Why do I always get the cute pharmacist girl filling my prescription? It’s impossible to try and be charming when she knows what’s wrong with you, especially when you’re freshly lanced and although the nurse said antibiotic you’re still not one hundred percent convinced that you didn’t just order herpes medication. Not that I’ve ever been handed a bag of pills from a woman wearing latex gloves and a SARS mask, but they never really want to establish eye contact.

If you’re going to suffer such humiliation as having your personal business scrutinized and expedited by a young woman you should at least be comfortable knowing that, while they’ll never give you the time of day, you can rest assured they’ll give you the right pills. The pharmacy tech hands me the bag, asks if I’ve ever taken these before. No, I lie, and he yells “CONSULT” to the cute girl two feet away. She garbs the pills from me, glances at the bag, and tells me to take one before going to sleep every night. I’m a little confused– how long do these last? Oh, there shouldn’t be much of a hangover, they should only last four to six hours. She walks off, done with the day by all appearances, and I’m looking at the various warning labels and instructions. But I’m not having trouble sleeping.

So she’s wrong, but hopefully the pills are right. I guess I’ll find out, like I did when I mistakenly took an antacid instead of medicine. Walgreens was just the tail end of a long and sordid affair which left me wondering whether I was coming or going, just like every time I feel the need to bother my doctor. Perhaps if I had been less vague with his receptionist when squeezing an appointment in I could have saved myself forty bucks and a lot of trouble, but I was at work with someone just around the corner when I called. Besides, I just wanted a referral without any sort of poking or prodding that might be required if I started rattling off symptoms. She told me I could come in at 2:30, “…and you’re going to wait”. Fair enough.

Past experience dictates that even when I have an appointment I will have to wait at least an hour. While I fester in the waiting room with no windows, no water, the worst collection of magazines and a bathroom only accessible by a key which you get from the reception desk a long line of people walk in after me and are immediately seen in between the long line of people waiting before me. I always tempered my irritation about this by assuming that, as no one walking in and being seen before me spoke English, they must be here illegally and my doctor is doing the noble thing by seeing them secretly. Then there are the bubbly and blonde pharmaceutical girls with their suitcases on wheels who always bump me, usually right before I’m actually going to be seen. I’ve sat waiting in an examination room listening to plastic laughter and a sugary recitation of various drugs happening outside.

Flickr user gnosis/john r

But I didn’t want to risk being late and this was fortunate as no one was waiting when I arrived and the only person who walked in after me was asking for them to call a cab. The receptionist had me sign the sheet at the desk, which had challenged everyone before me by not having any lines or guidance whatsoever. Feeling ever the free spirit I added the time of my arrival, just to see what would happen. I passed my insurance card across the desk, a flimsy piece of cardstock Blue Shield thoughtfully sends me every time they up my co-pay. She asked me for half the amount and I corrected them, indicating that the card with the proper amount printed on it was, in fact, new; this caused quite a stir which required photocopying and intense discussion between the two women behind the counter. The last time I had been in they charged me the wrong amount and I didn’t realize this until I got a bill in the mail. Trying to figure out what went wrong involved my calling their billing department, never having anyone pick up, and never having anyone call me back. When my file had been updated and the card handed back I was asked for the new and improved co-pay amount which I tried to pay with a debit card. This also caused quite a stir as the woman who had just walked away from the front desk was the authority on running the credit card machine and I would just have to wait. I decided to trust everyone and waited in a seat.

The payment was successfully made and I was quickly led into a backroom without being bumped by a day-laborer or bouncy sales rep. Slowly the rheumatic shuffling of my doctor approached, slow but determined, and he painfully eased himself into a chair. We said hello and he asked me to explain what was going on. While I was explaining one of the women from the front counter called for him and he attempted to open the door with his cane. After several tries and repeated failure I carefully eased around him and opened the door, beckoning the woman over. After office business was complete I continued explaining that I wanted a referral and he interrupted me.

He couldn’t give me such a referral because Blue Shield had changed the way certain kinds of referrals were done. I would have to call the 800 number on my membership card (new and higher co-pay) and speak to a specialist who would ascertain my specific needs and find the appropriate person to address them. This system seemed to agitate him, particularly as the insurance company hadn’t bothered to send any information about it, but his hands were tied. So do you want me to write you a prescription? I gave him a thoughtful suggestion and he slowly filled out the paperwork. While doing so he asked his patented series of questions– how old was I, what kind of work did I do, am I married– the purpose of my visit and even his current occupation as dispensary didn’t seem to interest him much. And I guess this is why I don’t really mind the suitcase on wheels sales brigade with their makeup and smiles and excited, I’m wigged out on diet pills, conversational style. As he handed me the script he said, “don’t abuse it” which never crossed his mind when he gave me thirty valium for one week’s worth of flying.

As exciting as some people find easy access to drugs I was still a little disgruntled about having come all the way cross town only to find I needed to deal with this on my own. Sufficiently distracted I caught the bus and quickly realized I should have used the bathroom before leaving the doctor’s office, and so I was off again five minutes later buying a plain bagel from Tully’s. They very sweetly suggested I walk down the street to the pet hospital and use their bathroom. I walked the block and waited in line behind concerned pet owners trying my best not to look like a junkie or compulsive masturbator, bagel in my pocket and ready for action if needed. They let me use the bathroom and were very nice about it.

After being told the wrong information about my prescription I called the 800 number on the back of my insurance card. The woman who answered very politely informed me that I had called the wrong 800 number, gave me the correct 800 number, and then connected me directly. This new disassociated voice told me that I wasn’t going to get any sort of referral from her or anyone else but that I was going to load their website and pick my own. She thoughtfully guided me through the steps of finding the listings of people to browse and then set me free, staring at a rudimentary search engine and a helpful list of familiar looking 800 numbers I could call for help.

I tried to arrange the search parameters to find a specialist near my job which I felt would be convenient, but the pickings were slim. As I didn’t really know what I was doing or who I was calling I figured it didn’t really matter and tried a number at random. No one answered. I tried another number and was greeted with another answering machine. I checked the clock on my computer and saw that it was after five. No one would be answering calls now and it was Friday evening.

Picture of someone’s blood pressure being taken is stolen from the city of Berkeley’s fire department homepage. Picture of the smiling Asian pharmacist is stolen from yourpharmacist.ca and two things are worth noting: they call the picture “smiling asian pharmacist”; the woman I recently had fill my prescription isn’t a cute Asian girl but the one who gave me the antibiotic/herpes medication was.