Losing a pharmacist is a bitter pill


I WALKED into my neighborhood pharmacy, prescription in hand, but my pharmacist wasn't there.

In his place stood a taller, younger pharmacist. A stranger. Maybe Doug's on vacation, I thought as I took my place in line. Even as I had that thought, I knew it was wrong, though.

Next to this other pharmacist stood a young assistant, also a stranger. Where was Valerie? Or Angela?

I looked around and realized that the whole shop was wrong. Oh, sure, things were in the same place, mostly. But it seemed empty. That's when I realized all of the toys were missing.

Doug Campbell has an amazing and extensive collection of antique toys, which he kept in cases around his Drumcastle Center Medicine Shoppe in Baltimore County's Anneslie neighborhood south of Towson. My children were entertained on many occasions while waiting for prescriptions, just peering through the glass at the miniature cars and trucks.

He also collected old soda pop cans, antique bottles, signs. Whenever a holiday came up, it was worth a visit just to see how he could work the holiday theme into some quirky collection of memorabilia.

All of that was missing on this day. The store seemed barren, lifeless, and the windows were empty.

By the time I had made my way to the front of the line I had worked myself into a full-fledged panic. Hadn't I just been in here two weeks ago with a prescription for my son's strep throat?

"Where's Doug?" I blurted as I handed the new pharmacist my prescription.

"Oh, he's retired," he replied.

I looked around. Had there been a sign on the door, something I missed?

This must be what it feels like, I realized, to come home and discover that your lover has left you, pulled a moving van up to the house while you were at work and removed all of his belongings, and every trace of himself, from your life. The house is still there, but it's only half full, and you don't know what's hit you.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not in love with my pharmacist. I don't even know him well enough to know if I like him. I know that he's friendly, and talkative and a little offbeat. And I think he knows my name, though I've never pressed him on it.

I know he attends my church, along with about half of his staff. I don't know where he lives, though I suspect it's nearby. Valerie lives in my neighborhood. I saw her walking her dog once, and she told me later that she lives just a few blocks away.

I don't know any of these people, really. But the point of all this is that, like Andy and Barney and Floyd the Barber of Mayberry, they were fixtures in my little world. And if I weren't so stunned, I could laugh about it.

I never expected to be the kind of person who would have a pharmacist I called my own. There was a time when I filled prescriptions all over North Baltimore, any place that was convenient. But then I had a baby who was always sick, and I got tired of seeing a new face every time I went into the Rite Aid.

I realized it would probably be a good idea to have all of this child's prescriptions filled at the same place, by the same person. I wandered into the Medicine Shoppe quite by accident one day from the coffeehouse next door, seduced no doubt by some bizarre window display, and never left.

I liked coming back to a place where people recognized me and smiled when I came in, a place where they remembered my children's names and kept track of their prescriptions. A place filled with exotic homeopathic concoctions and a pharmacist who didn't mind spending all afternoon discussing their merits with me when he wasn't busy. I didn't mind that the store was only open from 10 until 6 and 10 until 1 on Saturdays. I worked around that, and tried not to get sick on Sunday.

The new pharmacist didn't have my prescription. He offered to fill it for me the next morning, and while I was thinking that over he introduced himself and told me about his plans for the place, what they would sell, where they might place it.

"We've only been open three days," he said.

"So Doug just took all his toys and went home?" was all I could muster.

"Yes. We tried to get Valerie to stay on, but," he shrugged his shoulders, "she didn't want to. That's why we're getting all of these applicants."

He gestured toward the corner where people were filling out job applications. I looked around the room slowly, then slid my prescription back across the counter and left.

I'm sure that the new pharmacist and his staff will be perfectly nice, and I wish them the best of luck.

Maybe they'll build up a practice just like Doug's. But right now, I'm just not ready. I feel as if I've lost my dog, or my best neighbor, and I'm not sure whether I should find another or just do without. I feel sort of, I don't know, jilted.

Funny thing is, I'm sure that somewhere on the shelves of the Medicine Shoppe Doug Campbell would have had some tincture or a flower remedy for that, too.

Today's writer

Michelle Trageser is an architect and free-lance writer living in north Baltimore.

Metro Journal provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods.

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