Medicine · mourning


Herb was a great painter, poet, and reader. He left us all a remarkable legacy.


To those of you who may not know, Herb passed away on January 13 from Covid. It is a mystery how he contracted it as we were essentially in voluntary quarantine. He never left our apartment door without a mask and only went to the pharmacy, a little market, and the post office, all across from our back door. He was sick on Christmas Day but we were sure it was the flu and so were not alarmed. But on New Years Eve he was so sick we called EMS and he tested positive for Covid at the hospital. They said he was on minimal oxygen and on the right track, but on the 13th, the doctor called and said he might not make it through the night. He died at 6:30 p.m.

What the Nurse Said

Herb was fortunate to be on a Covid floor where the nurses were unbelievably kind. They loved Herb and he loved them. We all were tested and I was the only one of the family who tested positive. I was cared for by second daughter Sarah in spite of risk to herself. Fortunately I had a mild case. Sarah was allowed to visit Herb for two hours every day. He told her every day as he had told me before he went to the hospital that he wanted us all to leave New York and go to Florida where Sarah and Steven had found a business to buy that made use of their talents, the New York theatre being dead at least for a long time. I was allowed to visit Herb the day he died and I want to share with you what his favorite nurse told us. These are her exact words: “The best way to protect yourself from Covid is to never touch your eye with your naked finger. Always use a tissue.” She said it with such force and conviction that I think it is worth passing on.

First daughter Elly flew from Oregon to share the driving and we arrived in Florida on March 9. It has been four months since Herb died and I feel up to resuming the ordinary activities of my life. So tomorrow I’ll be back with a regular blog post.

Culture · Handwriting · Holidays

Why Christmas Cards Matter

Christmases Past: Some cards Herb and I have sent over the years

This post appeared a year ago around this time. This year, more than ever, it is important for us to reconnect with old friends. Therefore I am repeating myself. In case you are considering foregoing Christmas cards this unusual year, I hope you will reconsider.

An old friend sent an email yesterday asking for my address. We moved last year and she had forgotten to enter our new address in her address book. She wanted to send me a Christmas card. That got me to thinking about Christmas cards and why they matter. She could have easily wished me a Merry Christmas in her email, but I am so glad she didn’t and I look forward to receiving her card.

Why, I wondered, do I care? Why is it that Christmas cards are really my favorite Christmas custom?

Here, I think, is the answer: Who we are, after all, depends on all the experiences we have ever had in life and that includes the interactions we have with our friends. Old or new or ongoing, our friends matter—a lot.

In fact we may not see them often; realistically we may know that we will never see many of them again. But we have not forgotten them, and when an envelope with a familiar handwriting appears in our mailbox, we know they have not forgotten us.

There may be a short note—or even a letter, though that is not often the case. But there will certainly be a signature .and we will have the opportunity of holding the hand of a friend in our hand and reflecting on our friendship and the times we have spent together. You can’t hold an email in your hand.

And that’s why Christmas cards matter.

Books · Culture · Fiction

Is COVID-19 Driving You Nuts?

Me too.

I came across this in a blog I follow and it seemed to be good advice: It’s from The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang.

“Compare the difference between the life of a man who does no reading and that of a man who does. The man who has not the habit of reading is imprisoned in his immediate world, in respect to time and space. His life falls into a set routine; he is limited to contact and conversation with a few friends and acquaintances, and he sees only what happens in his immediate neighborhood. From this prison there is no escape. 

“But the moment he takes up a book, he immediately enters a different world, and if it is a good book, he is immediately put in touch with one of the best talkers of the world. This talker leads him on and carries him into a different country or a different age, or unburdens to him some of his personal regrets, or discusses with him some special line or aspect of life that the reader knows nothing about. An ancient author puts him in communion with a dead spirit of long ago, and as he reads along, he begins to imagine what that ancient author looked like and what type of person he was…. 

“Now to be able to live two hours out of twelve in a different world and take one’s thoughts off the claims of the immediate present is, of course, a privilege to be envied by people shut up in their bodily prison.”

And Closer to Home—from Reading and Rhyming by Herbert Knapp

The text of the poem:
No weed that grows, no chemical men cook
can alter my reality like a book.

Culture · Technology

You’re Fired! Walmart Robots Are Out of a Job

Walmart's robot

Who knew? It seems that the roving robots Walmart has been hiring for the last five years have not been more efficient than the flesh and blood humans they replaced!

When I wrote here about robots two years ago (Why Robots Scare Me), I did not doubt that they would be more efficient. Certainly they have proven to be more efficient than human workers in many areas of factory production.
But that is obviously not always the case, as Walmart has discovered. They thought the robots they hired to replace human workers in 1,000 of their 4,700 stores would reduce labor costs by keeping track of inventory available on the shelves, as well as inventory available for online ordering—which had increased as a result of COVID-19.

But as a former neighbor of mine (an ex-US Army captain) was fond of saying, “‘Assume’ makes an ass of you and me.” As it turns out it is more cost-effective to rely on human workers even though more of them may need to be hired.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Walmart CEO John Furner also wondered if customers might not react negatively to encountering the six-foot-tall machines patrolling the aisles, getting in their way. Well, I guess so!  It’s bad enough having to dodge the automated floor cleaners (which they do not intend to get rid of). My advice to Walmart is to keep the robots in the back room—counting cash, stocking shelves there, whatever else they’re capable of doing. I’d much rather encounter a human worker, who, if politely asked, would gladly hand me that can of taco sauce off the high top shelf.  A human interaction which is, as they say, beyond price.