I pulled up in front of my local Post Office at 7:45 a.m.  I wanted to be at or near the front of the waiting line when it opened at 8:00 on this Saturday morning. I had debated in my mind about whether I should risk going out in public after the “Stay at Home” order issued by our governor, Janet Mills, on April 1st.  Could I consider this errand something urgent and essential, or was I putting myself at risk unnecessarily to mail this small package to my friend in Cambridge, MA?

My friend is very ill.  She was taken to the hospital by ambulance the week before COVID-19 exploded in Boston, so near to death that the emergency room staff placed her on life support.  When extubated a week later, it was a miracle she began breathing on her own and, within a few days, was discharged home.  During her hospitalization, someone stole the watch I had given her for her birthday. She was heartsick at its loss. Over the phone, I promised her I would give her another one just like it, and this morning I was venturing out to put the new watch in the mail.  Why, my significant other asked, was I risking going out in public now, instead of waiting until the pandemic winds down? I fear my friend is near death, and I want her to know how much I care for her.  The watch is a symbol of that care.

When I arrived at the PO, a postal worker was struggling to raise the US and MIA flags on the pole in front of the building.  She was wearing a mask and a latex glove on her right hand.  She complained that wearing a mask is difficult if you also wear glasses because they fog up.  She had a hard time seeing to hoist the flags.  I commiserated.  I was not wearing a mask, but I do wear glasses, so I am well aware of the phenomenon.

Another senior citizen stood in front of me at the door.  We were careful to say six feet apart, but we chatted pleasantly for a few seconds and then began exclaiming at the horror of the Coronavirus pandemic.  As we waited in the lobby for the inner doors to open, the flag hoister emerged from some inner sanctum with a roll of paper towel and a spray bottle of cleaner (sanitizer, I presume.)  She commented that the PO was not able to provide any disinfectants, so she was bringing her supplies from home to clean the door handles and counters as best she could. I thanked her warmly for her service and said I appreciated her efforts to keep us safe.

A few others entered the lobby.  Two men wore face masks.  The one six feet behind me had a neat diamond-shaped mask that covered his nose and chin with the upper and lower points of the diamond and fit snuggly to his cheeks.  I thought this looked particularly effective and asked him where he had found it.  “China,” he said. “We know people in China, and they sent us a supply. I am here to mail some to friends and family.  I’d better not broadcast that, though.  Someone might steal the package. Imagine, we are getting this stuff from China!”

At exactly 8:00 a.m., a male postal worker opened the inner door and invited us to approach the counter.  He wore a brightly colored and patterned face mask that was hand made.  I noticed there were bright yellow stripes on the floor to indicate where to stand on line keeping the prescribed distance from other customers.

While the woman at the front of the line mailed her parcel, I looked around at the sales counter.  A plastic barrier, held in place by blue painter’s tape, rose from the counter to the ceiling.  Small openings were cut in the plastic wall to allow for the passing of boxes and envelopes.  It certainly looked jerry-rigged to me, as if postal clerks had assembled it in a hurry with scraps of materials at hand.  I supposed it would be minimally effective in protecting the workers behind it. 

When it was my turn to approach the counter, the clerk apologized for the wait.  I assured him there was no problem. He asked the usual questions about my parcel: “Anything liquid, fragile, perishable…any lithium batteries?” I owned up to the watch and the possibility of a lithium battery in it, but that was not problematic, he assured me. Then he asked new questions: “Any hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes?” I said, “No,” but wondered what would have happened if I had said yes.  He was all business, trying to keep the line moving, so I dared not ask.  Are there penalties for attempting to mail our new “contraband” across state lines?  My parcel was not big enough to contain toilet paper, so he did not inquire about that.

The dreaded moment came when I was required to insert my credit card into the machine.  How I wished I had worn latex gloves! I had a small package of 10 at home that I had purchased a while ago for use while housecleaning.  They, too, are contraband now, along with masks and anything that sanitizes. 

Transaction complete, I thanked the clerk profusely and exited quickly.  I did not return my credit card to my wallet.  When I reached the car, I pulled a small bottle of hand sanitizer from my pocket and rubbed it on my hands before touching the door handle or the steering wheel.  When I arrived home, I carefully wiped off my wallet, my credit card, the car keys, and the doorknobs.

I told my spouse about the experience. I wondered at the Federal Government’s decree that Post Offices provide an essential service and must, therefore, stay open, while leaving the postal workers to fend for themselves and improvise as best they can to protect themselves and their customers. 

“It’s a crazy world out there!” we seniors say to each other as we pass on our campus streets, breathing fresh air through improvised masks, and feeling relatively safe.  Next time I venture into that crazy world (not any time soon, I hope), I will wear a face mask (we have those blue industrial ones used for woodworking) and two of my precious stash of latex gloves.

