Demon Pharma

I just got home from my third visit to the pharmacy to get our apparently rare and unheard-of prescription filled.  In case you missed it, we spent Christmas vacation throwing up, thrashing around with fevers, and feeling like we had each swallowed a bundle of toothpick shards wrapped in Velcro and dipped in Tobasco sauce.  Strep throat, all ten of us — and guess what the doctor gave us?  It’s something brand new, called “pen-i-cil-lin.”

Utterly taken aback by this newfangled innovation, the pharmacists requested that I wait five minutes while they get the drugs together.  You know and I know that “five minutes” in pharmacy time is at least half an hour; so I browsed around in the produce aisle for a while, because there is nothing more entertaining than a lot of bags of citrus.  After half an hour, I was told to come back in an hour.

I came back in two hours, and was told that they had most of it — – they just needed to mix it up . . .if I could come back in twenty minutes —

The kids were all waiting in the car all this time, enjoying their Christmas vacation and trying to attract the attention of whatever wandering Child Protective Services agents might be passing by.  So I went home with nine-and-a-half prescriptions.  The next day I went back.  Same routine.  Five minutes, then twenty, then “please come back after noon.”

So the next day — okay, it was actually the next next day, because I forgot — I finally got the second half of my last prescription.  But all this time, I can’t help wondering —

What what what is the deal with pharmacists?  Why are they all so crazy?  Is it the combination of working with the public, plus the emotional stress of dealing with death and disease, plus having to wear those dopey white coats that even doctors don’t have to wear anymore?  Is it the combination of supermarket music and the hissing of the free blood pressure machine?  Or are they all just natural born jerks?

My most recent encounter was with the Head Pharmacy Weirdo, a tall, sleek, squeaky clean man with shiny shoes and an laser-guided part in his chestnut hair. He has this “Voice-Over Man Barely Suppressing Maniacal Rage” routine.  I guess he thinks it sounds polite?  I know it’s not his normal voice, because I once heard him having a personal conversation on the phone, and he was just plain screaming, then.  And swearing a lot.  And then he swiveled back around to the counter and said, in polished tones of urbane repressed fury, “And what can I get for YOU?”

Oh-hhh, just some medicine for my kids, sir, if, if it’s not too much trouble.  I can leave if you want.  Just please don’t hit my bad ear again!

The second pharmacist is a woman who – – I don’t know what it is.  She’s nice enough, and will give me my prescription if I come back three times and prove I really want it.  But there is something about her which suggests that there might just be some reptilian life form coiled up inside her skull, hissing directly into the auditory center of her brain, “Yessss . . . tell her it will only be twenty minutesssssss . . . tell her you just have to mixxxxxxxxxxxxxx it . . . yes, yesss, make her read The Pill Book ssssssome more . . . ”  And those big, friendly eyes just stare and stare at you as you struggle to sign your name with a fake pen on the electronic screen.

Nice lady otherwise, though.

The third pharmacist is actually a rotating position.  It is generally filled by a wholesome-looking man in his early twenties, usually the tender, baby-faced type.  He works hard, shows concern, and appears to know his alphabet.   Kind of jittery, though.  Has a tendency to jump nervously when one of the other pharmacists calls his name; and he doesn’t appear comfortable turning his back to his co-workers.  Just too polite, I guess.   Tender Young Pharmacist #3 generally lasts a month or two, and then he disappears.

And then I notice there is a sale on that body building protein powder.  Special formula!  Private label.

Maybe it’s time to switch pharmacies.


  1. Ugh. You poor thing. Yes – change pharmacies and make sure you tell the one you’re leaving why!
    I use the pharmacy at hannaford, and they’re really great. (Obviously you live nowhere near me, but just know there are better ones out there!) We were waiting a long time for a prescription once, and the manager went into his office and brought out little toys for the kids. Oh, wait – I guess that’s the manager, not the pharmacist. Yeah – they’re all evil.

  2. OMG that is too funny. I will never view the pharmacist the same way again. Had a similar experience at CVS and Walgreens, but not at Target… I wonder why that is?

  3. We used to go to a big chain pharmacy and then decided to ditch them for the small, neighborhood one (that also services the retirement/assisted living place behind it). We went from a place that never knew who we were and couldn’t fill things quickly to a place that, when I call, they recognize my voice. When I’d been in the hospital a few years ago, they asked me the next month when I went for refills on our regular prescriptions how I was feeling.

    Old place: Oh, we can’t give you a refill for another week. Vacation then? Just get to one of our branches. Oh, South Dakota? Hm. That’s a toughie.

