Magazine article Drug Topics

Back to Pharmacy after a Five-Year Hiatus

Magazine article Drug Topics

Back to Pharmacy after a Five-Year Hiatus

Article excerpt


The last time I was behind a pharmacy counter dispensing prescriptions, Paxil, Fosamax, and Z-Pak were the new and exciting drugs on the market. The night before my first day back, I worried, "Will the drugs all be different? Will my five years' absence from behind the counter show?"

I didn't have to worry. The basics from 1996 are the same in 2001. Amoxicillin TID x 10d and Vicodin are still the dentist's choices for preventing infection and dulling pain after a nasty root canal. Premarin tablets are as ever a pleasure to count out, the maroon ovals polished to a high-gloss, slipping and gliding into the amber prescription vials. Tessalon perles, on the other hand, still test my patience, each pesky yellow orb rolling its own way.

I find myself in a Zen automatic pilot, as skills I honed through repetition as an intern take over, like eyeballing 30 tablets and choosing a vial of the correct size from the assorted dram selection. The monster-sized 800-mg ibuprofen tablets always seem to be dispensed in quantities of 90, as I remember a pharmaceutical elegance rule from school: Vials should be at least twothirds full, when possible. Should I dispense all those tablets in two two-thirds-- filled vials or in one megasized vial filled only to a paltry 50%? It's a question I'm embarrassed to admit I pause to consider.

The other classic pharmacist game is deciphering scribbled handwriting. Though more physicians are using computergenerated prescriptions these days than in 1996, the vast majority still hand write their prescriptions, and handwritten prescriptions mean messy handwritten prescriptions. The jumbled mass of loops and squiggles is translated using the context clues available: The dose, the frequency, and even the specialty of the physician are taken into account. Three of us huddle around an offending prescription and swivel our heads at strange angles or trace the loops of the unfamiliar drug name with our fingers in the air. Of course, if all fails, the physician is contacted, but the challenge is in the decoding!

Around lunchtime, I try to ignore my growling stomach and the tender soles of my feet, pushing on until the other pharmacist returns from lunch. By then, generic drug names come bobbing to the surface of my consciousness like the names of not-very-close friends from college-not quite forgotten, but tucked away under years of information more pertinent to my life, like the phone number to the oil change shop, password to my e-mail account, and the phone number of my massage therapist. …

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