Why We Must Support the US Postal Service

When my father was stationed at the American Embassy in Rome, our family mail came to us via the Army Post Office (APO), which routes US Postal Office mail to military bases and diplomatic missions around the globe. [A note here: the Defense Department says that the APO mail service is available to only US Postal Service mail. You’ll understand why I say this in a minute.]

So, back to Rome. The Italian postal system was unreliable, so people living in Rome during my parent’s time at the Embassy (early ‘60s and, again, mid-‘70s) put their mail in post boxes in Vatican City, which has run its own postal system for the past century. I just ran across this informal 2017 poll that shows that Italy continues to be ranked poorly on its handling of the mail, with some 80 percent of the respondents to an informal poll rating it as “poor” or “fair”.

Source: postcrossing.com

the US mail ranks 7th in the world

Look at the bar graph again. In this list of 35 countries, Japan leads in high points for its mail system, followed by South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Austria, and the USA. 7th in a list of 35 countries, a good system.

Americans depend on the US mail

Americans have long relied on our government delivery of the mail to keep in touch with family, order supplies, transport livestock, and even transport children, as my friend Karen Coody Cooper writes in this piece that recently ran in our local newspaper, The Palm Beach Post.

My dad grew up on a South Dakota farm, where the mail linked his mother to family and friends who had found a warmer, easier life out in California. My father’s memoir, From the Hidewood, includes a story about his mother writing her family and making a friend of Dad’s one-room schoolhouse teacher through conversations at the mailbox.

… by the time she’d put the letter and its three pennies inside the roadside mailbox and raised the flag, the familiar slender figure with the book bag in hand had almost arrived.

Robert Amerson, From the Hidewood

Current attempts to hamper service

Elsewhere in the same issue of The Palm Beach Post was an article about the Trump Administration efforts to hamper the US Postal Service’s ability to deliver the mail, — in order to ensure its demise and resurrection as a for-profit enterprise — resulting in the death of chicks in transit to poultry farmers who’ve relied on the mail for their inventory. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) has taken the issue to Washington. Look at her. I would do what she asks. She is one of us persistent, nasty women who wants answers. I don’t think she’s going to be okay with converting the US Postal Service into a private corporation. And, Americans serving our country abroad rely on the USPS to get their mail to the Army Post Office.

Private sector Mail failed me

This week, I had my own postal experience that sheds some light on the issue for me. After a decade of holding onto the written records of my mother’s family — a collection of letters, poetry, and other paper in annotated binders which she created and curated — I decided to finally get them to their proper home, the historical society in her hometown of Winona, Minnesota. Although I felt badly about not having done more with the materials while I had them, I knew that I was doing the right thing in putting these treasures closer to family. The Winona County Historical Society assured me that they’d accept the materials, redirecting any that might better belong in another historical collection — Mankato, in Blue Mound County, was where her mother’s Kelly family was from; other family came from Fountain City, across the Mississippi in Wisconsin.

I packed the binders into two sturdy boxes culled from Amazon deliveries. Given the delicacy of the task, and trying to limit my exposure to people — the Coronavirus has not been tamed here — I chose FedEx to deliver the two boxes to their permanent home.

Here is what happened one week later.

One box was delivered to the Winona County Historical Society. The other box was dumped at my front door, soaking wet, falling apart, and somehow still containing its precious cargo. The FedEx address label with the Minnesota address was gone, and the box made it back via my husband’s name and our home address on a new FedEx label. How this happened is a mystery. When I tracked the box, it shows that it is still enroute to the original destination, with a current address of Countryside, IL. The automated response line would not put a real person on the telephone. Because the box is still in transit. And the FedEx shipping center down the road, which I visited yesterday with the box and cargo in hand, will not issue me a refund and/or re-ship the cargo. I’ll try again today to reach a human being.

So much for the private sector.

The USPS will get my box this time. I’ve been out in the world enough to appreciate that social distancing precautions are in place to protect me, and 95 percent of the people we’ve seen are wearing masks. The Coronavirus numbers are in decline.

Of course, Governor DeSantis and Education Commissioner Corcoran are demanding that Florida schools re-open in-person. I’m betting we see those COVID-19 numbers shoot back up.

Signs of Recovery

May 29 was my scheduled six-month CT scan at the University of Florida’s Shands Hospital, under whose care I have been since flying home from Amsterdam last year. The five-hour drive seemed less daunting as my strength and confidence returned, and the appointment appeared poised to be the maiden voyage for the new car we bought at noon on Friday, March 13.

