In a few weeks I will be back in the land of China. Though they are famous for making everything there is to make, to be completely honest I don’t trust a lot of these products being safe to use. Especially when it comes to pharmaceutical products. So to get around this problem, I take a whole years supply from New Zealand with me.
Today I went pharmacy hopping to collect said supplies. It’s perfectly legal to collect prescriptions your doctor gives you, but you are only allowed one prescription registered at one pharmacy. Drawing on the precision of Google Maps, I planned a circuitous route around the southern part of my city, and settled on visiting three large pharmacies close by, my theory being they would have my rather uncommon drugs available due to their size, and I wouldn’t have to make multiple trips back to collect leftovers. Alas the first pharmacy I visited said ‘please come back tomorrow’ so that threw that plan out the window.
Entering the second pharmacy of the three, I handed in my form, was told to wait around for about fifteen minutes, and turned to gaze over every colourful label I could set my eyes on. Which in a pharmacy is quite a lot. Getting bored of this time wasting activity, I turned to my next favourite social pastime: people watching.
Near the counter we had one woman and her child, both coughing, being directed to the syrup medicine stack and discussing the benefits of each different coloured bottle. Near the pain relief stack, there was a young guy chatting away on his cellphone about the benefits of quitting alcohol, and making sure he procured the right drugs needed to ease his headache so he could take his son to daycare tomorrow (commendable chap indeed). One benefit of living in China, I’ve discovered, is I can now stand at a distance and still tune into conversations not in any close range to me. I directed my ears to the conversation of another couple that sat down about ten feet away from me whenever cellphone guy became out of reach.
Without warning, a slight hush descended from behind me, along with a very tense atmospheric pressure. Another younger guy walked in. His baggy clothes were not able to fully cover what slight skeletal structure he had, nor did his large red bag give any illusion to chest or back size. He asked for some medicine, the specifics were lacking, except they were a meager $5 expenditure. Every pharmacist not already at the front counter had retreated to the back, and gathered like wildebeest do when approached by a lion. He must be known here, I assumed.
One pharmacist however was manning the desk when he entered, and was subsequently first in line for questioning. She would ask him repeatedly for a script, a form, or any piece of paper that showed he could have legal access to this mystery $5 drug. He presented nothing but a growing agitation. Voices escalated to the point of aggression, and everyone else around had physically been put on pause by these noises. No one made a move, myself included. I stood transfixed by the anger, and my own thoughts of self-preservation (what with my imagination running wild). Then, just as quick as the escalation, so was the retreat of ‘red bag man’. I collected my medicine straight after his departure, and walked with a little more caution in my step back to my car. The last words I can recall are from the pharmacist remarking how ‘he’s been doing this more frequently than the last relapse’.
Sitting in the safe metallic bubble of my car, I became very thankful New Zealand has a no guns policy (a very removed thought from the actual circumstance). At this moment though I realised that if he was having a bad day, and we were a country with a lax law saying his access to guns is an important human right, suddenly everyone in the pharmacy could have been having a bad day. I’m not saying there are no guns in New Zealand, far from such a wild declaration. But the fact that my government makes it considerably hard to procure these makes me feel really good about the ‘condition of humanity’ I grew up in.
Addiction I know is a very debilitating state of functioning, and I really wish I could have helped red bag man. Seeing addiction out in the open though, and in such a normal environment like a pharmacy, is something I’m not accustomed towards, and my responses towards it at the time are probably seen as very unhelpful/negative.
So how would you have reacted? Would you have gone to the aid of the pharmacist? Would you have approached him? Or would you have been like me, and done nothing but write about reflected thoughts?