask as he went out in the community, and that she looked at the mask — which is a mask Amber’s dad has had since she was born — as her guide. “Amber gave me a description of what they wanted it to end up being, and that’s how all this got started,” Garland said.
“I went to Hobby Lobby, and I walked around to try to find the materials we needed and what would also be safe, as you can’t just use anything to keep staff protected,” she said, noting that she hated people seeing her out and about when she should be home.
Some key materials that hospital staff told Garland they truly needed were a double layer of fabric, a stabilizer, pleats, a metal piece on the bridge of the nose and strings to tie the masks.
Pleats, Graham explained, make it more comfortable on the wearer’s face. “They don’t pull so tight so that it’s hard to breathe and talk.” Additionally, the metal piece across the bridge is really a key piece. “The bend across the nose allows us to press that metal down for a good seal, which adds protection,” Graham explained. “Also, if you wear glasses, without that seal, they’ll fog up while you have the mask on.”
Garland said that as she thought about making these masks, she knew that she wanted the masks to be safe and durable — after all, her “baby” would potentially be wearing one. “It’s worrisome that all this is happening, but I could hear people in the background saying ‘We love you even though we’ve never met you.’”