Friday the 13th. While we were at the Earl Stewart car dealership, the public schools closed. By the end of the weekend, Florida and the rest of the United States were in the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown. Suddenly, getting in a car to go anywhere — much less five hours away — was fraught with danger. We waited at home for things to get better.

Things are not better. Five months later, America’s shameful government leadership has failed to stop the Coronavirus. The number of cases in Florida alone is far greater than other countries’. We still are home most of the time, but, when we do go out, we wear masks, wash our hands, and keep our distance from people.

Recovery is a long, slow, and uncertain process in the best of times. A wise doctor in Amsterdam counseled me to keep my expectations low, treasure the small accomplishments, and stay in it for the long game. It did take me a full year to feel like myself again.

Those who survive COVID have it much, much worse, as the medical community is discovering in the survivors they’ve described as the long-haulers. But one thing that I have in common with these brave souls is hair-loss. Alyssa Milano’s recent Tweet documenting her own hair loss went viral.

In her recent article in USA Today, reporter Adrianna Rodriguez has written about hair loss as another consequence of the coronavirus. The Harvard Medical School says that “telogen effluvium,” the medical term for this condition, can be triggered by major physical trauma, a shock to the system.

There’s a growing phase, a resting phase and a shedding phase. When you see a lot of shedding, that’s when people perceive hair loss.

Jennifer Ashton, MD

Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal says that hair loss comes after the illness.

This is why we’re seeing these patients now, several weeks after COVID-19 symptoms resolve. Telogen effluvium isn’t a symptom of COVID-19 as much as it is a consequence of the infection.”

Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, Cleveland Clinic.

So, losing my hair was part of getting better. It became very thin about three months after my illness. Though it sure didn’t feel like a positive thing at the time, it was the beginning of recovery. Although it’s not very stylish (stay-at-home-mullett!) and gray/brown/blond (stay-at-home-color!), it feels thicker and curlier than it was before. Silver lining category.

The long game seems endless, and then you put a pan away without thinking and realize you’re getting better.

This morning, I took another step in the right direction by finally getting my six-month (now an eight-month) CT scan. My diagnosis in Amsterdam was Segmental Arterial Mediolysis, a disease in which the walls of the abdominal arteries are weak. It’s a relatively rare diagnosis about which not enough is known, including whether it can resolve itself. In addition to keeping blood pressure in control, you want to keep an eye out for aneurysms. Now that I am able to move as I want, it was time to be sure my body and my head are in synch.

With a nod to the pandemic, Shands sent the order down to an imaging facility a mile from my house. I suited up — mask, gloves — and followed the distancing protocol to guard staff and patients alike. I was in and out quickly. Fingers crossed.

Meantime, I’m taking Kumba’s lead and not worrying about what I can’t control. Wishing you and yours continued health and courage!

Has the Coronavirus Ended Dressing Up?

Most of the clothes in my closet have not been touched in more than a year, largely due to my illness last year. During my three-month hospitalization, I lost one-quarter of my weight, so my clothes hung on me when I was finally home. As I regained my strength, I slowly regained my weight, and am right back to where I was before my ruptured aneurysm. In theory, I can wear anything in my closet.

But I haven’t. Just about the time I felt like myself again, ready to enjoy a night on the town and maybe even doing a little traveling, the pandemic hit. I haven’t been inside a retail shop or a restaurant since mid-March. My bank is doing business only in the drive-through window. I’ve been to FedEx twice, feeling moved to share physical possessions with family and archival repositories — my mother’s collection of family letters, poetry and other paper ephemera is going to the Winona County Historical Society.

So, I’m home, laundering the same small pile of clothing over and over. Workout clothes for the morning, one of three pairs of shorts and a t-shirt for the afternoons, sweats or even pajamas by dinner time. Now and then, a pair of jeans. A suit and cover-up for a couple of careful beach visits. Sketchers. Running shoes. Flip flops.

Forget heels. Even in my professional 1990’s business days, the height of my heels was never more than 3 inches. I last wore a pair of pumps to read at the annual luncheon of a Boynton Beach book club a year and a half ago, and my daughter assured me that they had seen better days. Into the garbage they went.

Who knew that I’d have something in common with opera diva Renee Fleming, who has traded her 5-inch heels for clogs. Yes, clogs! In her recent article in USA Today, reporter Carly Mallenbaum quotes the star:

I don’t think I’ll ever wear high heels again.

