October 12, 2011

Of Airports and Pharmacies

It was the least important task of the day: a visit to the pharmacy.
“I am sorry; I don’t know why we overlooked the prescription,” the pharmacist explains. “The script will be ready in about 20 minutes, OK?”
I take a deep breath. No. It’s not OK. How could you overlook a script that was submitted six hours ago?
I exhale and smile. Of course it will be OK! I will sit right here in the waiting area with the blood pressure machine, in the tiny uncomfortable chair that conveys only one verbal message: I am ill.
I look at my surroundings. My mind wanders to a recent conversation I had with my father. I commiserated with him about wasted time in airports between flights. He listened and explained how he dealt with the delays: “I pray and tell God, ‘Here I am, if I can help anyone . . .’ Inevitably, I always have someone approach me. Even on things as small as finding the right gate. You should try it.”
Why not? I take a moment to “try it.” Then I sit and wait. Have 20 minutes passed already? Maybe I should have asked my father if that prayer works for everyone, or if it applies only to theologians at airports.
2011 1528 page23“Excuse me. Spanish?”
The young man is talking to me. He does not speak English and desperately needs to find baby supplies. He holds up a coupon with a specific brand name. Together we walk through the aisles and find the item. “Gracias!” He heads home. I head back to my seating area.
“Would you help me? I didn’t bring my glasses and cannot make out that number on the label.”
It seems as if my surroundings have suddenly come alive! There is too much to do! There is the woman with a broken arm, trying to hold a full gallon of milk. An older gentleman has inadvertently dropped a basket of items and cannot reach down to collect them. An expecting mother needs assistance to grab the last jar of prenatal vitamins at the end of a high shelf. I am running quick errands for others. I smile, shaking my head in disbelief.
Then I see her: an elderly woman walking toward the pharmacy counter. She looks at me and offers a genuine smile. Every step she takes is carefully planned. Her very appearance demands no respect from those walking around her, carelessly bumping into her purse. She does not seem to mind, as if used to the fast-paced world interfering with the slow pace of her body. What does she need?
“I know you don’t work for me.”
I turn to see a man with a name badge that reads: “Brett, Store Manager.” He wants to know why I’ve been running around the store helping customers. Do I know them? I realize that I may need this pharmacy again, so I share the details: waiting at the pharmacy, conversation with my father, the prayer . . .
I wait for Brett to provide that “look” indicative of “I think you need professional help.” Instead, I receive a simple “Thank you for the reminder.” Reminder?
As I walk back to the pharmacy, I notice the elderly woman standing at the counter, rummaging through her purse, taking out tissues and a wallet. Something is wrong. I see the pharmacist and Brett speaking softly behind the counter. After a pause, Brett returns to the counter and with apologies tells the woman her prescription is not covered by Medicare. She begins to close her purse and does not look at him. He is not done.
“From now on, when you need this script filled, call and ask for me. I will take care of it. No expense to you.”
She takes the card, looks down at her purse, wipes away a tear, and thanks him. With a smile Brett steps away and lets the pharmacist handle the transaction. Walking by me, he smiles and states the obvious: “Perhaps we should transform the world into an airport or a pharmacy. There is always a place where somebody needs help or healing.”
Dixil Rodríguez, a college professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas. This article was published October 13, 2011.