Pharmacist. Druggist. "Pharmist". Pill Pusher. Drug Dealer. Idiot. Impossible. Dumb blonde. These are just a few words my customers have used when talking to me, about me. A couple are very normal and used often. A couple are attempts to be cute. The last few are for making a 23 year old pharmacist’s skin thicker. (A couple, I couldn't mention.) That’s how old I was when I got my first full time staff pharmacist position. I worked for a retail chain which has now gone the way of many—bought out and taken over—which at the time had bought out a couple of independents in a suburb south of town. The majority of customers we inherited were retired and being introduced to the new wonders of insurance with “prescription coverage”. They also were absolutely spoiled by the previous owners. The “regulars” didn’t take too kindly to the sights or sounds of what looked like, to them, children running around behind the counter and telling them this or that was different and this drug wasn’t covered on their insurance or that the insurance was requiring their doctor to change their prescription to a different medicine. I think I cried almost every day that first week and boy, did Jeff get a couple of earfuls when I got home. After a few months, my skin had almost reached the leather point and I only cried a few more times in my 5 year stint there. I know all jobs are unique and have their little quirks and perks but every Wednesday, well, it actually starts sometime on Tuesday, I start to psyche myself up for this interesting 8 hour slice of my week. Here is why.
I am with a different company now, but it is still retail. Along with the medical aspects of my job, stir in some colorful traits of the general public. I hate to say it, but when someone comes in to get their prescription filled, I have a secret label for them. One can be a “waiter” who waits while I fill. One can be a “starer” who stares a whole in my head until I am finished. One can be a “honker” who actually honks their horn in the drive-thru (not good, I assure you). A pretty good label to get is a “drop off-er” who leaves the prescription and then comes back at a designated time. The one label to aspire to receive is the “call in-er” who actually calls in their refills a day or so ahead of time. These guys are my favorites. But all in their own category are the“leaners”. They just about push me over the edge. They lean over the counter to get my attention or to simply wait for me to finish their prescription even if we have told them it’s going to be 30 minutes! I politely say, “It’s going to be a few minutes, sir. We have some chairs over there, if you would like to wait more comfortably.” This is code for, “Please sit down. You are driving me crazy.” My Dad, who is a pharmacist as well, coined a term long ago that I didn’t understand until a few years into this occupation myself. Get this-- “wall-bangers”. He would tell you this label sticks on the person that when you try to explain something to them you might as well be banging your head against the wall. Enough said.
Last thing—I have often wondered where in the world some of my customers have stored these bottles of medicine they bring to me for refill?? In the floor board of the pick up? Did it fall into the compost pile? Were they buried in the backyard for safe keeping? You just can’t imagine…………… WAY beyond hand grime. (FYI—Federal law requires all pharmacies to refill medicines in new bottles. After seeing some of these bottles, it makes complete sense.)
For a few years the most popular question I was asked was, “Are YOU the pharmacist?” Thanks to 10 years of side effects of the sun and gravity, I NEVER get asked that anymore. So now the most popular question I get asked is, “What can I take for my allergies?” Every Wednesday, all day long, all year long. The symptoms vary, but not much. The 2nd most popular, I think, would be, “What is this?” followed by the pulling up of an arm sleeve, pants leg or worse, a shirt. Cheap, no, free medical evaluation at its best. Some things I have seen are utterly unexplainable. Some things have caused me not to eat anything the rest of the night. Some things have caused hand washing episodes like you’ve never seen. Some things have caused psychosomatic itching all night. Sadly, some things have caused me to wonder if the child is being taken care of properly. Every now and then, someone will throw a question into the mix to break the monotony but mostly its just rashes, ringworm or runny noses.
I wish I had counted how many different pharmacists with whom I have worked. Retail, especially the company I am with now, really keeps them moving around. I have worked with some (and across the street from some) who have helped me tremendously…. especially when I was 23 and had nothing but book knowledge. I had one partner who has become one of those treasured friends for life. Had it not been for Kathie, my first job may have driven me to quit pharmacy altogether. I had one partner that we had to have arrested because of stealing and other unlawful practices. My present partner won the Texas Lottery ($36 million!!) in 2001 with his staff in his own pharmacy. My favorite partner to have is one fresh out of school because they are the walking talking resource books. They know everything that I used to know and now have to look up. But it turns out to be a great trade-off. They have the skinny on the top 200 drugs memorized and I have the practical experience they need like- don’t even attempt to bring something to eat for lunch that is intended to be eaten hot (it will never happen) and how to perfectly time your trips to the bathroom when you aren’t needed and how to dodge questions like, “What aisle are the panty hose on?”, “Is there any more of this in the back?” and “Can I get a rain check?” This is survival, let me tell you. Brand spanking new pharmacists used to intimidate me until I realized what job altering information I had to share!
Lastly, there are a few things that can make a perfectly good day a really rotten one. (Obviously, the unforgivable AND unforgettable would be a misfill which thankfully is very rare.)
Getting to work to find out a tech called in sick.
Running out of Z-paks in January—or any month of the year, really.
Having to run the cash register more than 3 times.
Having to put up the order.
Having ANY kind of computer problem
Running out of ANY form of hydrocodone any day of the week.
Being called an idiot, impossible or a dumb blonde.
So, there’s a glimpse—believe it or not, much edited as to not blow anyone away with my sarcasm and cynicism I try to keep in check. Will you laugh if I say, I appreciate my job? I do. There are days I feel I have genuinely helped someone and those days are just fine. For the other days, my skin is thicker and I think I understand people better. Things just don’t bother me the way they used to……………… or could it be 15 years of inhaling all that pill dust?