Unmeasurable conversations. Priceless.


In between the pharmacist activities that can be easily measured, you might find yourself engaging in conversations with your patients.

I’ve had the incredible good fortune to live in one of the most beautiful places on God’s green earth for the last 12 years. There have been days when I’ve marveled on my way to the pharmacy as I looked out the window at the deep blue ocean, the mountains rising behind an unspoiled coastline, the sound of sea lions, and the smell of fresh sea air.

One thing I’ve never seen in this coastal jewel is a supertanker pull into port. The reason for that was standing across the counter from me this workday. If you’ve ever seen the Monterey Bay, you would be shocked to know that at one point people wanted to do exactly that. You could even be excused for flat out not believing it, as I did when I first heard the tale of the woman at my counter.

Validating rumors

There’s no marker along the shoreline to note what she had done, no note at the world-famous aquarium, not even much of any general awareness in the community. The word “tale” might actually be a little strong. The story of the woman at my counter was more like a rumor. Still, my writer’s instinct said there would be a great story here if it turned out to be true, so I hit the library to do a little research. Sure enough, I found articles in the newspaper archives suggesting the supertanker scheme was a fait accompli, one mere rubber stamp away from being implemented.

Big environmental groups had taken their shot at stopping it and lost - rolled over by a political machine on a mission that nobody could stop. Until one person got involved.

What I saw in those newspaper archives was a force of nature, organizing, agitating, biting into the establishment and not letting go. “Tanker Berth Okayed” read the headline from April 1979. Fourteen months later that had changed to “Army Engineers Deny Permit For Port.” The stories in between explained how the woman at my counter, almost single-handedly, made it happen. 

Glimpsing a time past

Today she’s ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease. Frail and declining far too quickly. She has only the faintest recollection of what she accomplished. When I see her I’m reminded that, while I am indeed fortunate to be surrounded by the beauty of this place, it took more than just luck to make it happen.

People that came before me hoped and dreamed and worked and fought and paved the way not only to ensure that precious places got preserved, but for so many of the things that give me and so many others an incredible quality of life. You make your own luck in this world, and when people work together, we can ensure that we are all lucky indeed.

Serving the patient

The woman who stopped the ships needed some help that day, and I was glad to give it. Sinuses were clogged and it was reported to me that she was feeling miserable. I gave her a little guidance through the cough and cold product maze, determined that something she already had in her medicine box was exactly what she needed, and thought about how what I was doing was something that would make it harder to meet any business metrics that come down from above.

Nothing in that conversation would be measured. No data generated that could be printed out to show that goals were being met, which says something about the goals those in charge of our profession choose to measure.

Later it was reported to me the woman who stopped the ships was feeling better. She won’t be here much longer, but there will never be a day when I look outside my window and see a supertanker. Regardless of any chart or graph that would generate at the end of the business day, I knew my goal was met. Every customer at your counter has a story, and every person you see can benefit from your profession. There’s a reason they call it community pharmacy. Don’t forget it, and don’t let anything take it away from you.

David Stanleyis a pharmacist, blogger, and professional writer in northern California. He can be reached at drugmonkeyrph@gmail.com.

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