Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Other Side of the Counter

In all the years I've been blogging, I never really talked about my "day job". Not because I didn't enjoy it (I did, though it was often very stressful), but rather because this blog was a place to focus on the things that gave me the most joy in life: cycling, crafting, wildflowers, words, friends, family, food.

But today I will break the habit of years and talk about what was my day job - because suddenly, without warning, it's been taken away.

This is a tribute to the last eight-and-a-half years of my working life; to the dear co-worker who, like me, is suddenly jobless; and to the people we served whom we might not see again.


For many of you, a pharmacy technician is just a person behind a counter. They take your prescription, type something into a computer, grab a bottle of pills off a shelf, count some out, put them in another bottle, and add a label with your name.

Here is what the view was like from the other side of that counter....

We were the pharmacy technicians in your village pharmacy. When you saw us tapping away at the keyboard, we were entering the information needed to process your prescription so you'd get the right medicine, at the right dose, and be charged the right price.

We were the ones who deciphered your doctor's indecipherable scrawl, and translated prescription directions from Latin abbreviations into straightforward English. When your prescription ran out, we contacted your doctor to ask for more; if your doctor didn't respond, we kept trying until we heard back and got you what you needed.

We were the ones who ordered all those pills you saw on the shelves behind us. Every day we had to order the right drugs, in the right amounts, at the right price, and from the right place. If we didn't order enough, we'd run short and you would suffer the lack. If we ordered too many, or from the wrong place, the business would suffer from having too much or too pricey an inventory on the shelf. It was our job to keep the balance.

We were the ones who spent hours on the phone with insurance companies, trying to get problem claims processed and medicines paid for. We were the ones who quietly gasped when a huge copay showed up with your name on it. Often we'd ask the pharmacist if he could call the doctor to recommend something that wouldn't cost you so much, or we'd search the internet to see if there were a coupon for that expensive brand-name drug.

We were the ones who sat down with your elderly mom to help her through the maze of Medicare. We were the ones who took a few minutes to chat on the phone with your shut-in dad, while work was piling up. We were the ones who tried to explain to you why your insurance was doing what it was doing, and why your medicine cost what it did.

We were the ones who sent you a card when we heard you were in the hospital. We were the ones who cheered you on when you were trying to quit smoking or lose weight for your health. We were the ones who heartily congratulated you when you stopped a medication because your health had improved. We were the ones who rejoiced with you when your hair grew back after chemo.

We were the ones who asked about your vacation, and really listened to the answer. We were the ones who loved hearing stories from your childhood, or tales from your military service. We were the ones you showed your knitting and quilt tops and surgery scars to. When you were out for a walk and saw us walking to work, you stopped us on the sidewalk to ask for refills. And when we got to work, we remembered your request and got the refills ready.

We were the ones who happily watched your tummy bump grow as you came in for prenatal vitamins. We were the ones who loved to see your babies after they were born, while hoping we didn't have to see them too often. (We'd rather they be healthy and not need any prescriptions.)

We were the ones who prayed for you when we saw your black eye and the bruise on your arm as you picked up your husband's medication.

We were the ones who delivered your meds when you weren't able to drive and had no one to help. We were the ones who, if we found you asleep, gently laid down the bag and tiptoed out.

We were the ones who shed a quiet tear when we got the order for opiates for a dying patient. We were the ones who walked out from behind the counter to hug you when your family member passed away. We were the ones who, six months later, remembered your loss and asked how you were doing.

I'm sure there were times when we seemed stressed out. A customer might have yelled at us, or maybe we'd just hung up from a profitless half-hour call to an insurance company. Maybe an order didn't come in time. Maybe patients were stacking up and the pharmacist wasn't keeping up. Maybe our knees were hurting, or we were worried about our own sick family members. But our goal was always to serve you as best and as quickly as we could.

You probably never realised it, but if you came in regularly, you were almost like family to us. You were part of our lives, and we were honoured to feel that in a very small way we were also part of yours.


Being pharmacy technicians was not something I or my co-worker planned on or were educated for. It was something we both fell into and grew into. We thought we did a decent job. We know that we loved helping our patients and being part of their lives.

Now that's gone. We're back on the other side of the counter. And it's hard.

Happier days (Halloween 2009)

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