There are lots of things in this world that are sacred and sacrosanct. What a person tells his priest in the confessional isn’t to be shared with anyone. A lawyer-client relationship can never be violated. And doctor-patient communication should always be completely confidential.
But in the pharmacy people are expected to discuss some of their most personal and private health issues in one of the most public of places.
Hemorrhoids, vaginal discharge, constipation, jock itch, body odor, lice, and incontinence are just a few of the delicate problems people try to solve in the pharmacy. Of all the sensitive topics discussed at the counter within earshot of other shoppers, contraception and sex are among the most embarrassing. We have received dozens of messages from readers of this column about discomfort in the drug store.
One decades-old joke that circulates among pharmacists involves a young man beginning to get serious about the girl he is dating. Back then, condoms were kept behind the counter and the pharmacist had to be asked to dispense them. This fellow stocked up, just in case things would go as smoothly as he might hope on the next date.
He and his girl had dinner with her parents before departing for the evening. He was asked to give the blessing, and he went on and on, with the food getting cold. As they drove away, the girl remarked, “I didn’t know you were so religious.” The young man replied, “I didn’t know your daddy was a pharmacist.”
No doubt this story was funny because it had the ring of truth, or at least of real possibility.
Here are some stories from old timers who remember when condoms could only be purchased from behind the behind the pharmacy counter:
“My ex brother-in-law was good with a sling shot and practiced a lot. A metal sling shot made by Wham-O gave him many hours of practice until the rubber sling finally gave out.
“He returned to the drugstore where he had purchased it but the only person available to help him was the young girl at the pharmacy counter. He informed her he needed a rubber for his Wham-O. She had evidently never heard of a sling shot called Wham-O, as she turned bright red and suddenly turned to some urgent business in the back of the store, leaving him standing there.”
Another senior citizen offered this recollection:
“When I was a sailor boy in 1944 we were taught to be modest and prudent and discreet. So as I entered the little local drugstore to purchase a package of condoms I asked the young lady behind the counter in a quiet voice for a package of prophylactics please.
“She opened a drawer under the counter, removed a package and slipped it in a bag. I paid her and left for my destination. At the proper time I reached in my pea-coat pocket, opened the sack and discovered she had sold me a packet of laxatives. I could have wrung her neck!”
Although it is no longer necessary to ask the pharmacist personally for condoms, there are other things to blush over. One mother confessed that after unsuccessfully searching up and down the aisles for lice shampoo she finally screwed up her courage and quietly asked the clerk behind the counter where the lice products were located. He must have been a new employee, because in a loud voice he asked a pharmacy tech where to find the lice shampoo. The mom was mortified.
Not all pharmacy chains have recognized the need for privacy and set aside space for confidential consultations. Pharmacists are often so busy that they seem remote and hard to reach. That’s why “techs” have become the front line in most pharmacies. Our concern about privacy in the pharmacy really aggravated this person, though:
“I am totally offended by your column about druggists and clerks. As a clerk I work six days a week for minimum wage. We average 300 customers a day and I am exhausted an hour after I start. But anyone can come into the pharmacy and ask me or the pharmacist a question without embarrassment.
“I have helped men with shopping lists buy douches, Maxipads, and lubricants safe for condoms. At least once a week a man needs help finding Gyne-Lotrimin or Monistat 7 for vaginal yeast infections. I’ve helped parents with lice shampoo and pinworm medicine, people who needed hemorrhoid preparations, and both males and females looking to treat crab lice. I have heard enough about bowel movements to make you scream.
“I am totally professional in my job, and my customers usually leave my counter smiling and glad I was able to help.”
We have no doubt that many clerks and technicians are very professional and helpful when dealing with sensitive health concerns. That said, we still do not think people should have to inquire about treatments for pubic lice, vaginal infections or even hemorrhoids in such a public space.
Patients may not need the privacy of a confession booth when talking to a pharmacist, but some confidentiality would be appreciated, especially when discussing personal health matters. Many people are uncomfortable sharing intimate details in a public setting.
If you have a story to tell please share it below in the comment section. We are also interested in hearing from pharmacists or pharmacy technicians. Share your own embarrassing moments in the drug store below in the comment section.