    New place: Oh, vacation? Hm, we’ll refill it now and just charge insurance next week. Lemme write it on my calendar.

    New place also does home deliveries at no extra charge, so if I was too sick to get out, they’d come to me. And I could even ask them for an account! Awesomeness!

    ‘Course, I live in a pretty small town, too. But it’s awesomeness!

    • I used to work at a pharmacy like yours – we bent over backward to take care of our customers. It has been weird coming to live in a big city and not having that kind of down home care.

  4. No kidding, we have about 7 pharmacies within 5 minutes of our house. However, I drive 10 minutes to a CVS with a drive up window. Sure, they’re still slow and annoying, but I least I haven’t left the comfort of my vehicle.

  5. We belong to a neighborhood pharmacy, too, that also offers home delivery. I used home delivery once, but the guy smelled strongly of alcohol, so I avoid it now. Other than that, I love the pharmacy. And they regard my four boys, pretend not to notice the haunted look in my eyes & meaningfully press my prescription into my shaking hand. : ) I think it’s bizarre that my pharmacy doesn’t sell water or beverages of any kind.

  6. I use the Target pharmacy nearby. They. Are. Amazing! OK, well I only used it for pet medications, before my boxer died of a heart attack. But they were kind, fast, interrupted their lunch breaks for me, and pretended they didn’t notice my using my flexible spending account for a dog. I wrote them a letter of appreciation once. I would give them my kidney or even my firstborn.

    I also appreciate that the local CVS pharmacist pretended he didn’t see me buying, like, 3 different varieties of hemorrhoid cream every week for my entire pregnancy.

    But my husband thinks that most other pharmacists are cranky becuase they had to go through 6 years of schooling to learn to count to 30.

  7. My MIL is a pharmacy technician. Oh…the stories she could tell. I have two college friends who are pharmacists; one swears that hospital pharmacist are different (extreme Democrats rather than extreme Republicans). I think they’re all pretty much crazy, though.

  8. Another vote for the local Target pharmacy! I was using a different big box store that shall not be named ’cause I don’t want to get sued, and they were…horrible. Would only refill my Rx at the last possible moment, made me have the doctor’s office call to transfer the Rx from one chain location to the other, etc.

    My local Target has terrific pharmacy employees, reasonable wait times, fills my Rx ahead of time and uses an automated call system to let me know I can pick it up whenever…(cause of course I’ll be at the store anyway for something, etc.). I fought for years against taking a prescription med anyway, and having these guys make it so easy and convenient and pleasant has been a huge help in more ways than I can count.

    Oh, and when I had a cold and wanted to take an OTC med but wasn’t sure about conflict with the prescription, I was able to ask a pharmacist and she directed me to a medicine known to be okay for people with HBP. Cheerful, nice, helpful…I did say helpful, right?

    I would hate having to get medicine anywhere else. 🙂

  9. I was a pharm tech at one point. Most of the pharmacists I worked with in retail were amazing people.

    I wish I could say the same about hospital pharmacists.

    I vote for the smaller pharmacy! The pharmacy I have to deal with much more than I’d like knows my name, my conditions etc. and are usually very good.

  10. My Target pharmacists know me and each of my kids/husband by name… It’s never a hassle. And they check up on us and everything. I love them! It’s out of our way but we seriously don’t trust any other pharmacy around us and drive the extra bit to go to them. You should get Target to pay you something Simmy, for all the praise they are getting here…

  11. It’s poison, I tell ya!

    yeah, the teenagers behind the counter at my small local pharmacy are sullen and surly and snapish but they’re still better than CVS. Target is marginally better.

  12. Wow! The longest we’ve ever had to wait was 20 minutes, so I would definitely recommend taking your business somewhere else!

  13. I have always wondered how it could possibly take so long to fill a prescription. This is true of every pharmacy I’ve ever been to: I’ll drop off the prescription, and even if I’m the only person in the place, and they have like five people working there, they’ll tell me it’ll be 30 minutes, which means 40. What do they do for the other 39 minutes after they fill my prescription??

    Also, I had my own epic pharmacy encounter yesterday: Blog readers had reminded me that there is now generic Lovenox, the more-expensive-than-gold shots I have to give myself during pregnancy. I was all excited, thinking that I wouldn’t have to empty our savings account to get it. Went to check out at the pharmacy, and it’s still $1,075 for a *one month* supply. But they gave me a free canvas bag, which I thought was a classy touch.

