A Relationship Beckons: The Pharmacy (#3) Monday

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1 . Then navigate to the next post using the links in the upper corners.

The Pharmacy

The Confrontation

“Why is the drive-thru closed?!”

It was more an accusation than a question. And it had been thrust at Jake Murphy by his supervisor and district manager, Stephan Willings. Willings was a small, wiry man of about twenty-eight dressed in black slacks and a white Oxford shirt with the Alliance name and logo embroidered over the left breast. Suspicious brown eyes bore into Jake over a thin, crocked nose that must have been broken at least once. Jake surmised he’d probably been punched. He wanted to crash his fist onto the man’s face right now. Today, Willings was not his supervisor, not a colleague or even an acquaintance.  He was the enemy personified.

Willings had taken over the DM position about eight months ago and gone through the corporate training in Charlotte for six weeks. To Jake’s mind this was akin to a re-education camp where new front line supervisors were forced to drink the Kool-Aid if they wanted to advance themselves into management. They quickly forgot what it was like to be a frontline pharmacist: the stresses, the frustrations and the constant worry about not making a drug error. Instead they spouted the company propaganda like mechanical automatons.

Today, Jake was mentally and physically exhausted. He was in great physical shape, lean and muscular. At least that’s what the mirror told him. He ran five miles a day while pushing Lizzie in her running stroller even on the days he worked twelve hour shifts at the pharmacy. This regimen was a holdover from his days in the Corps. It helped to offset his sometimes crappy diet, his mediocre and lackluster culinary skills and his profession’s twelve-hour work days.

If he got to eat during his shift, it was usually bites of a sub sandwich in between prescriptions. He ate decently about half the time. Mostly on his days off because he had to care for his four year old Lizzie. As a growing child, she required healthy, nutritious meals. So Jake shopped once a week. He prepared three meals-a-day least twice a week. On the days he worked, Jake’s sister and mother helped him out by watching her. Lizzie ate like a princess at Mimmi’s and Aunt Claudia’s house. Once a week, he indulged her with a Happy Meal. So far she enjoyed being spoiled by her grandmother and spending nights playing with her cousins. She was a handful, but that little angel put the sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step. Since Olivia’s death, Jake’s life had been a maelstrom of depression and grief punctuated by short bursts of fatherly pride underpinned by a parent’s limitless love.

Shortly after the frantic woman had arrived at the counter requiring help for her asthmatic son and the crisis had been resolved, Jake had ordered Helen to pull down the curtain on the drive-thru so that she could help him in her limited, untrained status as a technician trainee. That thirty minute episode had put them even farther behind with patients lined up waiting for shots and even more waiting for prescriptions. Closing the drive-thru was a cardinal sin in the industry. Management became apoplectic when pharmacists did it. Jake had been caught off guard by Willings’s visit ten minutes ago. Swearing under his breath, he whispered to himself, “Could this day get any worse?”

A Bad Day Gets Worse

Willings repeated his question. “I said, ‘Why is the drive-thru closed?'”

Jake sucked in long breath, held it a moment then blurted. “Because I’m drowning here. I have very little help. Helen’s doing her best. But she’s still in training.”

Willings shrugged. “You can’t close the drive-thru! Open it now!”

Jake began shaking his head before the last three words were out of his boss’s mouth. “No! If you want it open, get your butt over there and start ringing the register. It’s my license and the safety of my patients on the line.”

He had prepared himself for this moment for several months. Jake pulled open the drawer just below him and removed a three page document. He extended it to Willings. Jake glowered at this man who evidently had forgotten what it was like in the trenches. The man’s face hardened at the rebuke.

“What’s this?” He croaked hoarsely.

A Legal Remedy

“That’s the Virginia Board of Pharmacy’s Working Conditions Document. They put it out earlier this year. You need to read it. It says the pharmacist shall have complete control over every aspect of the practice of pharmacy. If you try to override it, the company could be subject to disciplinary action!”

The enormous tension that had been building crested at the back of Jake Murphy’s neck, spreading like an avalanche over his shoulders. Now, it engulfed every fiber in his athletic thirty-four year old body. He struggled to maintain his composure and hide his barely controlled stress.

It was just past noon on this late June Monday at Alliance Pharmacy. His pharmacy served the upper reaches of Newport News just south of Williamsburg. Things had gone to shit thirteen minutes into his day and had gone steadily downhill from there. His cell phone had chirped just after arriving indicating he’d received a text message. He’d turned over the phone lying on the counter in front of his computer terminal and read it.

