Sometimes pharmacists can't help judging their patients by appearances. Then they look deeper — and find a real human being looking right back at them.
"Alfonso," I said. "You're back." I offered my hand.
"“Señor Pharmaceutico," he smiled. "¡Hola. It has been a long time." His smile was luminescent. His eyes bright.
What frightens me the most is what I do not know and how that ignorance can cause me to act in a way that I am not proud of.
The first time I met Alfonso, I asked if I could help him and then looked away quickly. When I returned my gaze to him, he was smiling. I must have looked stunned. Patient care is the cornerstone of my practice of pharmacy, and at first I couldn't even look at this kid. I did not expect his appearance, and I still cringe when I remember how JP's famous patient-centric viewpoint crashed.
He spoke in heavily accented English. "It's okay," he said. "I am used to it." Alfonso is a shopper who wants to be informed about the OTC drugs he may want to use. He comes from a country that does not have a nanny government. He knows that he is on his own. He asks lots of questions.
The Shriners Hospital for Children is associated with UTMB (University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston) and is only a few blocks from the drugstore where I work. Shriners hospital is the preeminent burn center for children in the western hemisphere. It is a charity hospital, but Alfonso's parents pay full price for his care.
Alfonso was back in town for another round of surgeries. He was staying at a halfway house for teenagers. There's a girl from Peru he likes a lot, he said, but she would be leaving after the bandages come off and the docs make sure there is no infection.
"Es difícil," he shrugged. "I have that Latin blood and I am in love, Senor. Es muy difícil. She is my first love." His eyes sparkled. "I am just a boy."
I asked Alfonso if he would see her again and he sadly told me that her many surgeries were complete. "My parents are pleased. They want to protect me like I was still a niño. They believe that she would only be heartache because she is beautiful, and I still look like this."