    • Jen- how awful- I took Lovenox for my past 2 pregnancies- but I didn’t see all that $$ because we had a PPO- we switched to the HMO (because the premiums for the PPO doubled to 12 thou) Probably we will be in your situation if I ever get preg again

      praying for you!

    • In my experience, they are taking 39 minutes to contact your insurance provider and make sure you still have coverage, this drug is in fact covered by it, and what the current negotiated rate your insurance has agreed to pay for it is. Also, do you have a deductible, have you met it, and how much is it. This is most of the time computerized but the fact that they can do all that in often under 20 minutes amazes me. It takes me 15 just to get a human being on the phone and my prescription insurance coverage is … bizarre. YMMV.

    • actually, Jen, in your case, it was probably 30 minutes to determine coverage and 9 to argue over which staff member was going to break the news of the cost to you and how.


  14. I remember going with my mother to the pharmacy.
    She’d put her hand on the forehead of whichever one of us was the youngest and say “Oh dear, he’s been sick and I can’t leave him in the car. I hope I can get him home before he throws up again.”

    Needless to say, her purchase was always expedited.

  15. Having two children who require daily insulin I deal with pharmacies a lot. Generally speaking I hate them. The chains that is. I have switched to a local place that delivers to my door for FREE –they don’t even want to be tipped. I am LOVING it. What they don’t offer is automatic refill which would be REALLY handy for me but I can live without it because when we are down to our last syringe we can call them and they will deliver a new prescription the same day! I had to go to a chain yesterday for a refill on an old script for my daughter’s inhaler. It was a nightmare much like what you describe above. I would be happy to never set foot in the place again!

  16. The Mexican model which lets you and your doctor, or you and your common sense, decide to go straight to the humble, underpaid pharmacist w/o a prescription is so much more sensible!

  17. Reading through the comments has sinificantly brightened my evening. 🙂

    Kids have been sick with fevers and headaches and sore throats for a week. 1 is throwing up.

    I dread the pharmacy.

  18. I guess I’m the fortunate one – I’ve had a pretty good experience with my local Big Chain (the pharmacy inside the Winn-Dixie). I even had one pharmacist make about a dozen phone calls to my Dr. and insurance on my behalf to try to get a prescription covered, and then when I came in she *apologized* to me for not being able to get the lower price until the next month. Plus, I’m in love with the online services.

    My husband, on the other hand, has his prescriptions at Walgreens and has not had such a great experience.

  19. Hahaha!! My pharmacists at my grocery store are wonderful!!! unfortunatly they know us very well as my husband is ill and my daughter is a type 1 diabetic 😦

  20. I never knew there was any other kind of pharmacy than the one you are describing. THought it was just a fact of life, like the surliness of the DMV employees and the lack of eye contact from postal workers.

  21. We stopped using a chain pharmacy after learning (through a bulletin announcement about a Knights of Columbus survey) about an independent pharmacist in town that does NOT fill prescriptions for contraceptives. We tranferred our prescriptions and let them know why. (Figured they probably get enough flak, so we wanted to let them know there are supporters out here, too.)

  22. I live in the land of pharmaceutical sales reps and every doctor that I deal with has loads of free samples on hand. Just ask! For some reason or another our insurance doesn’t cover “independent” pharmacies so we use CVS. I just sit there and read magazines while I wait for my scrip.

    I think insurance screws up pharmacists. I remember once I needed an antibiotic and my copay was $10 and it only cost something like 3.98 and I had to pay the $10 at CVS. I’m sure at an independent pharm they could have charged me face value for the drugs. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    • If you went to the independent gave them your insurance info, they would charge you the $10. If you acted like you had no insurance, at the independent or the chain, it would cost you the $3.98. I have gone to both types of pharmacies and bought prescriptions, and had to pay (in my case) $50 because that was the base charge, even though the med cost $14. Seriously, my husband’s company sent out a letter this year suggesting we find out the cost of our prescriptions and just not tell the pharmacy we have insurance if it will be cheaper that way. So I have a different nominee for evil.

    • Yes, we have a choice between several large chains, and a small pharmacy that doesn’t take our kids’ insurance. We go to the chain one because it’s right in the supermarket I shop at, and offers lots of common prescriptions for cheap (90 thyroid pills for $10 for me) — my husband and I don’t have insurance. The service isn’t, to be honest, usually this bad!

  23. What I hate is that there is no 24/7 pharmacy in our town. The nearest is 20-30 minutes away. It really, really sucked the night we left the ER at 3:30am after my husband’s bout with a kidney stone, and eight-months-pregnant-and-exhausted me still had to drive all the way to another suburb to fill his prescriptions.

