(Note: Because I lack focus, even when it comes to my heritage, I am one-quarter Irish. But being so close to St. Patrick’s Day, that ‘s equivalent to being 400 percent Irish).
(The events in this post are mostly true. Some time in November 2010)
Fiddles, pennywhistles and mandolins. Airs from the back of the pharmacy. Bouncing off the jugs of GoLytely, were the sounds of reels, hornpipes, and jigs. Frances could hear the music over the sounds of the unlocking pharmacy gates, which themselves, rattled like chains. It never took long to discover some act performed by the new pharmacist to upset Frances. Today it would be the Irish music.
It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving but Frances was not worried. A typical pharmacist would get slammed with last minute prescriptions, but her drug store was not located in a typical town. Those residents of Eastborough that could afford it, had already escaped for the holiday. The rest had little escape money. Their funds were earmarked for the stuffings, the sweet potatoes, and the cranberry relish, which they would use to orchestrate their Thanksgiving symphonies.
Frances had been rhapsodizing on how easy her day was going to be as she steered into town with a festive tempo. That morning had started cold, but in time the ground’s hard frost was joined by the late November sun. Along the river, some of town’s water damaged houses were already strung with colored lights. And the river, itself, was topped in a thin layer of ice.
Except for some men huddled together on the bridge onto Main Street, the town was asleep. The men were waiting to see if any trucks would stop and hire them as helpers for remodeling jobs on the fancier homes in Westborough. They pounded their hands to warm them and joked loudly in Spanish, sending streams of steam into the air. The streams lit up briefly above their heads and then faded into the morning light.
Frances was in a fantastic mood by the time she arrived and unlocked the pharmacy. But when she heard the faint sound of a concertina and some gruff voice singing about “whiskey in a jar”, her first thought was of Phil. He had worked the last two days and had left the radio on when he closed the pharmacy. And he had changed her radio station. At the prescription counter, she reached over to turn down the music, but then noticed that the radio wasn’t even switched on. She spun a complete circle but was unable to identify where the music was coming from.
Her pharmacy tech, Helen, arrived and greeted her, then walked over to her computer and signed on. Frances was scanning the shelves to find Phil’s music player which was now singing about “the town it loved so” well with a clear tenor voice. Helen was setting up her work station, and reading the notes left by Phil when the front-end cashier entered the prescription department with a pot of black coffee.
-“Where’s Frances?”, Emily asked, pouring Helen some coffee.
-“Somewhere over the rainbow colored fluoride-vitamins.”
[Phil’s Radio was releasing the following:
♪♫ …There was music there in the Derry air
Like a language that we all could understand… ♪♫]
-“Oh, I know this song, did Frances pick this station?”
-“No I did not. I don’t know where Phil left his IPod, and it has been dispensing this music since I opened. “
-“Craft, Phil listens to this?”
Craft was sliding tablets of metformin across a tablet tray in counts of five. The sound of the metformins falling over the side kept time to the song. Before Craft could answer Emily, Frances poked her head from the shelves to look at them. Frances did not like anyone calling Helen by her nickname of Craft.
-“Please don’t call her one of Phil’s ridiculous nicknames.”
This style of music was driving Frances crazy. To her it sounded like a pack of poltergeists trapped in a television set. It was distracting her from the prescriptions and the baskets of medicine were stacked unchecked near her vacant computer. Craft could see that they would soon be in trouble, so she asked Emily to remain behind to help find Phil’s IPod, which was now tapping out pipes and drums.
Luis, the shift supervisor, walked in to use the fax machine and told Frances that a customer was waiting for her near the pharmacy register. The man was asking for something for his eye. Emily had slowly started searching in the oral contraceptives at a pace that would take her from days 1 through 28 to finish.
♪♫ …How sweet the sound… ♪♫]
-“So I’m doing the sweet potato casserole tomorrow, how about you Craft?” Emily shouted.
[♪♫ …to save a wretch like me… ♪♫]
-“Desserts, pumpkin pie with whipped cream”, Craft answered, shaking a bottle of Tussionex slowly.
-“Just try some Visine”, Frances said, dropping her customer and returning to focus on her search.
[♪♫ …was blind but now can see… ♪♫]
-“Hey look what I found here”, called Luis, who had joined the hunt and was over near the syringes.
-“Is it Phil’s radio?”
-“No, it’s an empty can of Diet Coke on top of a box of Epi-pen-Junior.”
Frances was trying to control her breathing but her anger swelled.
-“That damn Phil. Craft, I mean Helen, didn’t you talk to Phil about leaving his cans in the pharmacy?”
-“I just found another one on top of the LoEstrin!”, shouted Emily holding up another can of Diet Coke.
They all gathered around the can.
-“I’m going to call district, this is not acceptable.”
-“And does he always play this type of music?”
-“No. The Irish music started yesterday.”
-“Be quiet a second. I think I hear where it’s coming from. It sounds like it’s in that cabinet near the GoLytely bottles.”
Frances, Craft, Emily, and Luis leaned their ears towards the Golytely. The tune neared its big finish and bursts of bag pipes gushed from the back of the pharmacy.
