The thing about working in a drug dispensary day in, day out, is that you get to know the small ensemble of staff pretty well. And another thing is, because you’re dealing with medication that can harm people, there is a fairly high level of stress. One mistake can cause a lot of damage. But I think it’s quite difficult for any group of humans, working in a small space, perhaps getting on each other’s nerves, not to make any mistakes.
When I joined the pharmacy that first day, the staff told me that the other regular pharmacist was called Linnet and that I would meet him later on that day, when I finished the morning shift and he would take over for the evening.
I thought I misheard- Linnet surely was the name of a woman, not a man.
However, it seems I had not misheard. At 3pm, a tall, thin man sprung energetically into the pharmacy, seeming to appear out of nowhere. The way he moved reminded me of a tall, spindly bird- a heron, perhaps- gingerly stepping through the water as though afraid to get wet. He advanced towards me, his long legs moving quickly.
“Hello, hello Penelope- so lovely to meet you. Such good things I hear about you. We are privileged indeed.”
Linnet had a very gallant and old-fashioned way of talking. He had an open, honest countenance. I thought him rather charming. He was polite, friendly, and as he took over and I left the pharmacy, I was pleased that my main counterpart was a nice person. I had been working in pharmacy for many years and knew how things could be if staff didn’t get along.I felt happy with my new job.
“So what did you think of Linnet?” Melinda, the technician who had been there for thirty years, asked me bluntly the next morning.
I saw her cast a quick look at Lisa and they both grinned.
“He seems nice, “ I replied, cautiously. What were they grinning at?
Melinda, a small blonde lady in her late fifties, sidled closer.
“He’s a bit of an oddball. Just watch yourself.”
I felt slightly alarmed. But I decided I wasn’t going to enter into dispensary politics quite yet. I busied myself and ignored the remark.
“Don’t you ask yourself,” she continued, “why Linnet didn’t get the full-time pharmacist position and you did?” She looked at me questioningly.
“Is he not full-time?” I was still getting to grips with the new job and hadn’t really thought about anyone else’s schedule.
“No. He’s part-time, thank god.” She almost spat the words out. I felt a frisson of misgiving. Was this job not what I thought it was going to be?
“Well...I guess I’ll find out for myself.” I spoke firmly. Melinda gave me a knowing smile and glanced again quickly at Lisa.
Lisa was a friendly girl- she’d been employed here for a few months. She had told me the day before that she had two young children and worked part-time. I didn’t think she was the kind of girl to make trouble. Melinda- I was not so sure. I decided to ignore what I considered to be petty pharmacy politics and we resumed work.
However, I saw what they meant only two weeks later.
I came in on a Monday afternoon to find a note, sealed and taped to the pharmacist’s counter with my name on it. I opened it at once. Inside, in tidy print, was written:
“ I have taken care of your error with the Sativex. No need to say anything. Destroy this note after reading. Linnet”
I was confused. My error with the Sativex? I had dispensed Sativex the previous Friday. It was an unusual drug- basically cannabis in a spray form. So I remembered checking it. What was my error? And why had he “taken care of it?”
I stood, frowning, re-reading the note as though it would yield more clues. Error was the dreaded word of every pharmacist. I felt a knot of anxiety form in my abdomen and tighten, slowly and surely.
Lisa was working with me that day. She was a sensitive sort of person, and realized something was wrong, I suppose, because I had been standing motionlessly for a few minutes, staring at the note.
“Are you alright, Penelope?” she asked, with some concern.
I didn’t know her very well but, instinctively, I liked Lisa. So I showed her the note. To my surprise, she started to laugh. She had an infectious laugh, and it made me smile. The knot loosened a bit.
“That guy...that guy!” she gasped for breath.
“What do you mean?” I was at a loss. “Please explain, Lisa. What’s going on?”
Lisa pulled herself together.
“Ok, sorry. It’s probably not that funny to you, because yes, there was an error. I was working on Saturday with Linnet. A customer, Mrs B, came to the counter and gave her name, saying she was picking up her Sativex. Now Linnet knew it was supposed to be in the fridge. And you know for fridge items, we file the bag only in the pick-up drawer with the fridge label on it but keep the product in the fridge, right? But when he went through the drawers to get the bag, he found the actual drug in the bag with no fridge label, hence it was never put in the fridge.”
“Gosh- was that me?” I interrupted her.
“Yes,” she gave me a rueful grin. “Linnet checked afterwards to see who had dispensed it and it was you.”
I felt my spirits sink. Sativex was expensive. Left in the drawer at room temperature, it would have to be thrown away. Not a huge error but one that costs money. Naturally I was trying, in my first few weeks, to make a good impression.
“But that is not actually what’s wrong with the whole scenario,” she continued, leaning closer to me, conspiratorially.
“Instead of saying, as most people would, to Mrs B: ‘Apologies etc we accidentally left the Sativex in the drawer not in the fridge...let me get you another one…’ instead, Linnet slips the drug out of the drawer and into the pocket of his white coat and pretends to keep looking for it. Loudly, he asks me to look in the fridge. I do so, not knowing he has already found it and put it into his pocket. We go through a pantomime of looking for the Sativex and then he turns to Mrs B and says, you know, in his charming way: ‘Terribly sorry Mrs B -we can’t find it anywhere. I’ll get you another one.’ And he proceeds to the stock fridge and finds we don’t have another one, so he orders one for Monday.”
She looks at me for my reaction. I can see she’s trying not to laugh.
“So what did Mrs B do? Did she see him slip it into his pocket?”
“Linnet swears she didn’t. But she was strangely quiet throughout the whole charade. She just said that she would be back on Monday. Today, in fact. She actually came in this morning to speak to Rita.” Rita is the pharmacy owner and our boss.
“Mrs B tells Rita that she saw Linnet take the Sativex out of the drawer, put it into his pocket, and pretend he had no idea where it was. She said she understands that sometimes drugs get put away in the wrong place- that it has happened before with the Sativex because no one seems to remember it is a refrigerated item. She didn’t mind that. What disturbed her was Linnet’s weird pantomime and the fact he dragged me into it as well so we were both searching for something that both he and she knew was in his pocket. She thinks he’s a crackpot and thinks Rita should fire him. She doesn’t think he should be supervising people’s medication.”
We both looked at each other and started to giggle. I could see why Melinda had called him an oddball.
“So what did Rita do?” I was curious. “Did she fire him?’
“She never does.” Lisa shook her head. “He totally admitted to everything and said he was just trying to spare you from getting into trouble. She gave him a warning, I think.”
What kind of warning, I wondered. Don’t enact pantomimes in the pharmacy? I couldn’t help finding this quite funny, though. I wondered what else he had done in the past.
However, I knew that this job was hopefully one I was going to keep- it was definitely going to be interesting.