  24. While I don’t excuse some actions of some techs and pharmacists (having worked in a pharmacy for a time), maybe I can answer questions on the “pharmacy problem”.

    Why does it take so long to fill a prescription?: Only the pharmacist can complete a script. So even if there’s five people working behind the counter, if only one is a pharmacist, every single script has to go through him before moving on. This may not sound that hard, but the pharmacist has to check everything about each medication and script (double check on any narcotics) before approving, and that’s a lot to do when dealing with hundreds scripts/day, most of which arrive around 4:45-5:30pm, right about the time every person arrives to pick up said scripts.

    What is up with pharmacists?: Idk. I was a pharm tech, and worked with some stellar ones, and some creeps. I imagine sitting all day in an enclosed area with lots of boring drugs with long names and many rude customers who think they understand pharmacological laws and regulations better than them (and let’s not forget all the spectacular calls to any insurance company!) will take its toll on a few of them.

    After working in one, I’m far more sympathetic to pharmacies. I can NOT tell you how many times in ONE shift I’d have to explain to a customer that we can’t fill her prescription because her jerk doctor never called it in. We can’t magically fill a prescription we never got. And no, we can’t call your doctor for you. That is YOUR job. You take care of your self; we have hundreds of other people to take care of. Now please, move out of line so I can take care of the 25 people behind you.

    Oh, and anything to do with insurance. “It’s $15.” “What!? I’ve always paid $10.” “Well, I’m sorry, your insurance charged you $15. The cost must’ve gone up.” “Well, I’m not paying $15 for it.” “That’s fine, but you’re not getting your medication.”

    Also, I know it’s surprising to some, but if you change insurances, our system doesn’t magically update: you have to give us your information before we fill your script. And when your [former] insurance doesn’t cover your current script, and you’re charged $100 at checkout, the best thing ever is to pull out your new insurance card, wave it in my face nonchalantly, and say “oh yeah, I have new insurance. sorry.” That’s fine, it’s going to be another 30 minutes, even though you just waited 30 minutes. Because now we have to start over from the beginning, reenter all your d*** information, etc., and what’s more, you’re now back at the bottom of the list of people waiting in line.

    In my experience, 8 times out of 10, it was an insurance issue. And big surprise, I, the podunk little pharm tech, got to take spit in the face about how it’s all my fault and how if I just tried harder, the cost would somehow go down.

    Also, please don’t get mad when a pharmacy runs out of a particular drug. It’s cold and flu season – one day they may have no orders for penicilin, and the next day they’ll get 20. And they only have so much in stock (they’re only allowed to have so much in stock). And when they run out, at least at the pharm I worked, we called every other pharmacy around trying to find more of it – which sounds like Simcha’s pharmacy did NOT do.

    I just want to remind everyone that, well, pharmacy techs are people too. We’re not deliberately trying to screw you.

  25. I am currently a pharmacy tech at a Cvs. Some pharmacists are slow, lazy, rude and don’t care, same for some techs. Luckily I usually work with great ones of both kinds. The pharmacists will recognize when someone walks in the door and will scramble to make sure their orders are ready for them by the time they get to the counter! Our lead tech just the other day was trying hard as she could to try and find a discount from the manufacturer of an insanely expensive cancer med (the CO-PAY was 2,440.00!!!!). We RARELY take longer than 20 mins to get a Rx ready, unless the customer is getting like 8 of them. I will say that in making the choice of pharmacy, find pharmacists and techs that are good. The name on the outside doesn’t matter as much as the people. I would like to make the following comments from my experiences working at a pharmacy: 1- in agreement with a previous commenter, it is the fault of the insurance 90% of the time (and you should ALWAYS appreciate when we have to call! ). 2 – of the other 10% of the time, about 6-7% is the doctors fault (we can’t assume if the doctor forgets to put the strength, quantity, dosage, etc., or if it isn’t what you asked for, or he didn’t specify that it must be name brand, etc.,etc .,etc). 3 – when it is our fault we aren’t doing it maliciously to piss you off, we’re human too after all! 4- don’t cough on us please. 4- I have absolutely no control over the price , 5- I have no idea WHY your insurance does not pay for certain medications and 6- if you’re not picking up a Rx, go to the normal register up front! When we’re not preparing YOUR Rx we aren’t napping or bored looking for something to do! ). -and also one question: when you drop off 9 Rx’s why do people get surprised that it will take more than 5 minutes???