Renee Fleming

The sales of dress shoes has plummeted 70 percent, Mallenbaum cites. Slippers and Crocs are the Coronavirus shoes-of-choice. Crocs were my go-to shoes in the hospital. About half-way through my three-month stay, one of my many roommates left behind a pair of worn pink Crocs and they became mine. Although it took a minute, I could get them on and off without ringing for assistance. The day I first walked, they were on my feet.

Walking for the first time, OLVG Physical Therapy. A fellow-patient took the video on my phone, for which I thank her: Dank u wel!

And socks. Mallenbaum tells us that socks are now qualifying as shoes.

Socks certainly make a statement. My gift of palm tree socks to the nurses and doctors who saved my life in Amsterdam was a huge, optimistic thank-you!

The nurses at OLVG, 7-A!

This pandemic has people wondering if dressing up is a thing of the past.

In April, clothing sales fell 79 percent in the United States, the largest dive on record. Purchases of sweatpants, though, were up 80 percent.

Stephanie Gonot, The New York Times Magazine

I’m right on-trend with the slob-chic style Patricia Marx wrote about in The New Yorker:

People are feeling that they are getting away with something. We’re conducting business and making money, but — ha ha! — we’re in our pajamas.

Polly McCall, psychotherapist

It is bad enough that everyone is dressing like a hospital patient, but now I’m realizing that it’s worse: the working cohort has stolen the retiree wardrobe.

No. You are supposed to earn loose-fitting lounge wear by suffering through years of tight waistbands and pantyhose and high heels. That’s why they call it work. Slob-chic has lowered the bar.

I worry that the lowering of the bar threatens retirees with losing our special status until I remember that there is still one thing that we can call our own: carping about change. “Why, when I was employed we wore slips and padded shoulders and heels…”

It’s good to know that you’ll still know us, not by our outfits but by our endearing whining.

Cruising? No, thanks, not yet.

The global cruise industry expected to carry 32 million passengers and taken $71 billion in revenue this year. This will fall by at least 50% this year.

Euromonitor International

According to a recent article in USA Today, cruising has been postponed until September 15, but there are a lot of us former fans who won’t be dockside again until there’s a vaccine.

Their entire business model is based on large group social activity. Americans’ failure to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines pretty much guarantees that we’d party like frat boys given the opportunity to hop aboard.

No, thanks.

We were huge fans of the cruise travel business, in part because of our proximity to the industry’s South Florida base. We can be dockside in an hour’s drive, feeling very grateful to avoid the hassles of flying and overnight stays in order to be ready to board. We’ve had great Caribbean trips out of Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.

But it’s images like this one that will keep us off ships until there is a vaccine.

As part of their response to the pandemic, cruise lines are looking to explore enhanced passenger and crew screening, social distancing, modifying or eliminating buffet dining options, enhanced medical capability, new training for crew members and pre-arranged medical evacuation options with consideration to local health care.

Notice how the medical capability line is buried in their press kit?

In an article that puts a Happy Face on reality, USA Today said that cruisers are ready to resume their seagoing lifestyle. The conditions required to reopen the industry do not include equipping ships with rigorous medical facilities. Damn the virus, full speed ahead.

Prior to last year, we hadn’t given a cruise ship’s medical support a whole lot of thought. We knew of ships on which illness had become rampant, but we sanitized early and often. I came down with a bad cold on the Baltic Sea, but that seemed a small price for such a stellar tour.

It was not until last year’s fateful Atlantic crossing, destination Amsterdam, that the medical risks became crystal clear.

We sailed easily through the first week and made our first landfall in Portugal’s Azores.

But by the time we pulled away from the Azores headed to mainland Europe, my husband had caught a bad cold, and it quickly blossomed into full blown bronchitis with a wracking cough that prevented him from sleeping. The ship’s doctor gave him aspirin and lozenges, recommending he seek medical attention ashore for anything stronger. He also mentioned that about half the ship had bronchitis.

In Amsterdam, my husband got medication.

[However, I became a patient when an undiagnosed abdominal aneurysm ruptured. Had I taken ill two hours later, we would have been back aboard the ship. I would not have made it.]

But, back to this story. Bronchitis is downright benign compared to coronavirus.

In February, cruise ships became an early symbol of how rapidly the coronavirus could spread in confined spaces, when more than 700 passengers on the Diamond Princess became infected as the ship idled off Japan. As social distancing grew more common in February and early March, cruises were among the first activities Americans started avoiding.

