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To the Pharmacist Who Doesn't Have the Empathy of the Starbucks Employee Next Door

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Dear Pharmacist,

This letter will be worth it if it keeps one other pharmacist from slipping into the state you’re in: Disconnected from the people you can help.

Across the counter you see “healthy” people getting medicine. Maybe you think a timing hiccup won’t make things take a turn for the worse. It can.

I’ve worked on getting medicine for 11 days, because my autoimmune symptoms come back if I don’t. I gave the doctor’s office the information, received an alert to pick it up, and you had another medicine ready when I came in. Your staff said they couldn’t get through to the doctor, so, “Could I work on it?”

Today I get an another alert and return to the pharmacy. Again: it’s another medicine.

You call my doctor’s office, but “they can’t call in medicine after-hours.”

I know it can be done. So I dial up the on-call doctor, who apologizes on behalf of his office. No matter whose fault, the doctor gives authorization despite the “after-hours” rule.

Now you can give me medicine!

But… you don’t have it. You can’t get it until after the weekend. And here’s the fault: You’ve known I’ve been trying to get this nearly two weeks, and never got it in stock.

Your team suggests you try other pharmacies. I say I’m going to Starbucks. I can’t play middleman anymore.

So I walk next door and order a tall iced green tea. I’m on the brink of frustrated tears. The barista asks me how I am, and means it. I say something like, “I’m fine, CVS just can’t get me the medicine I need.”

She reemerges with an ice-cold Venti as I get my money out. But, she’s not going to concern herself with my money. She’s concerned a stranger is distressed. I thank her profusely for the drink and empathy. I am still so choked up and concerned with getting back to CVS, I don’t even think to get her name. She tells me to take care of myself — the best advice of the night.

Pharmacist, this letter should be boring and annoying, because playing middleman with you is boring and annoying. It’s how I spend my lunch breaks. It adds to why I don’t have the stamina for things like getting the license plate number of the woman who dented my car doors in that CVS parking lot I’m at all the time.

I don’t know what it’d take for you to recognize your job’s importance. Come with me to my infusion, or step into the colonoscopy room to see the inflammation the medicine could be helping alleviate? Or witness the power of medicine as people receive it in the hospital?

The only reason you’re a person in a coat who can’t help me is because you’ve let yourself become that person.

You end our encounter telling me pharmacies can’t get it until Monday. I ask, “There isn’t one pharmacy in LA that has this medicine?” You say, “It’s special order.”

Maybe you’ve messed up before when people needed medicine more than me. Let’s create solutions. I propose an idea for CVS Pharmacy. When your team makes a mistake, you’d have a fund to remedy it. So in this case…

Your employees (or a freelancer) calls all the pharmacies capable of transferring the order, and finds out if they have it. They then coordinate with a service like Postmates to deliver.

This “Remedy Fund” would make your job easier, too. I bet you face animosity at times. (I can remember at my New York City pharmacy, people used to shout threats to the pharmacy staff in frustration.) That’s where the Fund comes in. Maybe there’s a mediator who can take the customer aside to explain the nuances of things like insurance.

I’ll now say hi to you, dear reader (pharmacist or customer) — if CVS allotted a fund that could help alleviate the fallout of medicine miscommunication, would you use CVS? If so, please express it in the comments. I’ll add it to my very informal case that a Remedy Fund should become a thing.

I end tonight thanking the employees who respect their job — and the people they help in their job — enough to do their job.

And the Starbucks employee? Her job is important. Tonight, she reminded me there are people who not only do their job, but also see the people they help while doing it.

Since writing this I’ve been on the mend, and noticed that CVS is doing a lot of surveys to improve their service. Still, I think a “Remedy Fund” is in order. I realize how important every single person is in helping keep things from getting to an emergency health situation.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Originally published: March 14, 2015
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