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.

Returning To Hoyt Street, Everything Has changed

photo: jparadisi

photo: jparadisi

I’m standing in line at the Post Office on Hoyt Street, along with at least fifty other people waiting to mail Christmas packages. It’s been two years since I wrote the post, Miracle On Hoyt Street, describing a similar experience.

Things have changed since then. Not gradually over two years, but abruptly. On Tuesday, December 11, 2012, we Oregonians experienced our first, and hopefully last, mass shooting at the Clackamas Town Center. One of the two dead, Cindy Yuille was a hospice nurse. I did not know her.

On Friday, December 14, 2012, twenty elementary school children and six faculty members were gunned down mercilessly in Newtown, Connecticut by a twenty-year old attacker we still don’t know very much about.

What is the differential diagnosis dividing the mentally ill from the criminally insane?

Today, standing in line while waiting my turn to mail packages, Christmas songs play on the same scratchy speakers as two years ago, but this time I feel unexpectedly anxious. I realize I am uncomfortable being in a crowded public place. I look around for my old nemesis, the postal clerk who was the Newman to my Seinfeld. She is not here. Perhaps she has retired, that lucky bitch (insert smiley-face emoticon here). Then suddenly, in my imagination, the remaining clerks behind the counter resemble ducks in a shooting gallery.  It occurs to me that they risk their lives daily, standing behind that counter in a large, freely accessed lobby without security. That thought causes me to look around and find available exits, which are scant. Would my best chance of survival be to race towards one, or hit the ground and pray I’m missed? I shake my head to clear it, and glance at the booklets of stamps available for purchase. One features a picture of the cartoon character Nemo with his father. I chomp down hard on the gum in my mouth to prevent the tears from coming back as I think of fathers swimming the vast seas, searching for children who no longer exist.

When I finally reach the counter, I thank the clerk for her good work, and wish her a Merry Christmas.

Home again, I make a special dinner to share with David when he returns from work. I say a silent prayer of gratitude when he walks safely through the door.

Over a glass a wine, I tell him about my anxiety at the Post Office. He understands, says everyone is feeling it too. He puts his arm around me, and pulls me close, while we watch It’s a Wonderful Life in the glow of Christmas tree lights.

Miracle On Hoyt Street

If It Fits It Ships photo: jparadisi 2010

Trudging out of an Oregon rainstorm into the Post Office, I found a line of 30 people like me with Christmas packages to mail. In a poorly ventilated building, a crowd of wet people smells like wet dogs, but less so. John Lennon’s voice sounded scratchy singing “And so this is Christmas” from a poor quality speaker. I knew the late afternoon was a bad time to go, but I’ve never been a morning person, a characteristic that served me well for twelve years of night shifts.  I started thinking that a busy hospital is a model for Post Office chaos during the holiday season. Each type of health care provider or patient personalities exists in this parallel universe, the Post Office.

For example, attempting to speed things up, a woman wearing a name badge triaged the swelling line of package bearing humanity, asking who needs insurance forms to fill out. Someone at the back of the line asks her what time the Post Office closes. She says she doesn’t know, because she usually doesn’t work in this area. Apparently postal workers float to unfamiliar departments like nurses do during staffing shortages.

In front of me, a woman with silver hair converses with a younger woman. I suspect the silver-haired woman is a retired nurse, because she hands out an endless supply of clicky-pens to other customers in the line in need of writing implements, then pulls a Sharpie out of the same pocket for her own use. The younger woman has long hair pulled back in a barrette. She is sans makeup and wears what we call in Oregon, “tree-hugger” shoes. She is overweight, but kindly attentive to the silver-haired woman. While she speaks, a similar looking man I take for her husband appears and gives her a peck on the mouth. It makes me happy.

I watch a woman wrapping packages in tissue paper and bar code stickers. In front of her, a man loudly complains on a cell phone, “Those #$*#-ing doctors give you a bunch of pills and then you can’t get a hold of them!” He never stops talking the entire time the clerk processes his packages. When he’s finished, she says “Merry Christmas, Sir”, which I think is more than he deserves.

