This is your life: A cautionary tale for pharmacists

November 10, 2014

Nothing speaks like the voice of experience. Pharmacists everywhere, listen up.

This has been a tough year for JP. Among other afflictions, he has been hit with a stroke, bad falls, permanent blindness in the right eye, cardiac insufficiency, heart attack, a heart catheterization that turned into a triple bypass, and coma. But nothing keeps JP down. Even before his return home from rehab, he was bashing out the following column.

People were talking to my wife about making arrangements for my funeral. If Victoria gives up, said the voice inside my head, it is over. JP will cross the River Dread.

Victoria is my champion. She was a Rottweiler, teeth bared, saliva dripping. No one would put her Jimmy Boy down without her teeth clamped on their neck. She fought Humana daily. She faced down the hospital. She cornered the so-called patient-care assistant and made her take care of the patient. Lazy nurses who thought that it was a waste of time to feed a comatose, nearly dead man wilted under her wrath. Victoria held the spark of my life in her hand. She would not let me die.

“It is amiodarone encephalopathy.” A too-young clinical-type pharmacist presented. The amiodarone was discontinued. The coma ended. I opened my eyes.

It all happened just a few weeks ago. I’m alive. I have weeks of rehab to do and my walker will be my best friend for a long time. I can’t tell you how satisfied I am. No fooling.

This is your life

I should title this column This is your life. Here’s why.

When I was working retail, I brought healthy food from home. I had to microwave it and find the time to sit down in a quiet place to eat. How often did that happen? Finally I gave up and went food shopping in the front of the store. I settled for a giant size bag of Cheetos, a king-size Baby Ruth, and a 20-ounce Diet Coke. Sound familiar?

I’ve got your number, so don’t you dare tell me that you heat up the homemade soup your wife sends every day. Your career has been about dredging up enormous hunger with six or eight nonstop periods of frenetic activity at the prescription mill. Forget that soup. Your default lunches have been fun-size Snickers, salty snacks, cold coffee, Slim Jims, shared donuts, and stale Mountain Dew. 

Look what it got me. You believe you are impervious? You think you can continue to skate on thin ice and never fall through? Seriously, when will it be time to take care of yourself and the hell with wait times?

You know the answer you’ll get if you ask your nonpharmacist supervisor that question. “Float team? Did you say float team? We can arrange it.” But the issue remains.

 

I was getting away with it

For three decades, I honestly believed I was safe. The telephone, the stress, and the profit-scrounging MBAs from the night program at the local junior college could not touch me.

And, in 2014, here’s what it got me: A stroke, four serious falls, right-eye blindness, a heart attack, a heart cath and then triple-bypass open-heart surgery, and oh, yeah - the coma.

Can I blame this on my career as a retail pharmacist? Plenty of folks out there will answer that question in the unambiguous affirmative. You’re living it. You know what it feels like to have that achy, empty sensation in your stomach at 7 p.m. It's even worse for the folks who try to manage their hypoglycemia with sugar. Where are they going to find high-quality protein at 6 p.m. at the height of the Friday rush? Trust me, Lunchables from the cold case up front won’t do it.

The cost of this column

I can’t imagine anyone being willing to pay the price I paid to be able to write this column. Here’s how my primary physical therapist put it: “You went through some horrendous violence. It will be a long time before you are a well-bodied man again.”

But I’m still here, and JP at Large will continue to be here for you.

I worry about the members of my tribe who threw away their health while serving as loyal employees for 20 years, only to be dumped because they are getting older.

A word to the wise: Don’t take things to heart. Find another way.