Retail Pharmacy in the Time of a Pandemic

Note: I don’t usually talk about my day job, but I can’t not right now. COVID-19 has only just now arrived in my city, but coronavirus panic started at least two weeks ago.


You get up. You get ready for work, wearily going through the paces. You kiss your spouse goodbye and head out into the world. You are a pharmacy technician, and you are exhausted.

The streets aren’t as sparsely populated as you wish they were, but then you remember that you work on the main drag of your small city; Lowe’s, Walmart, Kroger, Sheetz, Pet Supply Plus, McDonald’s, and another retail pharmacy other than your own all live on the same street, along with two urgent care clinics. Aside from McDonald’s, all of these businesses are considered essential during this entire crisis, and for lower income families, McDonald’s might as well be essential. Grocery stories, pharmacies, home improvement stories, gas stations, and pet stores are all considered essential businesses. The antiques mall is closed, and so is the little bookstore that you like to visit, among the other small businesses and local restaurants that populate the downtown area.

Get to work. Clock in. Do your best to smile, even as a gentleman who doesn’t understand English enough to read the signs (which ask the customers to please maintain at least a three foot space between themselves and the employees) gets right up in your face while he waves his phone at you, indicating that he’s looking for Airborne tablets. You can tell what that man had for lunch that day because he’s speaking less than a foot away from your nose. After he’s gone, quietly have a panic attack while you splash hot water on your face and wash your hands, all the while wondering whether gargling with some Listerine would do any good.

Answer the phone. No, we’re not closing. No, the store is, at this time, still entirely open. No, we don’t have any hand sanitizer, toilet tissue, rubbing alcohol, disinfectant wipes, or Lysol spray. Keep that smile in place while you’re waiting on people. You are the calm, cheerful center of this little corner of the universe, and you’re doing what you can to keep people as relaxed as possible. You make little jokes. You chat about inconsequential things. You bid the patients to take care and stay well as much as possible.

The drive-thru is always busy. Nobody wants to come inside. Of course, you would be happy to fetch a box of Benadryl for the elderly lady who’s too afraid to come in. No, we don’t have any hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes. No, we’re out of stock on Tylenol, you’re very sorry to say. Even the store brand. Keep smiling, even as the young woman in a mask sprays her insurance card with a little bottle of alcohol before she sends it in, then begs you to please wash your hands and wipe down the drawer after she’s gone. She’s on her way home to self-isolate because she was just tested for the virus, you see, and she’s terrified of infecting anyone else.

Most people are so very nice. So grateful that we’re still open so that they can come in and pick up the medications that they need. There’s an uptick in anxiety medication going out. You’re not surprised.

Some people are less nice. No, you don’t have any hand sanitizer or masks. No, you don’t know when you’ll be getting more. Indeed, yes, somebody should have made sure that we didn’t run out. The customer is correct, this is an incredibly irresponsible move on somebody’s part. Probably the people who came and cleared the shelves before the restrictions were put in place, but you can’t say that. Keep smiling.

No, you inform someone. The pharmacist does not have the authority to dispense a narcotic without a prescription. Indeed, yes, we are in a state of emergency. Nevertheless, some laws still apply, which means that if you want some Vicodin, you’re still going to have to get a prescription. You’ve never seen this person before in the seven years that you’ve been at this store. It’s hard not to think that they’re attempting to take advantage of the situation as they storm off in a giant huff. You wish that this part wasn’t true.

Keep smiling. You chose to be here, rather than take the offer to stay home with no consequences other than not getting paid once the PTO runs out. You chose to stay here because, even with the retail environment and corporate overlords, you’re in the health care profession and you still take that part seriously, even if a lot of people don’t.

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