The Golden Age of pharmacy

March 30, 2016

What was it like when townspeople turned to their druggists for healthcare? Here’s a look back from someone who was there.

Truman LastingerIt was a pleasure to practice pharmacy in the early 1950s. The pharmacist was a respected member of the community. Most of the time, when people needed a medication, they would go to the drugstore first. Generally, if they had any kind of problem, they asked to speak to the druggist.

Patients could be pets, livestock, children, or grownups. Quite often the problem was of a minor nature, but at times it could be very serious. Sometimes people died from something as common as a blistered heel, a carbuncle that wouldn’t heal, or even an impacted tooth.

Most rural customers did not have enough money to go to the doctor, even though an office visit was often $3 to $4 or less, so druggists saw and treated cuts, bruises, bee stings, goiters, hernias, mastoid problems, sore throats, colds, rashes, ringworm, sandworms (“creeping eruption”), athlete’s foot, and influenza, just to name some of the common problems. They treated constipation, diarrhea, dyspepsia, tired blood, sexual dysfunction - just about anything in the community that required attention.

See also: Farming to pharmacy: Pharmacist's story is the saga of an era

Fresh off the farm

I got my first job in a drugstore in the early 1950s. I was a “country boy come to town, fresh off the farm.”

At that point, I had been in a drugstore only once in my life. That was when I had cut my foot, severing an artery. That required stitches, so Daddy had to buy some sterile bandage. Now I had a job, learning to be a soda jerk.

The store had four pharmacists, including the owner. After a day or so, one of them called me back to the prescription department and told me to go down the street to Guy’s Drug Store and ask them whether we could borrow the shelf stretchers. I dutifully did so.

The druggist at Guy’s told me that he’d sent them back to the factory for repairs. Then he told me to ask my boss whether he had any dehydrated water. He said he needed some quickly.

I ran back to the store and delivered the message. Suddenly everybody in the store began laughing. It didn’t take long for me to realize I’d been had. Apparently it was a routine gag staff pulled on new help.

 

New responsibilities

In a short time I was brought to the back of the store, where I was given the chore of delivering prescriptions and packaging wets and drys.

Wets consisted of liquid preparations such as spts. (spirits of) ammonia, spts. camphor, merthiolate, iodine, etc.

Drys were epsom salts, lime, sulfur, etc. These were purchased in bulk and had to be repackaged in containers of the appropriate sizes for resale. 

The owner of the store generally came in to work around two to three o’clock in the afternoon. He would tend to his bookkeeping business.

Around five o’clock, he would send me down the street to the pool room for a six-pack of beer. He would take a Dexedrine tablet and drink the beer. Then he’d be wired, and after closing time he had no desire to go home. So after closing, we spent a lot of time dusting and cleaning shelves. He assured me that I should go to school to become a pharmacist.

Magic words

I began looking at the medicines and products in the store, and I was mesmerized by some of the words: tinctures, solutions, elixirs, acetylated salicylic acid [acetylsalicylic acid, otherwise known as aspirin - Ed.], acetylated para aminophenol [paracetamol, otherwise known as acetaminophen], phenylazo diamino pyridine [more commonly known as Pyridium], etc.

I was hooked. I wanted to go to school and learn all about those wonderful things that seemed to really help people. That was the beginning of my career of more than 50 years in pharmacy.

What counted most

The staff in that drugstore cared about people. That was their overall attitude, and it set the tone for my entire career. 

Truman Lastinger tells the story of his 58 years in retail practice in “Farming to Pharmacy: Memories of a Sharecropper’s Son,” available from Amazon and booklogix.com. Contact him at truros@att.net.