Finally, it’s my turn. Oh no, it’s that clerk, the one who is Newman to my Jerry Seinfeld. She annoys the hell out of me because she doesn’t ask if the contents of a package are dangerous, instead she asks, “What’s in the package?” Once, David and I got into a disagreement when he told her what was in my package. I insisted she was violating my privacy. I’m not special: In the past, I’ve heard her say rude things to other customers and her coworkers too. I brace myself for the encounter, because I have to get these damn packages in the mail in time for Christmas and I’ve been in line for an hour.

She does not ask what’s in my packages. “Anything hazardous, flammable, toxic or a combination thereof?” is all she asks. I say “No.” “How do you want this posted?” she asks. I say “First class,” but she informs me that anything over 13 ounces cannot be First Class. “Priority?” I say as nicely as possible. She pulls out some tape, and fixes a loose corner on one of my packages. “Sorry,” I say, “I never get it perfect.” “Forget perfect, my dear,” she says to me while I pay for the postage. Then she hands me a candy cane. “It’s always a pleasure to serve someone who comes in with a smile. Merry Christmas.”

Miracle on Hoyt Street

Note: This post was originally published on December 22, 2010

If It Fits It Ships photo: jparadisi 2010

Trudging out of an Oregon rainstorm into the Post Office, I found a line of 30 people like me with Christmas packages to mail. In a poorly ventilated building, a crowd of wet people smells like wet dogs, but less so. John Lennon’s voice sounded scratchy singing “And so this is Christmas” from a poor quality speaker. I knew the late afternoon was a bad time to go, but I’ve never been a morning person, a characteristic that served me well for twelve years of night shifts.  I started thinking that a busy hospital is a model for Post Office chaos during the holiday season. Each type of health care provider or patient personalities exists in this parallel universe, the Post Office.

For example, attempting to speed things up, a woman wearing a name badge triaged the swelling line of package bearing humanity, asking who needs insurance forms to fill out. Someone at the back of the line asks her what time the Post Office closes. She says she doesn’t know, because she usually doesn’t work in this area. Apparently postal workers float to unfamiliar departments like nurses do during staffing shortages.

In front of me, a woman with silver hair converses with a younger woman. I suspect the silver-haired woman is a retired nurse, because she hands out an endless supply of clicky-pens to other customers in the line in need of writing implements, then pulls a Sharpie out of the same pocket for her own use. The younger woman has long hair pulled back in a barrette. She is sans makeup and wears what we call in Oregon, “tree-hugger” shoes. She is overweight, but kindly attentive to the silver-haired woman. While she speaks, a similar looking man I take for her husband appears and gives her a peck on the mouth. It makes me happy.

I watch a woman wrapping packages in tissue paper and bar code stickers. In front of her, a man loudly complains on a cell phone, “Those #$*#-ing doctors give you a bunch of pills and then you can’t get a hold of them!” He never stops talking the entire time the clerk processes his packages. When he’s finished, she says “Merry Christmas, Sir”, which I think is more than he deserves.

Finally, it’s my turn. Oh no, it’s that clerk, the one who is Newman to my Jerry Seinfeld. She annoys the hell out of me because she doesn’t ask if the contents of a package are dangerous, instead she asks, “What’s in the package?” Once, David and I got into a disagreement when he told her what was in my package. I insisted she was violating my privacy. I’m not special: In the past, I’ve heard her say rude things to other customers and her coworkers too. I brace myself for the encounter, because I have to get these damn packages in the mail in time for Christmas and I’ve been in line for an hour.

She does not ask what’s in my packages. “Anything hazardous, flammable, toxic or a combination thereof?” is all she asks. I say “No.” “How do you want this posted?” she asks. I say “First class,” but she informs me that anything over 13 ounces cannot be First Class. “Priority?” I say as nicely as possible. She pulls out some tape, and fixes a loose corner on one of my packages. “Sorry,” I say, “I never get it perfect.” “Forget perfect, my dear,” she says to me while I pay for the postage. Then she hands me a candy cane. “It’s always a pleasure to serve someone who comes in with a smile. Merry Christmas.”