  26. This reminded me of something memorable my husband gave me one Christmas. I was in the pharmacy (five days before Christmas) waiting for our prescriptions (antibiotics for ear infections) when daughter number three (who was five and is a pleaser) started saying “Mommy, do you like this?” “What about this, isn’t it beautiful?” We waited what seemed an interminable amount of time and I had one child in my arms and the other four in tow, and she kept on like this and she had a sweet smile on her face, which meant I just kept agreeing with her (and thinking how sweet that she was not even asking for candy–she wasn’t one of the sick ones). On Christmas morning she sidled over to me as I got ready to open the present from my husband, and she said, “I helped him pick this present, Mommy, I know what you like…” And I opened up a two-feet tall painted wooden nutcracker–one of the ones with a scary expression (and I’m allergic to nuts). I did not remember saying I loved that particular item (I wasn’t always sure what she was pointing to in that drugstore after being up half the night with the earached tot) but I remembered where I saw it. I thanked her but afterwards gave my husband a hard time (he should have known better!) Suffice to say, he will not be giving me anymore scary doorstops, no matter who puts a bug in his ear.

  27. No need to switch pharmacies…all commercial pharmacies are the same…at least in my neck of the woods. I don’t think its the pharmacists themselves so much, I think its the pressure that the chain stores put on them to show a profit. They are always (without exception) staffed short & not allowed to order a lot of stock ahead etc. That said, I have met every single one of the pharmacists you describe in my pharmacy!

    PS…When you drop off 9 Rx why would a patient be told they’d be ready in 5 minutes?

    PPS…My mom was hospitalized with a raging GI bleed a couple of years ago. Come to find out, her pharmacy had given her 5 mg Coumadin instead of 2 mg. Moral of the story: Trust but Verify!

  28. thereserita,

    If a customer dropped off 9 rxs, I would never have told them five minutes. Never. I never told them five minutes when they dropped off just one. But some customers really do seem to think it takes five minutes to fill their scripts. Certainly the number of those customers is small, but large enough that every pharmacy deals with the problem.

    I think some people stop realizing (or don’t realize) that what they are taking is medication, regulated and potentially hazardous (even to their own health). Pharmacies don’t just look at a script, grab an orange bottle, slap a sticker on it, and fill it with the first thing they grab off the shelf. There’s a very strict order to what needs to be done, including that the pharmacist must check every single medication. For any narcotic, he is *supposed to count what the tech already counted twice. That’s three counts for every narcotic, and one or two for every other medication. Considering some medications come in counts of 80 or 100+ pills (and have you seen how small some pills are? try counting 160 grains of rice), it can get troublesome.

    Definitely trust by verify! My husband’s grandmother’s script got messed up too. It’s tragic, and all the more reason that pharmacies should be given more leeway re time. Obviously it wouldn’t solve all pharm problems (or anytime a doc prescribes something the patient is allergic to, or contraindicates another medication the patient is already on), but it would certainly make for fewer “rushed” errors.

    It also varies by state and pharmacy. Do you know what it takes to become a pharmacy tech in the state of NH? $25. No schooling, no understanding of HIPAA, or potentially dangerous substances, etc. All you need is to be is employed at a pharmacy. Some states, however, do regulate their techs. I worked at RiteAid and had a lot of training before I was ever allowed to handle medications, or even be in the pharmacy area of the store, for which I was thankful. But I have no idea if other pharmacies are so strict with their training.

  29. Thanks so much for this post. I would like to replace “pharmacist” or “pharmacist tech” with “medical receptionist”. Is it some sort of law that every receptionist on earth be evil?? I mean, it doesn’t matter whether it’s my GP, the dentist, the hospital, the ER, they are all evil, mean, and condescending.

    My latest thing was with the dentist’s office. I LOVE my dentist and dental hygienist, but I loathe the front desk receptionist. She’s the one that calls me to confirm my appointment like 12 times, and then gets huffy if I don’t answer or call her back immediately to confirm. And then, if I tell her I need to reschedule it’s like a personal affront, like I just sneezed in her coffee or something. I mean seriously, I can take my business elsewhere. I will make an appointment when it’s convenient for _ME_ not you the dental office receptionist. When I tell her, no I don’t want to take my daughter out of school early for an appointment, could I get a later one, she has a fit. When I tell her no, I don’t want an appointment at 5:30 on Valentine’s Day, she has a fit. Seriously, why don’t doctors, dentists, and hospitals hire NICE people to work the front desks???

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