A pharmacist's brief encounter leaves a lasting impression

August 10, 2009

As many a pharmacist can testify, sometimes a momentary encounter makes an impression that will last a lifetime.

"I got a brand-new pair of roller skates. You got a brand-new key." The voice was pretty good. High-pitched. In tune. A playful touch that I liked. "I think that we should get together and try them on to see." Her smile was brilliant and her eyes lively.

"I am so out of luck." She turned around. "Look at me. Look at the sweat."

"Not so hot. Maybe 85 degrees. I walked from the clinic as fast as I could to get here before you closed."

She was soaking wet. Her lightweight tie-dyed cotton dress with the spaghetti straps clung to her. She couldn't have been more than 100 pounds and she was probably 5-foot-8. Her prescriptions were for 120 tablets of Norco-10 and a course of Levaquin.

She looked at me and grinned. "I rode my bicycle past your window last night." She winked and posed as provocatively as a rail could pose. "I roller-skated to your door at daylight."

Okay. This doesn't happen very often, but it has happened enough during my career that I know how to laugh it off without embarrassing anyone. I smiled my best smile and said, "You are a very sexy woman and your voice is beautiful."

She laughed. "You are a liar about the sexy part, but I know my voice is good. I made my living with it for 40 of my 64 years."

"Here, in Galveston?"

"Baton Rouge and Houston. I'm here now so I can be near my doctors." She patted her hot cheeks and made a puffing sound. She was sweating profusely.

"Would you like some water?"

She nodded, and I took a bottle of Aquafina from my personal stash and handed it to her.

She drank a fourth of the bottle in one gulp, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, smiled, and said, "Thanks. How much?"

"I'm not selling," I said, "I'm giving." We had been talking for a few minutes and I had taken a good look. This woman was in very rough shape. Her hair was matted and dirty. Her dress was very old, but clean. She had given me a Medicaid card when I asked about insurance.

"Thank you." She was not smiling. "I have pancreatic cancer," she blurted. "I'm a dead woman walking, but, baby, I can still sing.

"I asked your mother if you were at home. She said yes, but you weren't alone." This woman was a torch singer - and a damned good torch singer. Her eyes. Her mouth. The way she moved. She really was sexy. All of her belied the body that was dying.