Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Pharmacy Years, Mom-and-Pop Retail, Part 1

I returned to the world of retail pharmacy in January 1997, this time at an independent store in Boynton Beach, FL where I would remain for 7 and 1/2 years. It was located in a strip-shopping center bordering a large retirement community that rhymes with "seizureville" (how some referred to it). This was a comparatively low volume (usually fewer than 125 prescriptions daily) outlet, certainly not like those frantic corporate stores. The clientele age demographic was, as someone joked, "death plus". Some were coherent, others not so much. Sometimes, they were damned funny, usually when they weren't trying to be. As 1999 was drawing to a close, one of our regulars asked, "Is everyone ready for KY 2000?". You can't write stuff like that.

These days, I have a caseload of patients that is still largely geriatric. The behavior is similar. The biggest laugh lately: after I called a woman back for her appointment, she had the darndest time getting out of her chair, what with her dropping her purse and her cane and fighting stiffness. She knocked a pile of magazines to the floor, in great frustration screaming "Go to hell!" at them.

Working retail is sometimes akin to lion taming. Instead of a bullwhip and a chair, your tools are a cool demeanor, infinite patience, and clarity of thought. That is, if you're successful. I was able to rally these qualities most of the time in the earlier years, but by the end I was almost as hostile as those I was facing. I hung up on rude customers and nurses alike. I cut people off in person when a discussion degenerated into a circular argument and even yelled at a few people. I watched myself in disbelief and was alarmed that I wasn't feeling bad that I had yelled. Years of being screamed at because a doctor had not called in a script or an insurance company denied a claim took their toll, I guess. I was angry every single day. I found myself unable to not talk about work after hours. My friends were patient. Maybe they thought it was therapeutic for me to complain.

There were several varieties of challenging patients. We had designated "shit lists" and wrote notes in patients' profiles alerting other techs/pharmacists of patterns of behavior. Some cranky retirees out there, sure, but also just chronically unpleasant folks of all ages. Maybe you could excuse bipolar behavior once you saw their drug profiles. Others had no such explanation. Many had rough lives, though. We heard stories that would make the Lifetime Movie Network envious. I often felt like a counselor, which was easily the most rewarding part of the job.

There were serial drug addicts, some who actually had legitimate Rxs, many who didn't. Some were bad actors, coming in the store limping on one leg, then forgetting to limp, then leaving limping on the other leg. One lady brazenly phoned in pretending to be a nurse, not even trying to disguise her voice, calling in a narcotic. We called the police on a few. I had to look through albums of mug shots to ID them. But it gets better....

I also had a difficult boss. *Frederick had begun as a staff pharmacist and purchased the store some 5 years before I began. Hard to please? Impatient if you didn't grasp a new, difficult concept within a nanosecond? Moody? A co-worker had been with Frederick for years and noted how much differently he behaved back when he was just a for-hire (more laid back, pleasant even). I only knew the mini-CEO version of Frederick, and I spent most days seething with anger. I never dealt well with condescension, but I could ignore it sufficiently to maintain decorum, especially in front of customers. But my careful facade worn bit by bit over the years. I was sent home a few times because I was "testy."

All that said, Frederick was (and is) one of the sharpest, most ambitious, and organized pharmacists I ever worked with. He's a brilliant guy, make no mistake. He was always well ahead of the curve, implementing computerization at a local hospital back in the mid and late 1970s, likely the first to do so. As a businessman, he was also very savvy. He knew his market, knew how to appropriately cater to his customers. Rarely patronizing. I greatly admire him.

We had a few episodes those nearly eight years, and even further down the road....


*Not the real name

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