A state trooper pulled over a doctor for speeding on an east-central Minnesota interstate, told her she should know better and sent her on her way grateful for receiving only a warning and not a ticket.
The trooper also gave her a fistful of coveted N95 medical masks that were issued for his protection from the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
"I burst into tears," Dr. Sarosh Ashraf Janjua, a Boston native and cardiologist, wrote in a detailed Facebook account of the traffic stop on March 21 along Interstate 35 in North Branch as she traveled from work in Duluth for a break in Minneapolis. "I think he teared up a little as well before wishing me well and walking away."
Janjua also saw the masks handed to her as having value beyond their role in stemming the virus' spread.
"This complete stranger, who owed me nothing and is more on the front lines than I am, shared his precious masks with me, without my even asking," she wrote. "The veil of civilization may be thin, but not all that lies behind it is savage. We are going to be OK."
The N95 mask has been a persistent point of emphasis for many weeks among politicians, medical professionals and private industry as a vital — and all too scarce — tool in keeping health care providers safe from the virus.
"Trooper [Brian] Schwartz said he noticed what appeared to be ... used N95 masks in [her] purse that he assumed she was reusing," the patrol's chief spokesman, Lt. Gordon Shank, said Sunday. "Trooper Schwartz said he heard there was a shortage of personal protective equipment and thought [the doctor] could use the extra masks."
Shank said Schwartz and his fellow troopers "are working hard during the pandemic and are thinking about all the first responders who are caring for Minnesotans during this critical time."
Janjua acknowledged in her Facebook post that the N95 mask shortage has left her "afraid of not having adequate protective equipment, and in my darkest moments, [I] have worried about what would happen if I fell sick far from home."
The doctor had just wrapped up her work when she was pulled her over for going 85 mph in a 70 mph zone on southbound I-35.
Seeing her driver's license, Schwartz asked what brought her all the way to Minnesota. She replied that she makes the trip monthly for work as a medical professional.
The trooper "quite firmly told me it was very irresponsible of me to be speeding," Janjua wrote on Facebook, "especially since I would not only take up resources if I got into an accident, but would also not be in a position to help patients."
The doctor said she felt the sting of his words, and "I waited for him to write me a ticket. Instead, he told me he was going to let me off with a warning."
As she struggled to apologize and thank the trooper, "he reached in to hand me what I assumed was my license back. It wasn't until my hand had closed around what he was giving me that its unexpected bulkiness drew my eyes to it. Five N95 masks from the supply the state had given him for his protection."
Janjua confirmed Sunday in an interview with the Star Tribune that she had already worn the one mask that was in her purse when trooper Schwartz stopped her "and was prepared to reuse it. ... I want to leave as many masks as possible for the providers that take care of confirmed [coronavirus] cases. ... We know the surge is coming here too; just not certain when."
The doctor shuttles between Buffalo, N.Y., and her substitute duties in Minnesota with Essentia Health in Duluth, which typically run a week or two every month. She would usually take a flight but was forced to drive this time and "hunkered down" for a month, Janjua said.
"I can't justify flying back and forth with this rather unusually contagious virus," she said.
Janjua also worries about her parents, who are self-quarantined in her beloved Boston.
"I have to say, illogical as it may seem," she said, "I have also worried a little less about my parents since I met trooper Schwartz. I know there are good people like him everywhere."
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482