Masked and Gloved!

5 thoughts on “Let’s all improvise!

  1. I’ve been enjoying your storytelling in these COVID posts, Moriah! I found I kept coming back to my disappointment about the watch being stolen in the first place… I think you raise an important point that we need to remember there are people in all sorts of other struggles, ones that have been going on since before the pandemic and others, more threatening to them than COVID-19, even, that have arisen since being in quarantine. Friends of ours need to go out twice/day every day for their daughter’s myriad of appointments due to on-going mental health trauma. She said to me the other day, “I feel like people might judge us for being out so much, But this is literally a matter of life or death.” As I try to remind my kids–because it IS so easy to judge–‘we don’t know what their story is…’ (Glad to see you with that mask on! I hope you don’t go anywhere without it now!) xo.

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    1. Thanks for commenting. Carolyn. Yes, other “health crises” haven’t stopped while we all focus on COVID-19. Indeed, they have made these situations even more complicated. In our community, two of my friends have been hospitalized in the last week, one for a bowel obstruction and the other for septic shock. Both are recovering and we are relieved, but not being able to be present with them in the hospital to offer support and love is taking its toll on their families. I am so sorry for your friends who are worried about their daughter AND the misunderstanding of others.

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  2. Well, that is an interesting story Moriah! Haven’t been to the PO so have no idea what is happening here, but it is terrible that they are not provided with proper things to keep the counter safe for us (the taxpayers and ones who are happy to have our tax money used to keep the postal system functioning safely!)

    Love the picture of your mask but I have just 2 comments. The mask keeps you from infecting others–so I look at it as my willingness to use a mask to protect the public from me. Research in Iceland where they are widely testing the general population (which we should be doing too!) found that of all the people who tested positive for coronavirus 50% were asymptomatic. That is a frightening statistic. So all of us who think we are fine and not sick need to think again in terms of whether we infect others. Oh, and even in my work in hospice we wear cloth masks unless there is COVID exposure or testing happening in the home (then we have to use the N95 ones.) Cloth ones are more comfortable and the one they gave me is cute with white kitties on it!

    Gloves: virus sticks to gloves more than to hands. So I don’t use gloves at all. It may make us feel safer, but it really isn’t. Hands that might have been exposed to the virus that are washed or sanitized are the safest. And of course not touching things (like counters or pin pads) directly with our fingers unless they are sanitized (or even just washed with soap and water–that is considered as safe as sanitizer and much cheaper.) Gloves on healthcare workers are a different story since they have hands right on people who are infected. And must be thrown away as soon as care is completed on that patient. To my mind, gloves should be reserved for them especially because they are in short supply. Again: I don’t use gloves unless I have to touch someone who was exposed to COVID or was being tested and results were unknown. I sanitize my hands before going into the home and as soon as I come out. I have also used a kleenex to open a door or push on buttons if I don’t know that they are clean. Then immediately throw the kleenex away.

    Just my learning as we all find our way in this not-so-brave new world.

    And of course SF is right: staying home is the safest bet. But I’m with you: there are times when it is important to be in the world and the watch mailed to your friend is one of those times. And we will have to find our way in the new normal as restrictions are slowly lifted probably in May. So trying out what works best for each of us to keep us safe but to also allow us to live our lives will be our challenge. Maybe for the rest of our lives.

    Thanks again for writing and allowing me to comment. (I still can’t see a response if you or anyone else writes one. I would love to hear what you and your readers think about all this!) Oh. I see now I needed to click on the button below. Done.

    Love and blessings and thanks for sharing your ideas,
    Diana

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    1. Diana, the information you offer from your area of expertise and your experience is always so helpful. I’ve heard the cautions you present about the wearing of gloves, but wearing them makes me feel better, so I will do it when I grocery shop. I remove the gloves immediately and carefully when I leave the store and place them safely in the trash, sanitize my hands then and there, and wash them thoroughly as soon as I arrive home. Yes, the current challenge of keeping ourselves safe may well be with us for the rest of our lives. I’m hoping this crisis will seed new and beneficial habits in me and others —habits of mind as well as body.

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      1. Yes Moriah. I feel that way too. It is so hard to change the way we have lived all our lives, but we must do so not only for ourselves but for others. I am working at tracking the things that work for me that need to change so I can be sure to make them a habit. Dr. Fauci apparently shocked everyone the other day by saying that we should not be shaking hands ever again. I totally agree! We can just find other way to greet each other.

        And doing whatever makes you feel safe and less anxious is the best I think too. Sounds like you are well aware that the gloves have limited value and as long as medical workers have all they need than no harm done. I keep track daily of the states in the US and am glad to see VT/NH/Maine all doing pretty well as is OR. For that I am grateful.

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