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Roger Simon
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A Dose of My Pharmacy's Medicine


Note to readers: The following Roger Simon column was first published in March 1997.

WASHINGTON — I am standing in line at the pharmacy, waiting to get my allergy medicine. I call it a pharmacy, but actually it is in the back of a grocery store.

Behind the pharmacy counter, up on that little stage the pharmacists love to stand on (why do pharmacists insist on being higher than the rest of us?), there are men and women wearing white jackets. But this does not disguise the fact that just a few yards away there are heads of lettuce and bundles of asparagus.

There are only two places near my home where I can get prescriptions filled. One is the pharmacy in the back of the grocery store, and the other is a pharmacy in the back of a drugstore. I call it a drugstore, but it sells food, too. And light bulbs. And pantyhose. And cameras. And gardening tools, baseball caps and beach togs.

When I was little, I used to go to my uncle's pharmacy on the south side of Chicago. It was a real pharmacy. It sold a few other things, but you came there because you wanted a prescription filled. Or a soda. My uncle's pharmacy had a wonderful soda fountain with a marble top and seats that swiveled.

I am sure my memories of it are confused with the drugstore in "It's a Wonderful Life," but I remember that my uncle would come down from his pharmacy stage and go behind the counter to make me sodas.

But whenever a customer came in for a prescription, my uncle would carefully wipe his hands and immediately go to help them. "Gotta do my job," he would say. Filling prescriptions was what he did for a living. Making sodas and sundaes was what he did for fun.

It is very difficult to find such family pharmacies today. They have been driven out of business by huge chain drugstores and grocery stores with pharmacies in the back.

I have never particularly lamented this (my uncle retired decades ago). I'm not one to fight progress. I've never believed small is always better.

Until the day the big drugstore that sells cameras and pantyhose and light bulbs gave me the wrong medicine.

I had come to pick up my allergy medicine, and the person behind the counter handed it to me in the usual paper bag. She was always very rushed. Her main job was to make sure you had given her the correct insurance card with the correct


When I got home and opened the bag, the bottle inside had the correct label. But when I opened the bottle, the pills looked very different from the ones I was used to taking.

I was going to take one anyway — I figured the pharmacy knew best — but just to be on the safe side, I called my doctor and read him the little number printed on the pill.

And he told me they were the wrong pills. The pharmacy had given me the wrong medicine.

It would make for a better story if the pills would have killed me or made my nose fall off or something terrible.

But they wouldn't have done anything bad to me. They were just the wrong medicine.

I called the pharmacy and learned the meaning of the word "nonplused."

"Oh, that happens," the busy woman behind the counter said. "Just don't take them. Come back, and we'll give you the right prescription."

That's all? I said, expecting that perhaps she might be shocked or apologetic.

"Well, you don't have to pay for them," she said, "the wrong ones. You do have to pay for the right ones."

I never went back to that drugstore. Instead, I started going to the grocery store with the pharmacy in the back.

It has a busy guy behind the counter who also is chiefly concerned with getting the right insurance card and co-payment from you. But nobody there has given me the wrong pills (or a head of lettuce) by mistake.

And I have been pretty pleased with the service there — until last week, when they decided that the pharmacy in the back of the grocery store should also be the

film-developing place in the back of the grocery store.

The grocery store decided to start developing film as a way to compete with the drugstore that also sells food. And the only people the grocery store had who could take your film and give you your prints back were the pharmacy people.

I don't mean the pharmacists themselves do this. They still stay up there on their pharmacy stage. But their assistants, the people who deal with us, the customers, now have to handle film and prints.

So last week, I was standing in line waiting for my allergy medicine while the guy in front of me went through 400 prints, picking out the ones he didn't like so he could get a 5-cent refund on each one.

"It makes her look green!" the guy said, pushing a print back across the counter. "You think my granddaughter is green?"

I looked over the guy's shoulder. His granddaughter looked like she had been cloned from a cabbage.

"What's this?" the guy said. "What's this?"

"This" was the most popular picture taken in America today. It was an extreme close-up of the guy's finger covering the lens.

"I'm not paying for this!" he said. "These aren't my pictures!"

Right. Aliens snuck in at night, made his granddaughter look green and took close-ups of his digits in order to confuse him.

"Now, this is a good one," the guy said. He turned and showed it to me.

It was a picture of an airplane wing taken from inside an airplane — the second most popular picture in America today.

"Bermuda," he said.

How do you know? I said.

He looked at me. Then he looked back at the picture. "These aren't my pictures!" he said to the man behind the counter. "I'm not paying for this!"

He went through each of his 400 prints, turning back in those that had been substituted by aliens. He got 45 cents back.

Eventually, I got my allergy medicine. But it took all day.

I had no choice. It's the only place I can get medicine.

Unless I drive an extra 15 minutes to an all-night convenience store, which also has a pharmacy in the back. But that's where I get my film developed.



1 Comments | Post Comment
Well you might want to count your blessings. In my town there are at least 15 Pharmacies to choose from in a 5 mile radius including your basic mom and pop places. They call them home town pharmacies even though you can see the riverfront with 2 giant major sport venues in a major large city from where they stand. We have nightly shootings..I do not recall when the last 24 hr period went by without a shooting nearby was.We have homeless people begging for change on every corner. We have the messiest traffic jams you ever saw nearly on a daily basis. We have sun blocking pollution. A major international airport whoes planes fly so low you feel you could reach up and touch them if you wern't so busy holding your ears or yelling to talk over them. You have disintergrating neighborhoods where children are raising themselves in the streets. You have fear, crime, poverty, filth and listlessness. For me, I would prefer to live someplace with only two pharmacies ,one in a grocery store if it meant I felt safe going to and from there, if I could walk around in the evenings without worring about taking a stray of being robbed or killed, if it meant the sky was blue and visable on a sunny day, if my children had a decent place to play, yes you can can have all 15 of my pharmacies please..give me just your one.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Inezz
Sat May 22, 2010 11:02 PM
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