Sunday, May 1, 2011


I recently ordered thirty dollars' worth of books from a private seller on Amazon.  In return, I received an empty box and a refusal from the seller to reship the goods, blaming USPS.  USPS predictably remained impenetrable and bureaucratic, offering no recourse or refund.

The innocent woman working in my dorm's business office caught me mid-rant, and she commiserated.  "After working here for 15 years, I see what happens--you wouldn't believe how often.  Now, I never ship anything using USPS."

Years of experience had exposed her to not-entirely-uncommon mishaps that many individuals do not realize exist.  As a result, she had lost faith in the system, preferring to opt out.

I stayed angry for a few days.  But would I use the system again?  Probably.  I wondered how many mishaps it would take for me to change my mind.  I wondered if one expensive loss would be enough.

When I was an undergraduate, I was friendly with a clinical geneticist.  She was in her late thirties, and she and her husband had opted not to have children.  "There's just too much that can go wrong," she told me.  There were too many ways chromosomes could break and realign themselves, too many ways a vital piece of genetic material could be lost in a single cell division, too many dangers in utero that could cause physical and mental deformities.  "I don't think I'd be able to handle taking care of a child like that."

As a genetic counselor, she explained to couples the risk of having a child born with a particular disease or condition.  It was also her job to counsel the parents if said child was born with said condition.  Her days were spent considering unlikelies and talking to people whose lives had been touched by unlikelies.

I wondered if she had suddenly come to her decision after an especially sad case, or if her realization had been gradual after years of cumulative sadnesses.  I wondered if her risk-averse perspective was in her best interest.  She admitted that her biggest fear was regretting her decision twenty years down the line.

A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but what about a lot of knowledge?

I've felt my own perspective changing in medical school.  You spend your days studying mishaps.  Sometime's it's the likelies: one in two men will eventually get cancer, as will one in three women.  Many times, though, it's the unlikelies: the debilitating autoimmune attacks, the odd bowel obstructions, the random vessel ruptures.  My classmates and I routinely joke that it's a miracle we've made it this long.

Sometimes it seems as though being alive is an unlikely in itself.

I wonder if this sort of thinking is accurate on some level.

I wonder how this perspective will change my decisions.

I wonder if it will be for the better or worse.

I wonder if we're going to go through life permanently skewed.

But I suppose there's no opting out.


  1. oh I completely agree about med school changing perspectives on life!!!

  2. If you contact Amazon, they will probably reimburse you the $30 on behalf of the seller. They're good like that.

  3. Hahaha--Old MD Girl--I love all comments, but I think yours is (literally) the most valuable I've received yet. Will try, thanks.

  4. You didn't say if the box was open or sealed, and if not open how could it be UPS' fault? I don't get the story.
    Yes, hanging around sick and scared people all day long, when often you cannot fix it at all and get criticized for ordering a zillion tests in fear, affects your view of life. I quit after 13 years. btw I knew an Austrian physicist who chose high energy specialty that required mountaintops---he got to ski a lot. Also a divorce lawywer who was scared to marry. Unexpected consequences!

  5. This is a few months old, so I hope that Amazon has refunded your $ by now. If not, your credit card company will often go to bat for you since you paid for something that never arrived. Disputing a bill isn't difficult, but there is a time limit. The credit card company will even take money back from a vendor they've already sent money to if they determine that you didn't get what you paid for.

    Then there's the USPS. Once the postman left a box containing a violin sitting in the rain at my front gate because he didn't want to walk across the yard and set the box on my covered porch (or *gasp* knock on the door and hand the package to me). Once I was expecting a package, so sat at the window watching for the postman; when mail was delivered I walked out and discovered a notice that they'd attempted to deliver my package - funny, I was sitting there watching/waiting and no attempt was made. This is not at all unusual. Damaged packaages aren't unusual for USPS. There's a reason many businesses use or FedEx. I also find UPS locations easier to get to than the post office.

  6. Thanks for the advice, everyone. The solution was simpler than I had anticipated: I called up the selling company again, got a different sales rep, and this one agreed to reship the items.

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