At Christmas time…..a pharmacist’s lament!

Dear Lord,

In the Good Book we are told that in heralding the birth of Christ the angel announced “good tidings of great joy” and, “peace and good will to all mankind.”  Now Lord, I am just a simple pharmacist having some difficulty in understanding this all, so please listen to my side of the story.

It seems to me that, particularly in this time of advent, many people find “great joy” in the bottom of a bottle. For them the numerous adverts of “Xmas Specials” promoting a variety of alcoholic beverages constitute “good tidings”! My delivery man, John, falls prey to these “good tidings” easily and now finds “joy” in sharing a “papsak” of cheap wine with his mates in the evenings. Consequently, he reports for work the next day smelling like the rotting sediment at the bottom of a discarded old wine barrel, his, yellowed, glassy eyes a reflection of his pickled liver and numbed brain. Although he assures me, “Alles is reg my Basie!” I have my doubts about his ability to keep his balance on the delivery bike, let alone act as a good ambassador for the pharmacy in delivering urgent medicine. Is this really how the “good tidings of joy” should be shared?

I am sad to say, dear Lord, that in our pharmacy we experience very little of the peace promised by Your angel. Down here in our little coastal town, we are invaded by “Vaalies” who have rushed down to the sea in their fancy motorcars like a herd of migrating “blou wildebeest”.  Unfortunately, by the time they have endured the long road trip, many of them tend to behave just like “wildebeest”. They are demanding, impatient and show little tolerance of our more relaxed Cape way of life. One would think that it was my fault that they left their medicines at home, that the wife forgot to pack the sunscreen or that their darling little 4 year old was car sick and deposited her partially digested roadside snacks all over the expensive leather interior of the new luxury German car! For all this and more, I must provide an instant cure and restore the peace?

The rushed, busy lifestyle at this time of the year, transforms even our most placid, co-operative clients into unreasonable, aggressive shoppers. They first spend hours dragging bored, whining kids around the supermarkets and bottle stores, taking advantage of the “good tidings” of “Xmas Specials”. To do this they drive miles to the mall, fight for a parking space, push heavy trolleys around searching for the “good news” specials and stand in long queues to pay while being blasted overhead by carols sung to a “boom-boom” beat by Bony-M and contending with the demanding kids underfoot.  Invariably this entourage of tired, frustrated children and a flustered mother invades the pharmacy just 10 minutes before closing time. Here their purchases include their regular prescription medicine and last minute, small gifts of soaps and perfumes for numerous, near-forgotten relatives down on holiday from the hinterland. When it comes to payment, I the empathetic pharmacist, am usually asked to postpone themedical aid claim until the New Year because their current benefits are “ all used up”. All gifts are conveniently purchased on credit, after the pharmacy’s financial month-end, just in time for the new January accounts. To top it all, the client offers to pay her account, but, “Only half, because we are going on holiday in the New Year!” Meanwhile, the client’s two little ”darlings” are either moaning like sick puppies  or chasing each other around the pharmacy like terriers, shattering the peace and testing our patience to the limit. But, this is the season of goodwill so we must grin and bear it?

Please explain dear Lord, why in the life of a community pharmacist, “goodwill” seems to be a one-way street? All staff expect a 13th cheque irrespective of their work performance during the year and at least one extra day off in this, the busiest month of all, to do their own Christmas shopping. Every club, school, and charity in town wants contributions to their Christmas fundraising activity despite the fact that few of them support the pharmacy. I am confronted by any number of sweepers, cleaners, and delivery men asking for a “Xmas box”. At Yuletide, most medical aids announce that they will be paying less for medicines in the New Year despite increases in member contributions. The government controlled price of medicines increases minimally while all other operating costs of salaries, rents, rates and electricity escalate by double digit percentage figures. The Bank’s goodwill does not extend to increasing my overdraft while I am expected to constantly extend more credit, pay higher wages and charge less for my services? Ah well! At least I can look forward to our loyal client, “Antie” van der Merwe bringing us her customary Christmas gift of a “melktert”!

Dear Lord, after weeks of witnessing such “joy”, experiencing such”peace” and dispensing so much “goodwill”, could you, please, allow me, your humble apothecary, the joy of unwrapping a gift with my grandchildren under the Christmas tree, sharing the goodwill of my family over a meal on Christmas eve and the quite peace of singing “Silent night, Holy night..” with my fellow parishioners?

Ek vra maar net?

Gary S Black.(Dip.Pharm)FPS

December 2011