David Yaffe- Bellany, NYT

By March 13, the last day we were out in the world as we knew it, Americans were shocked by the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and complied with government’s stay-at-home orders. I wrote that hopping on a cruise ship with limited medical support was unthinkable. Two months later, Governor Ron DeSantis announced Florida was re-opening. I wrote that the data simply didn’t support that decision, that we were flying blind into the storm. And here we are, another two months into the pandemic and Florida’s cases are growing at record rates, causing other states to impose quarantines on travelers who would venture out. Florida’s failures part of the reason that Americans are being blocked from travel to Europe.

Vacationing seems awfully far away.

One of the things that we’ve seen from crises in general is that the industry is very resilient and that we rebound fairly quickly.

Laurie Pennington Gray, Tourism Crisis Management Initiative

Norwegian is installing medical grade air filters and adding medical staff. Carnival is raising the temperature in its washers and dryers to make sure napkins and sheets are fully sanitized. They are staggering boarding times, expanding dining times ,eliminating buffets, requiring masks.

They are also incentivizing group behavior with offers of free food, free drinks, free shore excursions.

And, only now, there is mention of improving medical capacity on board.

In a recent article for the Miami Herald, reporter Taylor Dolven writes that Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have organized a panel of experts to develop safety protocols for the COVID-19 era when (if?) cruising resumes.

The industry is operating its ships — with no guests and reduced staff — under protocols for limiting the spread of COVID-19 control monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With mask-wearing, social distancing, and quarantine in place, nearly a quarter of the ships now at sea still have confirmed cases aboard.

It astounds me that it has taken six months of pandemic for this business- and life-saving collaboration to arise, and that the initiative does not include all the businesses in the industry. And that it is only now that I am seeing the mention of ventilators.

The guest profile on typical cruise ship voyages matches those at greatest risk for severe illness which may require hospitalization and need for respiratory support.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

My heart goes out to cruise staff who must remain aboard. For the rest of us, let’s stay ashore.

It seems like a logistical nightmare to me.

Tara Smith, Professor of Epidemiology, Kent State University

The Long, Unseen Recovery

In an article distributed by USA Today, Stephanie Innes of the Arizona Republic writes about the remarkably long recovery period for COVID-19 survivors.

Recovery times for people that have been seriously sick are lengthy — in general, at least three times as long as people were hospitalized, if not longer.

Stephanie Innes, Arizona Republic

Innes writes about a body-builder who was felled by the virus. During his hospitalization, he lost about a quarter of his weight and most of his muscle. Although he has recovered from the symptoms of the disease, his physical stamina has not. The act of standing and sitting one time was initially enough to wear him out. He is beginning to be able to walk.

I go on walks now in the afternoons. That’s just to build my legs back up so that I can start moving around again and I can start getting back again to a somewhat normal life.

Charlie Aragon, Former body-builder, COVID-19 survivor

He has survived, but he is only beginning to recover.

I was there. A year ago, while we were on vacation in Amsterdam, an undiagnosed arterial aneurysm ruptured and my heart stopped. The OLVG Hospital saved my life more than once in the weeks that followed. When I came into myself in the final weeks of my ICU stay, I had lost nearly 30% of my weight and about half my strength. I could barely move. 

I could hardly recognize myself in the mirror.

The body-builder used to look like this. Imagine his reaction to his post COVID body.

It’s called ICU-Acquired Weakness. Muscles atrophy from lack of use.

I was no body-builder, but I was very fit when I got sick. I’d taught exercise for 40 years and had the habit of doing some kind of aerobic activity every day — dancing, walking, jogging, biking, swimming. To be unable to move was a shock.

It was even more of a shock to be told it would take me at least a year to fully recover.

Courage. It takes courage to recover. To believe that your legs will ever hold you up again. That you will walk. That you will jog. That you will run.

Change is an inside job.

Therapy adage

It’s been a year of recovery. The advice of an OLVG Hospital doctor has been with me all the while.

Set small goals. Peeling a tangerine. Turning onto one side. Sitting at a table. Standing up.

And one day, you’ll look up and realize how far you’ve come. Today, I ran two miles.

To the young man in Innes’ piece, and to all the COVID-19 survivors, I am sending an abundance of patience, resiliency, and courage as they slowly make their way back to themselves. Whatever that looks like.

And to the rest of us, perhaps we could use patience, resiliency, and courage as we continue to face down the much changed world we inhabit at this moment, knowing that, step by step, we, too, will make our way back. Whatever that looks like.