Pharmacy remembered: The patients who rate

March 15, 2013

While some aspects of pharmacy practice may drive you up a wall, there are customers who will make any day just a bit better

In My View  James “Goose” Rawlings, RPh

Everyone has a few favorite people in their life, and for people who work in retail, much of the time it’s their customers. Pharmacists are no exception, and over the years I’ve had quite a few favorite patients.

The good ones

You know the type. They are usually the older folks, the ones who need a lot of attention. Even though they require a lot of care, your face lights up every time you see them and your day becomes a little nicer.

The reason? They’re nice, and they stand up for you. A couple of times, I’ve seen them jump somebody else they didn’t even know, who was giving me a hard time. In one case, it was my district manager.

The worst thing about aging is that you start losing friends who are older than you. I’ve lost almost all my old friends from my retail days.

I work in a hospital now, and for the first few years here, patient contact was limited. For the past three years, I have worked part of my shifts in an outpatient clinic, and I get to see and talk to patients again. I love it. What we do is important and rewarding. It is also fast-paced, but I do have some time to talk to people and get to know them.

Because of the disease conditions we deal with, most of our patients are in their 80s and 90s, but some are younger. Some of them I kindly refer to as “knuckleheads,” because they don’t do what we tell them to do.

They all have a story.

The Flyboys

It seems as if we have a lot of veterans. The other day, a guy came in who was wearing his 82nd Airborne fatigue jacket from the Vietnam war. I made the mistake of calling him a “Screaming Eagle,” the nickname of the rival 101st Airborne. He said he forgave me, but I’m not sure.

My favorite patients are three men I call the Flyboys. They all flew in the Second World War, and the only reason they are still alive is that they were young then, flew well, and had some luck.

One was a pilot flying transport planes over the “Hump” in Burma. This involved flying over the Himalayan mountains.Another was a bomber crewman in the South Pacific, flying many dangerous missions.

My favorite, the one I call “Hollywood,” was a fighter pilot on an aircraft carrier. He likes to sit in our waiting room and tell dirty jokes to the older ladies there. They blush and giggle like the schoolgirls they once were. It doesn’t take much imagination to see him as a young pilot leaning against a bar, chatting up the ladies.

An oath and a choice

I think that once in a while we need to step back from our workload, the demanding bosses, and everything else we have to deal with and remember why we do what we do. Most people work because they have to, but remember, we also took an oath to help people.

If what we are doing as pharmacists is not helping people, we have two choices. We can either work within the profession to change what we do for the better, or we can move on to something else. I see no other way.

Get mad about how patients get treated today. You should be. If it doesn’t make you mad or you are too afraid to get mad, get out of the way for someone who will.

Your patients don’t care that you missed lunch, they don’t care that your best tech called in sick or that the floater is late and you’re missing part of your kid’s ballgame. They just want you to help them. They are sick and nobody seems to care. The Flyboys tell me that all the time. Nobody seems to care.

I’ll tell you something else, though, that they tell me. They say, “Jim, you do care.” I’d almost work for free for that.

What would that be worth to you? I’ll bet most of you already have it; all you need to do is look for it. 

Jim “Goose” Rawlings is a senior pharmacist in central Indiana. He dedicates this article to “the ultimate Flyboy and fellow Boilermaker, Neil Armstrong,” who passed away last fall. Contact him atsnoozygoose@comcast.net.