A Hard Pill to Swallow
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Let me tell you, it feels good to be back from vacation, sitting at my computer, banging out yet another installment of the comedic mishaps and blunders I call my life.

As refreshing a sixteen-hundred mile, round-trip car ride may seem on the surface, it does have its drawbacks. Cramped butt cheeks from extensive sitting, poor diet consisting of Slim-Jims and caffeine-laced beverages, roadside bathroom facilities I wouldn’t even let my dog use and the invisible build-up of what we call Road Jam, which forms on the inside of the windows and is the major cause of the greasy/nappy feeling in your hair, are all little inconveniences we’ve come to expect on our yearly Thanksgiving excursion. This year, I developed a stiff and swollen knee. I’d like to call it an old football injury but as memory serves me, I can’t recall for the life of me having any football drills that required me sitting in one position for 13 freakin’ hours!!!! Needless to say, a trip to the “Doc in the Box” was in order to relieve my discomfort.

After three hours in the waiting room, enduring a bevy of sickly, hacking children and reading magazines from 2004, I was called into the doctor’s exam room and thoroughly probed by a highly trained medical professional. His conclusion:

“You’ve got a swollen knee.”

Ah, yes; yet another of the many reasons why med school was a pipe dream for a dolt like me. How could I even dream of being able to diagnose with such brilliance and professionalism? So he prescribed an anti-inflammatory pill, charged me a week’s pay and sent me on my way.

I drove to the local pharmacy/grocery store to fill my prescription. I like the fact that I can fill a prescription, buy a snow shovel and take full advantage of a buy-one-pound, get-the-second pound-free special of Krakus polish ham. Shan-gri-la, baby! Eventually, the pharmacist barked out my name to pick up my order. After freeing myself from the death-grip of the complimentary blood-pressure chair, I pulled out my wallet to pay for my swollen knee medicine.

“That’ll be ninety-seven dollars, Mr. Foley,” the pharmacist announced with a smile. “But, with your insurance, it comes to eight dollars.”

Ninety-seven dollars for 10 pills! Can you believe that? Once again, another example of the little man getting pushed around by the pharmaceutical companies, and on a swollen knee, no less. I, for one, am tired of being financially bullied by “Big Pharma” and I think it’s high time we did something about it. After devoting several seconds to this important issue, I came up with an ingenious solution. We need to bring back medieval apothecaries!

Back in the middle ages, medicinal remedies could be bought for the price of a chicken or a month’s worth of slave service, provided by one of your fifteen or so muddy-faced children. Let’s see you try and buy some Flexerall with that!!! Back then, all you needed to open up shop was a big, hollowed out tree, a hump-backed wife with some kind of large nose wart and a cauldron, for whipping up “potions.” The word “potion” itself conjures up images of magical healing powers, more so than the word “analgesic rub,” which, by the way, are two words that make me squirm and tighten up the old sphincter, along with the phrase “full body cavity search” and any, hairy-chested pictures of David Hasselhoff.

Remedies were much simpler and easy to come by. All you needed was eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog. Aside from the inordinate amount of animals, roaming the village streets missing vital body parts, nobody protested the use of such strange ingredients. A truly exceptional apothecary would always have some critter trying to escape his bubbling pot. Happy was the day for dumb animals and Pamela Anderson (excuse my redundancy) when PETA organized to rid the world of fur coats, poor working conditions for diseased lab rats and a vital medicinal source.

Today, the affable, toothless, filth-covered potion master, sporting an itchy burlap sack as means of professional dress, has been replaced by the generic, sterile-looking, white-coated pharmacist, housed in a glass cubicle. I’ve watched these so called “professionals” at work. From what I gather, their job is to read a prescription, open a really big container of pre-made pills, count out a number of pills and put them in a smaller container. Pure genius. On most days, I can even do that! I’m also a bit leery about trusting the capabilities of someone to distribute complex medicines, when it appears to me the biggest struggle they have is figuring out how to properly store my address information in their computer database.

I want the return of the 1950’s corner druggist. During this era, pharmacists made use of the mortar and pestle to concoct medicines with their own skills, like Mr. Gower from the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Sure, he may have poisoned a few of his customers because of his penchant for being stinking drunk while on the job, but this risk of death added a much welcomed sense of danger and excitement to a very vanilla 50’s lifestyle. Also, the druggist knew everyone by name and would greet you on the street.

“Hello, Johnny,” he’d say while playfully giving your hair a quick tussle, “Come on in and I’ll fix you a soda while you wait for your prescription.”

While you waited at the drugstore counter, you’d carelessly spin on the red leather bar stools and sneak a length of licorice rope from the big glass jar at the end of the counter.

“Here you go, Johnny.”

Then he’d send you on your way with a bag full of mind-altering, opium-laced pills.

It’s common knowledge that all medicines in the 1950’s were primarily made of opiates. Society outwardly portrayed a very “Ward Cleaver” image but behind closed doors, it was Jimmy Hendricks meets Jim Morrison, while normally straight-laced, decent folk did their best to “lick the sky.” It’s these reckless baby boomers that ruined it for everyone as the government cracked down on these types of drugs and forced “Big Pharma” to supply us with less fun drugs at exorbitant prices.

Yes, I firmly believe someone should stand up and shake a defiant fist in the face of Big Pharma! Perhaps a melding of these past styles of pharmacies is what we need. For my money, I’m willing to wager that most folk would welcome a place where pain relief medicine could be bartered for with livestock, other household sundries could be purchased and the friendly neighborhood pharmacist would do a “shooter” with you while whipping up a batch of “red devils” or “greenies” to bring home to the family. Shan-gri-la baby, Shan-gri-la!

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