Kathleen Klassen can, and does, wear a mask while seated, at least until her heat sensitivity kicks in; then she has to remove it. Photo by Terry Farrell

Kathleen Klassen can, and does, wear a mask while seated, at least until her heat sensitivity kicks in; then she has to remove it. Photo by Terry Farrell

Life unmasked: woman who can’t wear a mask feels unfairly judged

Kathleen Klassen’s medical condition makes wearing a mask impossible

Black Creek resident Kathleen Klassen would wear a mask if she could, but she is one of the many British Columbians whose medical condition prevents mask-wearing.

She wants the community to know it’s not by choice.

Klassen has primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS). As defined by the National MS Society, multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.

In Klassen’s case, any visual interference with her feet causes immediate vertigo and nausea. Even the slightest diversion, such as seeing a mask where her nose should be, or the slight blur of a see-through shield, triggers her symptoms.

RELATED: How one blind Victoria woman overcomes pandemic obstacles

RELATED: Masks, social distancing make communication harder for those with hearing loss

“For some odd reason, my brain needs to be able to clearly see my feet in order for mobility to occur,” she explained. “For example, I can’t walk in tall grass, or snow that covers my feet. Doing so makes me extremely dizzy, and also causes my body to simply freeze in one spot so that I don’t fall over.

“As a result of my brand of MS, wearing a face mask is out of the question. I am also heat sensitive, and so masks and face shields can also cause me to get too warm, which in turn causes nausea and instability.”

She can, and does, wear a mask while seated, at least until her heat sensitivity kicks in; then she has to remove it.

Klassen carries a doctor’s note with her at all times, to gain entry into businesses or public spaces where masks are mandated. While the note is generally accepted by staff at such locations, it’s the public that reacts in a cruel fashion.

“Nobody asks to see the note,” said Klassen. “I just get glares, side looks of derision and even obvious disdain for my maskless state. I’ve even been yelled and sworn at for getting too close.”

She said one episode, in particular, frightened her to the point she will not visit that business again during the pandemic.

“[I was approached by] a very angry masked older gentleman who assumed I was a horrible person. He would not allow me to apologize, and only angrily retorted that I was not sorry… even though I attempted to assure him that I was.”

Klassen said she would gladly wear an identifying lanyard or something similar – something from official sources that people would recognize as a mask exemption for medical reasons – but currently there is nothing of the sort available.

“Perhaps a lanyard that could be worn that simply states “Face Mask Exempt”… which could only be obtained with a doctor’s note, just like handicapped placards are awarded,” said Klassen. “It won’t stop all the angry people from being angry… but perhaps it would allow me to walk into a store or public place with less fear that I will be misunderstood, or yelled at simply because my disability precludes me from wearing a face mask or face shield.”

North Island medical health officer, Dr. Charmaine Enns, sympathizes with Klassen’s case and says her situation is not unique.

“There are a number of different reasons why someone will not or can not wear a mask,” said Enns. “However, most of the population now is wearing masks, especially indoors so it is important that we not stigmatize or shame those who are not wearing masks. Many will have a legitimate reason.”

Klassen understands the stigma all too well, and admits even she struggles when seeing others without masks on.

“When I see a young person not wearing a mask, even my pre-conceived notion is ‘wow, they don’t care about this pandemic. They think it’s a hoax.’ Then I stop and think, hey wait a minute; maybe they have a legitimate reason for not wearing a mask,” she said. “So I get why people would think that about me.”

Most of all, Klassen wants people to take Dr. Bonnie Henry’s mantra to heart.

“I know it is often said by Dr. Bonnie Henry to ‘Be Kind.’ I’m afraid that message is not reaching some folks, and I am becoming tired of keeping my head down, avoiding eye contact with those wearing masks, simply because I cannot participate with such things,” said Klassen.

“I care deeply about others. I want to be able to smile at strangers without them thinking I’m just being cocky and arrogant. I care about your health, and I never want to be considered to be one who doesn’t take this pandemic seriously.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Comox ValleyCoronavirus


Kathleen Klassen with her doctor’s certificate, stating an exemption to mask-wearing, for medical reasons. Photo by Terry Farrell

Kathleen Klassen with her doctor’s certificate, stating an exemption to mask-wearing, for medical reasons. Photo by Terry Farrell

Just Posted

An electronic sign at the Tofino-Ucluelet junction notifies travellers heading towards Sutton Pass that closure windows are in effect Thursday morning. (Andrew Bailey photo)
Survey swirls up confusion around Tofino-Ucluelet highway closures

“The Highway 4 Kennedy Hill Project closure times remain the same for now,” ministry says

Mona Strelaeff, a Metchosin resident, is the first non-terminally ill person in Canada to be allowed to use psilocybin assisted therapy. (Provided by Spencer Hawkswell)
Island woman’s magic mushroom trauma treatment could be trendsetting

Experts say this could signal the broadening of who can access psilocybin therapy

Grade 3 student Nate Twaddle, who uses a walker for a rare neurological condition, has been zooming along a new accessible walkway since it was installed in early October at Willway Elementary in Langford. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Langford mother thankful for accessible walkway that helps son connect with peers

Rare neurological condition means Grade 3 student uses wheelchair, walker to play

Trevor Davis, base manager of the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation in Sidney, stands in front of the Hecate Sentinal, an oil skimming vessel based at Sidney’s Van Isle Marina. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Oil spill response base taking shape on Saanich Peninsula

Enhanced base with elements in North Saanich and Sidney to be fully operational in fall 2022

The Fraser Institute’s annual report card on B.C. elementary schools ranks schools across the province based on standardized tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Opinion: Fraser Institute delivers elementary schools the usual mixed report card

What we learn doesn’t change, but maybe how we react to it should

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

Pandemic has ‘exacerbated’ concerns for B.C. children and youth with special needs: report

Pandemic worsened an already patchwork system, representative says

Jon Lefebure went back to construction after losing the 2018 mayor’s post in North Cowichan to work on the Cottages On Willow. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Former Island mayor retools priorities with construction project

Fresh air a benefit and satisfaction results from building eight-unit housing complex in Chemainus

A truck arrives with a load of logs at Western Forest Products’ mill in Ladysmith. More work will be coming to the Ladysmith sawmill in February, says WFP. (Black Press file photo)
More work at Ladysmith mill in new year, says Western Forest Products

Company says Ladysmith operation to see second shift in February

Campbell River RCMP. RCMP photo
Woman spits in Campbell River business operator’s face

Spitter claimed she has COVID-19, in downtown confrontation

Most Read