-“It’s in the narcotic cabinet!”
Frances keys jingled as she rushed to unlock the cabinet. The lock was an old tricky mechanism that took a bit of practice before you could make it turn. When she finally swung the old wooden door open she lost her place in the music. The cabinet was full of controlled drugs that they had never stocked before. Frances removed some it and arranged it on the floor. First up were the Fentanyl patches. Then the morphine concentrates came out, followed by the Opanas.
During the last few days, Phil had used the entire month’s purchasing budget to order pain medication. Frances walked back to the prescription counter. Three of Phil’s empty cans stood at her work station. Frances picked up the phone and pounded out Phil’s number. When he answered, she launched into her aria.
[♪♫ …On Raglan Road of an autumn day/ I saw her first and knew… ♪♫]
-“Phil, you know I’ve been finding these empty cans all over the shelves with the medicine. And like.. what is up with these cans?…”
[♪♫ …I saw the danger and I passed/ Along the enchanted way… ♪♫]
“…Am I supposed to clear them for you? Are you leaving them for me to throw away?..”
[♪♫ …And said let grief be a fallen leaf/ at the dawning of the day… ♪♫]
“…And why did you have to order four pages of narcotics? We will never use them.”
-“Frances, didn’t corporate complain to you that we were turning away too many control prescriptions? Because we never had pain meds in stock?” Phil asked.
-“Yes. But at least I waited for a prescription first. In fact, just last Friday I ordered morphine. For Francis Cullen. Did it come in?”
-“Yeah. That guy, Francis, with the prostate cancer that spread. I must admit, it was pretty incredible that you were able to talk him into waiting the entire weekend for his pain pills. Actually, me and the patient had a little problem when that order came in. Which is why I figured it might be a good idea to have that stuff on hand, before they come in with the prescriptions. So I stocked us up on some things. ”
[♪♫ …On Grafton Street in November… ♪♫]
Her voice quivered a bit and she asked Phil in a soft vibrato,
-“What problem with the morphine order? Am I in trouble?”
[♪♫ …Oh I loved too much and by such by such/is happiness thrown away… ♪♫]
-“You ordered morphine sulfate in sustained release tablets. The doctor wrote for immediate release tablets. So Craft and I had to tell him that we couldn’t fill the prescription that he had waited all weekend for. Of course the order arrived late in the day, so by the time we realized it, there weren’t many options left. At that point he couldn’t talk much because he was hurting pretty bad. Like I said, it was amazing that you were able to get him to wait.
[♪♫ …I gave her poems to say
With her own name there/ And her own dark hair
Like clouds over fields of May ♪♫]
-“So from that point on, it kind of turned into a bit of a cluster-fuck. Excuse my language. He lived alone, so I figured it was up to us to try to fix the problem. So we called around and lucky for us, the independent pharmacy had the pills he needed. But Francis Cullen obviously couldn’t drive and our delivery guy was finished for the day. But the independent guy said they would rush it over if I got them the prescription. Francis was really distressed at this point, Frances. So at four o’clock in the afternoon, on the Monday before thanksgiving, I sent my only tech out of the store to walk the written prescription down to the independent pharmacy. I wanted Craft to personally hand the prescription to the pharmacist, so there would be no more screw ups.”
-“So they took care of him?”
-“Well, they wanted to, they really did. But it didn’t work out. When they got to his house, he wouldn’t come to the door. And the independent store was getting mad because now they were getting backed up. Finally, I had Craft call the town police. The cops told us that Francis Cullin had reached his limit and had dialed 911 about a half-hour before his prescription arrived.”
[♪♫ …On a quiet street where old ghosts meet… ♪♫]
Francis did not answer Phil or ask Phil a question. In their pause the old ballad coming from the narcotic cabinet filled the silence.
[♪♫ …I see her walking now/ away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow… ♪♫]
-“And, I don’t think you have to worry about getting any complaints. As of yesterday he won’t be complaining to anybody”, Phil went on, trying to fill the conversation.
-“I know as a pharmacist I’m supposed to feel noble about my job and how I save lives. But honestly, I don’t think I save many lives in retail pharmacy. Not directly. The best I can do is to make their days a little easier. Which is good enough for me. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll be keeping the narcotic cabinet stocked.”
-“But why did a guy that sick live all by himself. Why wasn’t anyone taking care of him?” Frances asked
-“I don’t know, Frances. I guess it was just another case of a person having an unrequited love for life.”
[♪♫ …That I had loved, not as I should/ a creature made of clay
And when the angel woos the clay he’ll lose /
His wings at the dawn of day… ♪♫]
-“Phil, what the hell does that mean?”
-“Some people spend their entire life trying so damn hard, just to find out in the end, they never got back what they gave. ”
-”Anyway, sorry about all the cans in the pharmacy. It’s not your responsibility to clean them up. I’ll make sure to be more careful next time.”
(The song in the post is called Raglan Road. It was taken from a poem. I have used the lyrics without permission. I suck at getting permission.
Here is a link to Van Morrison singing the song. Happy St Paddy’s Day.)