“Damn it,” he muttered. He wanted to use more potent language, but a patient had been standing before him, waiting for Jake to acknowledge him. The man had been wearing a path on the shiny floor tiles in front of the pharmacy for ten minutes before Jake had raised the gates at nine. Kyle, his morning shift technician, said he’d tested positive for the virus and wouldn’t be coming in. He checked the work schedule taped to one of the bay walls in the pharmacy, Helen, his mid-shift technician and a middle-aged, pleasant woman who was still learning her duties would not be until ten-thirty.

The Onslaught

“I’m here for my booster shot,” the edgy patient demanded. “I’ve got to be to work in fifteen minutes.”

Jake sighed. “What’s your name?” The man gave it to the pharmacist.

Jake had pulled up the appointment schedule as three more folks walked briskly down the center aisle, their eyes leveled at the pharmacy department searching like starved animals.

Jake shook his head slightly and said, “Sir, your appointment is not until eleven. It’s only nine-fifteen–”

“Well, I just thought you could give me my shot and I’d be on my way.”

What Jake wanted to say was, “We’re not a fast food restaurant. You wouldn’t walk into you doctor’s office two hours early, would you?” Instead, he swallowed and as calmly as possible said, “Sorry sir, you’ll have to come back at your appointment time.”

The patient huffed, spun and stormed off.

Now hours later as Jake squared off with his direct supervisor, a trio of new patients approached, he cursed Alliance Pharmacy, the retail pharmacy industry and the mess they had made of his beloved, dedicated profession. Alliance, a large national chain struggled to keep up with the massive firms like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. In the lust for the almighty dollar and increased market share, the chain pharmacies had trimmed labor hours, pushed ungodly amounts of prescriptions on their staff, added immunizations to the menu and scared off good help with poor working conditions and even worse pay.

Now as the morning had turned to afternoon, Jake felt like he was being swallowed by the leviathan-sized of  pile electronic prescriptions queued in the computer and COVID boosters that had been scheduled. Helen was frantically scurrying from the pharmacy bench to the inside register, trying to keep up while Jake tried to answer the phone, answer questions and fill prescriptions. On top of everything else, the company told him and all his compatriots that they had to accept walk-ins as well. “How the hell did they expect us to get the prescriptions filled?”

Honorable Service

Jake remembered the frantic mother who’d brought her bluish-lipped son into the pharmacy. Tending to that emergency had put Jake and Helen even farther behind, but it was one of those moments a pharmacy staff would remember for a long time. They had assisted a boy in respiratory distress and calmed a fearful mother. Too often, they received the brunt of a patient’s frustration and impatience because they weren’t fast enough or their insurance co-pays were to high which of course the pharmacy had no control over. But today, they done something wonderful and heroic.

Jake knew that though he seldom saw the outcome of his work. It was good, honorable service. They eased patient’s suffering, improved their health and longevity. They prevented diseases by administering immunizations.  Today when he’d squeezed the albuterol into Peter’s lungs, he’d seen an almost immediate improvement in his cyanotic skin and labored breathing. A surge of relief and satisfaction had surged in him.

“My doctor just sent over a prescription five minutes ago.”

Jake held up a hand to the patient. “Sorry ma’am. We have at least a five hour wait.”

“Five hours?!”

Jake cast Willings a defiant look that said, “I dare you to say something!”

Willings muttered, “This is not the end of this!” He turned and spun, exiting the pharmacy. Jake watched him march through the front sliding doors. He turned back to the incredulous patient. “Yes, Ma’am. I do apologize. But we are short-staffed today. We want to make sure your prescriptions are correct.”

A sour moue slowly spread over her features. As she walked away, her frown deepened.

The next man in line was more understanding. ” He handed Jake his empty prescription bottle and said, “You guys are doing a great job. I’ll pick it up later in the week. Hang in there.” The older man shot a compassionate wink in Jake’s direction and smiled.

Remembering

As the man walked away, Jake swallowed his bitter anger, allowing it to dissipate slightly. Needing to think of something pleasant in his life, Lizzie popped into his mind’s eye. He was doing this for her, he told himself. He put up with all this BS so she could have a decent life. Then little Peter appeared in his thoughts and he again surge of gratification brimmed in him. He remembered smiling at the intelligent and beautiful mother as her fear dissolved. Her knitted brows relaxed, her eyes brightened and a new level of attractiveness spilled forth. Watching the relief and admiration consume her temporarily melted Jake’s stress. He may have saved a life today. If nothing else, Jake could hang his hat on that fact. It was the only piece of good news his day held.

He would give Lizzie a big hug and a kiss tonight when he picked her up even tough she’d probably be asleep. And he would thank the Almightly for sending her to him.

In all the excitement, Jake hadn’t realized it until now. He hadn’t asked the mother her name. He hadn’t recalled seeing a ring on the woman’s left hand. A small niggle of desire and possibility sparked deep inside him. He smiled inwardly and hoped the boy was doing better.

-To Be Continued-

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