Waiting in Line at the Post Office, Yet Again

Yet again, I’m waiting in line at the post office to mail packages. Frequent readers of JParadisiRN are probably thinking, “Holy carp. I thought she said she’s a nurse. She spends more time at the post office than in a hospital.”

The White that Binds (Pinnning Ceremony) jparadisi 2010

The White that Binds (pinning Ceremony) jparadisi 2010

Actually, I don’t, but I do mail packages at the post office throughout the year. This is the penalty of an ambitious child who moved far away from some of the people she loves most in the world to follow her dreams. Mailing gifts acknowledges the birthdays I am not present to celebrate.

I’ve noted similarities between hospitals and post offices before. Today’s line is much shorter than they are at Christmas. Regardless, the seasonal change does not remedy all the coughing and runny noses among those waiting.

The worst cough belongs to a woman already standing at the window loudly questioning the clerk about every conceivable option available for mailing the midsized envelope she clutches. Her hair is held by a twist-tie in a messy ponytail, revealing a rash on her pale face, which is positioned 18 inches from the postal clerk’s face. The woman coughs often, in a peculiar fashion: She lifts her face to the ceiling and covers her mouth with her fist while turning her entire body 180 degrees. This creates the effect of a Rain Bird sprinkler, spraying fat water droplets (or, in this case, respiratory droplets) upon the clerk and throughout the lobby.

It gets worse. After 20 minutes of asking the clerk questions and coughing, the woman ends the exchange by saying, “Thank you.” She replaces the envelope into her tote, and leaves without mailing it. I fear the people in line in front of me may knock her senseless, but she leaves unmolested.

At the very same moment, a second clerk returns from a back room, scrutinizes the long line, and says to the first clerk, “You certainly fell behind while I was on break.”

Exasperated, the soggy clerk responds, “I had a person asking a bazillion questions.” She beseeches those of us in line for support. One customer says, “You were very kind.” The others nod and mumble in agreement.

What does this story have to do with nursing? Directly speaking, not much. Yet I can’t help but connect the similarities between the postal clerk, nurses, and the special skills required to work with the public, sometimes at the risk of our own health. Topping off this encounter with criticism from a coworker who is unaware of these special qualities after a particularly stellar performance dampens the spirit, like water from a Rain Bird sprinkler.

The lessons learned: Our jobs are hard. Be kind. Look for the positive in coworkers and in yourself. Don’t wait until Nurses’ Day to recognize staff and colleagues.

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