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PPEs are not just for COVID-19 these days


While shoppers are donning masks and gloves to pick up groceries, and medical staff is dressed from head to toe in personal protective equipment to deal with COVID-19 victims, there are also other reasons to suit up for battles with very different but also very dangerous enemies, even if that battle is miles from every potential virus carrier. 

It’s the time of year when gardeners and farmers need to deal with dangerous chemicals, at least that’s what the labels on the packaging of those chemicals tell us, advising the use of a full set of protective gear before we head out to spray or otherwise apply the products. 

Back in my childhood, my father and brother would never have even thought of wearing masks when they were dealing with weed spray or ‘pickling’ grain before seeding. That potentially lethal mixture, which I believe contained a relative of formaldehyde, was mixed with the seed grain to prevent smut, a disease that turned the heads of grain black. My brother also sprayed roadside weeds for the county, and I recall him coming home from work reeking of weed spray, and no mask in sight. Maybe that had something to do with Father’s demise from emphysema and my brother’s from lung cancer, although I suspect both would say that had nothing more to do with it than their fondness for smoking big smelly cigars. 

Unlike that generation, I read labels. And when I go out to eradicate quack grass where pulling it just isn’t enough, I suit up for the job: coveralls, rubber boots, head covering, rubber gloves and mask.  Last week, I was spraying our apple trees with dormant spray - just in the nick of time, I might add – they had leaves the next day. My husband usually does this, but sprained his knee earlier in the week and was still having trouble with it, and recruited my help. 

The coveralls were easy to find, and I’ve already been out in my rubber boots a few times when the big snow melt was on, but where had my heavy duty, former oven cleaning gloves gone? I looked and looked, and finally found one, and had to resort to a double layer of disposable gloves for the other hand. I put on my hooded raincoat under the coveralls, to provide a hood, although I remember that in the past I had split a side open on a plastic bag to cover my head. The mask was in the paint cupboard, so no problem there. 

There was one factor I hadn’t thought of. When you spray weed killer, you use a garden hose with an attachment that holds the chemical, and you spray down toward the ground. When you spray trees, you use a pumped-up sprayer containing the chemical mixture and you spray up toward the branches. I could sure have used one of those face shields I have seen on the intensive care nurses and doctors on TV, to keep stray droplets of spray off my face. I certainly didn’t waste any time after I finished the job before hurrying in to wash my hair, since my bangs didn’t stay under my raincoat hood, and to scrub my face and get rid of any potential danger from the spray. 

I’ll probably be going out again this week, because those trees now have to have a going-over with some sort of sulfur spray just prior to blooming. This time, I think I’ll dig out a page protector, or the plastic cover saved from a discarded convention brochure I discarded last week, tie on a piece of elastic, and make my own face shield. It might work, and definitely it won’t hurt to try! Necessity, I was always told, it the mother of invention, and those shields I saw looked a whole lot like page protectors. 

I definitely hope the sprays do their job, although that won’t eradicate the risk from hail, which pockmarked a bunch of our apples last year, or birds that think they have first dibs on the fruit even before it’s ripe. After all that effort, I should be the one to reap the benefits, not some mischievous birdy bandits!