I’m afraid to go to the pharmacy. But we knew we had to do it: we had to get medicine for Hilary. She’d tried to get the doctor to mail it to us, but his office called in the prescription instead. I suppose if we’d really been paranoid, we could have asked the pharmacy to post it to us from a few blocks away. But who knows how long that would have taken?
Even in the early days of the epidemic when the emphasis was on panicked hand-sanitizer collection, I never wanted to go to the pharmacy — I felt like it was a great germ-amplification box. We braved it a few days before the curfews were announced, and did our business as quickly as we could. The energy on the floor was crazed, desperate, especially in the paper-products aisle. The line stretched from the registers to the middle of the store. Everybody, from the customers to the cashiers to the security guards, looked ready to snap.
Today’s mood was different. I found it far scarier. Only ten people were allowed in the store at the same time, which meant that the pharmacy had only a fraction of the clientele it usually does. There was an eerie, half-awake feel to the place: you could, theoretically, still buy chocolates and cereal and batteries, but nobody was doing any of the sort. The only line was the one leading to the prescription desk. They’d taped standing stations to the floor, six feet apart, to accommodate customers.
Out on the avenue, nobody had a mask on, not even the grocery shoppers; in the pharmacy, all the visitors did. The pharmacists kept their faces uncovered — perhaps to avoid frightening the customers? I was happy to see that they were wearing gloves. Interns had been thrown to the wolves at the cash registers. All the pharmacists I recognized from those agonizing months of cancer treatment were clustered in the back, keeping a strategic distance from those of us there to pick up drugs. The line moved slowly. Through a face mask, his voice muffled, a man ahead of me argued with the register-runner about insurance; this went on for many painful minutes. I didn’t see whether he got what he came for. I hope he did.
I don’t have a mask. Instead, I tried, with only occasional success, to keep a purple and red bandana over my face. (Hilary felt that I looked a bit like a crossdresser, which raised my spirits, although she wouldn’t say whether I was passable.) The intern running the checkout counter thrust a credit card reader at me across a makeshift divider that had been set up, but when I tried to use it, it wouldn’t work. He voided the transaction and tried again. When it became clear that the problem was with the credit card machine, a team of store managers descended on the register. Their social distancing was iffy. I tried to hand them the co-pay in cash, but they couldn’t accept it: the transaction needed to be digitally logged in a system that could only be accessed by credit card. Finally, after switching to a different register, the purchase went through. I applied sanitizer liberally and bicycled home through the rain.
It’s four hours later, and I am still shook. My hope is that I won’t be going back to the pharmacy anytime soon. My fear is that circumstances will make a return visit mandatory. Those interns deserve combat pay that I know damn well they aren’t getting. They’re probably just relieved to have jobs. I need to clear my head, assure myself I’m okay, and call it a successful procurement of essentials in what has become a strange, defamiliarized, hostile zone. I got the goods for my girl. I’m back.