I was wandering the aisles of CVS one night recently in search of salt tablets. I couldn’t find them so I ambled back to the pharmacy department and waited so that I could ask where these might be. Standing there, I flashed back to the moments where I’d stood in line many times to fill my dad’s prescriptions. Also to the moments where I’d loaded up on Diet Coke for him… but that’s another blog post.
While waiting, it dawned on me just how important these people had been in my life when my father was alive.
When caring for an elderly parent, you are often at the whim of people you don’t know. Their landlord and/or the person who runs their housing community and gets to decide whether their incontinence is a nuisance or a reason to evict them. The nurse in the hospital when they find themselves there after a fall who gets to decide whether or not they suffer from dementia, which affects the whole care path. The person at the DMV who can see that they can’t read the bottom line of the eye chart and gets to decide whether or not they get a driver’s license. Most of them know more than you do about the subject matter of caring for the elderly, and almost nothing about the particular human being in question.
To this list, add the person who fills their prescriptions.
It’s going to happen at least once, and hopefully not more than once, that the doctor will have written a prescription that doesn’t make sense as written. I spent hours in a compounding pharmacy in Hopewell, NJ one rainy summer night when my father had been discharged from physical therapy post his first C-Diff scare and his doctor had written a scrip for liquid vancomycin. No one prescribes that, I didn’t know what a compounding pharmacy was (more on this another time maybe), and it’s $6,000 per course because it’s not covered by any insurance of any kind. I was scared to death. But he convinced me that pills would be fine, he’d call it into CVS and get them to cover the prescription even though it’s not what the doctor wrote, and there was a way to write the prescription such that it would be a different class of medication that Medicare looked at differently. It was technical and confusing and made me wonder how people who don’t have advanced degrees figure this out. Also, I was frantic and it was closing time. He calmly explained that waiting 12 hours would be fine, really.
Then I left, drove to pick up Chinese food, went back to my father’s house where he was already asleep, and drank 50 beers to calm down.
And the next doctor, here in Massachusetts, made a similar mistake. Again I found myself in front of a pharmacist who could have just shrugged and told me to just deal with it. Instead, he chased down the doctor, got him to re-write the prescription, and helped me navigate the byzantine Medicare prescription classes again. All while I stood there feeling frantic but grateful that he would help me when so many other people seemed to be uninterested in him, and in me.
This same pharmacy in Wellesley at the end of my street had filled his prescriptions so many times. After a while they recognized me and would say “Hello Mr. Biro, are you picking up for your father today?” I don’t know why that made me feel less alone but it did.
I dealt with many people who had more power than I did and tried to bully my father and me into a particular course of action. Rare was the figure who both had authority and was empathic at the same time. These people are gold. Pharmacists were first among them.