Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Pharmacy Years: Mom and Pop Retail, Part 3

I was not happy. I had just zipped my pants when I heard the bathroom door fly open. For a second, as I turned my head, I was ready to unload on the co-worker who brazenly dared invade the one place I could find a bit of solace. But there to greet me was the barrel of a gun, a Magnum, I would later learn. "Stay your ass in here," was all the gunman said. I remember the words clearly, if not his appearance. The incident lasted all of ten seconds. He slinked backwards and joined his accomplice as they fled the drugstore. I peeked through the crack, just in time to see the figures push through the front door. My co-worker screamed after them, calling them things that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush. I remember thinking how ill advised that was, as these guys had weapons. But they had just hit a pharmacy in a busy shopping center at 5 in the afternoon. There was no looking back. Er, almost.

One month later, one of the two criminals returned, again at 5:00, again waving a large gun. This time, we were all (including the boss who had been away for the last hold-up) standing behind the counter. The gunman again asked for a specific narcotic. If there's any bright spot to this story, it was that we were able to get rid of some expired meds when we filled the guy's duffel bag. In the month since the first hold-up, we had installed a security camera (after significant encouragement from the PD), its lens inconspicuously positioned between two glucometer boxes on a shelf behind the cash register. This time, I got a good look at him. And it all went down on tape. By that evening, his mug was on the evening news. A month later, they finally caught up with the guy. That's an interesting story - the guy's car broke down and a few minutes after the police began to help him, he was recognized.

My recount leaves out many details. But it fits my recollections. It all happened so quickly. Particularly that first incident. Having a gun pointed at me. An image I'd seen in countless films and TV programs. A very different experience in real life. You've heard how an intense moment, however brief, can see like an eternity, like time had slowed. It wasn't exactly like that, but rather I had long enough to perceive a flash threat, a potentially fatal anticlimax to my existence. My life did not flash before my eyes, yet in a second the immediacy of the situation sobered.

We sat and gave depositions and later testified in court. I won't soon forget the cold eyes that stared off into space but occasionally met mine as I gave my recount. He received a sentence of several decades. He had multiple counts against him, including the armed robbery of another pharmacy not a mile away from us. That was 2001. A bad year for many reasons. Another mom-and-pop pharmacy east of us (and one of the pharmacists there filled in for us frequently) was robbed early one Sunday morning. That's not news, as our place had also been hit overnight several times during my tenure, but this one turned into a really ugly scene. A teen found himself face to face with a police dog and both met their ends when some of the equipment in the store (oxygen tanks?) ignited after gunfire was exchanged. The commonality: narcotics.

Many addicts out there. I saw so many walk in, zombified. I made many verification calls and reluctantly filled a lot of oxycodone scripts. It became demoralizing. Some customers/patients would request specific generic manufacturers, right down to the markings on the pills. We witnessed a few illicit sales in the parking lot. Saw several of our patients die. No wonder I was so burnt out.


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