The Top 10 Wackiest Pharmacy Stories From the 70s: Part I


From a 1970s column, “silly syndrome,” the best customer stories of the decade.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Nowhere is this as obvious as in pharmacy.

Pharmacists have always had to deal with the angry, the confused, the totally unaware, the supposedly witty.

You told us your worst stories, now take a look back at what pharmacists had to deal with more than 40 years ago. (We apologize if this number makes you feel old in any way.)

Back in the 70s, Drug Topics ran a semimonthly column called “Silly Syndrome.” Pharmacists would send in their wackiest stories, and we combed through and picked out the best to share with you. These stories were so good, we couldn’t just narrow them down to 10-we needed to make three different lists just to contain them all. For now, here are 10 of the weirdest experiences that pharmacists had (and let’s it face it, probably still have) to deal with.

Check out part 2 here!

And if reading these makes you remember that one time you had to explain how correctly use a suppository or when you had to tell a customer a script would cost more and they threatened you, then let us know in the comments below!

Up next: Don't take the instructions so literally



Instructions Unclear-November 6, 1972

A very tiny, shy, old lady stopped by our store with a prescription after visiting her doctor. She confided that the nurse had given her a bottle to take a 24-hour urine specimen; with that she picked up her prescription and toddled off. Just before closing time that night, she called, desperation in her voice, urgency in each word. “I can’t reach the doctor or his nurse,” she said in a strained whisper punctuated with little “Ohs” and “Uhs”-“so maybe you can tell me what to do. It’s only been 12 hours since I left the doctor’s office, and I can’t hold it any longer.”



Sometimes Mistakes Make Sense- May 1, 1976

“Why did you put me on birth control pills?” demanded an irate 77-year-old widow in a call to the doctor who’d done the prescribing. That, at least, is what I heard from him before he blasted me with the shocker-“She says you told her that what I prescribed was for birth control.” It took both of us a couple of days to figure out what had happened: I told the dear old soul that I was filling her prescription in a child-resistant container.


The Good Ol’ Days-October 23, 1972

Does anybody want to be protected by Uncle Sam anymore? Certainly not the little old lady whose prescription we recently mailed in one of those F.D.A-ordained safety-cap vials. About a week later, she came into the store to drop off a piece of her mind concerning the Rx. “It’s not enough you sent the prescription in your old brown bottle you probably got in a special price deal,” she harrumphed, “I couldn’t get the damn thing open.” Turned out she’d tried most of her kitchen tools on the safety cap, including the bottle opener, of course. When that failed, she carried the consumer-protection device down to her husband’s basement workshop, locked it in a vise, and dismantled cap and vial with a pair of pliers. “Poured the whole thing into an old screw-top prescription bottle I had around the house,” she announced triumphantly. “Even a child can open those. You should get some.”


Reverse-Psychology Works Best-January 21, 1974

Not long after she moved to a small town, a woman complained to a neighbor about the terrible service at the local pharmacy. The next time she patronized the store, however, the pharmacist met her with a big smile, asked if there was anything he could do to help her or her husband settle in, and filled her order with dispatch. Assuming her criticism had gotten back to the pharmacist, the newcomer asked her neighbor if she’d passed on the remark about the rotten service. “No, I didn’t,” replied the neighbor. “As a matter of fact, I told the pharmacist you were amazed at such a well-run small-town drugstore and that you had said it was one of the best you’d ever been in.”


That’s One Way to Do it-March 4, 1974

How to empty a store fast: Take one customer in line with a prescription you can’t read. Look at the clock and note that it’s too late to get the doctor on the phone for a private interpretation. Ask customer what is his ailment. Hear customer answer rather loudly, “I have parasitic crabs in my skin.” Actually, all the other good people in line didn’t suddenly think suddenly think of business that required their presence elsewhere. Two remained-scratching furiously all the while.


Customer Knows Best-June 2, 1975

Maybe it’s an ancient joke, but it turned into real life for me. Cautioning an old customer that the pills she had just ordered were habit-forming, I was stopped cold by an upraised hand and instant rejection: “Nonsense. I’ve been taking these pills for eight years!”


The Birth of the Purple Dinosaur-August 4, 1975

With most complaints concerning the higher cost of products lately, it’s almost a pleasure to have somebody call in with a major problem dealing with minors-even if the problem wasn’t covered in my formal education. Like: “Hello, I have a complaint to make. The last bottle of animal vitamins contained only one purple turtle and that has really upset my children. I have two children, you see, and one purple turtle per bottle of vitamins just will not work. It’s their favorite. I even have to throw away some of the others sometimes.”


Aural-Jelly? Cola Gel? Hill and Dale?-December 4, 1972

Customer confusion over product names is old hat to pharmacists, but my head is still ringing over the fellow who demanded “ginger ale” for his teeth. Some 15 minutes and dozens of names later, we chanced upon Ora-Jel. “That’s it,” he cried. “Or-in-jale! Why didn’t you give that to me to begin with?”


Cycling priorities-January 15, 1976

Cyclamates have been in and out of the news so often, I’ve forgotten where we are with them now-but I’ve never forgotten an early encounter with the problem. The cyclamate story had hit the newspapers and was frightening more than a few of our patrons. One gentleman in his late 40s brought back a diet product he had purchased for his wife, explaining that because it contained some cyclamates, they were worried about cancer. I reminded him of our no refund policy and that he would have to exchange his for purchase for something else. Without hesitation, he asked for cigarettes (he and his wife were two-packs-a-day smokers) in exchange.


Advertising Strikes Again-January 1, 1976

The holiday season is hectic enough without sex befuddling the issue. This year, a young fellow elbowed his way up to my counter through a mass of happy, shouting shoppers and called out a request for “Prolong.” Quick as a wink, as they say in the Christmas trade, I rummaged through the prophylactic section and came up with the desensitizing cream, which I plunked down on the counter. “Will it really help my Christmas tree?” asked the customer in what appeared to be all seriousness. I didn’t know if he was putting me on or not, so I gave a straightforward explanation of what the product did for one’s sex life. The fellow turned a deep shade of red, shook his head, and left. That very night, what should I see on television but a commercial for “Prolong,” the Christmas tree preserver. End Act I. The beginning of Act II found me a few days later again with a customer requesting “Prolong.” Not to be entrapped a second time, I winged in a slight probe: “Ah, for your Christmas tree?” “Never heard it called that before,” laughed the customer. “You got the cream or not?” End Act II. If there was an Act III, it would start with my saying, “Oh the hell with it.”


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