JP at large: Pharmacy: Not a job for sissies

The author laments about the toll standing behind the counter all day takes on his feet.

I'm lucky. The polio in 1950 was relatively mild and the atrophy will never put me in a wheelchair.

I looked down at my legs and knew that I had an apology to make. "You have done a very good job of getting me this far in my career," I thought. "I had a stool available in almost every pharmacy I worked in and I did not use it." This was my own fault.


You probably know exactly what I am going to say. You have brutalized your legs by standing on them for 12 hours straight day after day after day.

You have gone home and put your legs up on the ottoman in front of the TV. Some of you have washed down three Aleves with a beer and have let yourself be entertained by some mindless distraction about the best slam dunk of the day or shots at some cute penguins in Antarctica. Anything to get your mind off the nagging, achy low-grade discomfort.

You accept the idea that you have to tolerate this soreness to do the job of a pharmacist. It is what every other pharmacist does, isn't it?

You don't want to be a whiner. Your co-worker doesn't complain. Her legs must be fine. You just need to get a handle on this tenderness that has bothered you lately. She may be lying to you when she says that she is fine.

Suffer in secret. Is that what most of us do? I know that is what I did. For a long time, I rarely said a word to anyone when my legs hurt.

The discomfort affected my mood at times. I tried to keep it hush-hush. Telling would make me less of a pharmacist. I started out with the unexamined belief that a real pharmacist does not acknowledge that a long day on her feet, with no uninterrupted rest breaks, causes problems. Nobody likes a complainer. Especially when you are the only one.

I guess that I have been fortunate. Essentially, I am a small man. At five ten, the heaviest I have ever been is 180 pounds. The load that my legs have had to carry has been a relatively light one. I can't imagine the problems if I was really overweight.

I was talking with a grocery store pharmacist. He was not a small man. He was no taller than I am, but he had to weigh at least 240 pounds. His hair was thinning and white. He worked in a pharmacy where 12-hour shifts are required. I watched as he walked around behind his work area. His limp was pronounced. He seemed to be favoring his left leg until he seemed to be favoring his right leg.

I asked him, "Your legs bothering you?"

He smiled. "Not my legs, man, my hips."

He limped to the telephone and answered it. When he came back, he gave me a doleful look. "I don't need one side done, I need both hips replaced." He shook his head and gave me a gallows grin.

Legs are not the only body parts that seem to go after many years on your feet behind a pharmacy counter. You can look in the mirror and see hunched-over shoulders from bending over the counter all day. That can't be good.

I have worked with pharmacists, mostly women, who constantly have their hands on the small of their backs. None of them have been complainers, but, when asked, they admit that their backs hurt.

I do not know if all of this discomfort is necessary. I do not know if the job will change, but, right now, it is not an easy job. Your nice car and house come right out of your hide. Pharmacy is not a job for sissies.

THE AUTHOR is a community pharmacist who works part time in Galveston, Texas. You can e-mail him at
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