This New Year begins with fresh hope for all that’s possible in the days, weeks and months ahead; but I’d like to take a moment to share an unusual, yet true story that happened to me in the past.
Many years ago, while working on my advanced degree, I earned a living as a pharmacist on the “graveyard shift” of a 24-hour retail pharmacy located near a major medical center. Seven area hospitals, each with an emergency room, provided a dribble of patients needing a variety of prescriptions filled in the dead of night.
I enjoyed the relative quiet of that shift, an ideal setting to both make money and yet have time to study and plan my clinical research. Secretly, however, I always worried about the sinister side of working such a shift—would I be robbed at gunpoint for money, for the narcotics locked in the medical safe, or for both—and would I survive such an event or become yet another victim of a senseless shooting.
The prescription counter, as is usual, was situated at the rear of the store and elevated about a foot above the retail floor space. That provided me with a panoramic view of the retail area and anyone entering the store.
One night I observed a twenty-something white male enter. He was dressed in oversized jeans, a hoodie and a baseball cap worn backwards. He looked around, spotted the prescription counter with me behind it and shuffled toward me. I thought it odd that he looked down every aisle before approaching the pharmacy. The acid started churning in my stomach. It inched up my esophagus as I thought, “This is it. I’m about to be robbed.”
He walked up to the prescription counter, smiled and merely stood there. I looked at his hands for a possible gun, or a least a note demanding the store’s cash, or worse yet, all the narcotics. Instead, he simply stood there and smiled. I hesitated for as long as I dared, then squared my shoulders and walked toward him. I made sure to position myself behind the cash register, the only barrier within sight.
He smiled again and handed me a prescription. He asked, “Can I wait for this? I’m really in pain.” I exhaled audibly, but intelligent words failed me. I looked down at the prescription. It was written on one of the local hospital prescription pads. I even recognized the doctor’s signature since I usually got several prescriptions a week from the emergency room staff of this particular hospital.
I swallowed down the acid, took a deep breath and managed to say, “Have a seat. I’ll have it out in about ten minutes.” I then walked away to process the prescription.
As I studied the paper, acid starting its upward climb again when I realized the prescription had been altered. The order was written for Vicodin 10mg tablets, a popular pain-relieving drug containing the narcotic hydrocodone. It was a prescription I’d often filled as a result of patients’ overnight emergency room visits.
What was unusual about this order was the quantity—an obvious one had been added in front of the originally ordered twenty. The change to one hundred and twenty tablets was subtle, but the ink was not quite a match to the ink on the remainder of the written prescription.
I knew I was holding a forged prescription! My first thought was that I had to verify that the prescribing doctor had not had second thoughts and sloppily added to the original quantity. I didn’t believe that to be the case, but I had to verify before moving on to the next step. I called the emergency room and verified that only the twenty tablets had been ordered. The prescribing doctor gave me a verbal order to cancel the prescription and take further action.
I disconnected, looked toward the patient waiting area and found the person staring back at me. I smiled, he smiled and I could taste bile mixing with freshly churned acid. I moved to my computer terminal and pretended to process the prescription. I stopped abruptly, as if a call had just come in, and answered a dead line. I slowly dialed 911 and reported a forged prescription and requested immediate assistance from the nearest police cruiser in the area. I was told to stall the customer and that help would arrive in five minutes.
I hung up the phone and looked again at the forger. He stared at me and smiled. I smiled back and again tucked my head down over my computer terminal as I occasionally glanced at the front door, hoping to see a blue uniform move through the doorframe.
After what seemed like hours instead of minutes, the front door to the pharmacy slowly opened and a blue uniformed officer quietly slipped in and proceeded toward the pharmacy. He moved around the perimeter of the store from my left. I looked toward the customer waiting area and almost didn’t believe what I saw next.
The forger was sticking his arm in the complimentary blood pressure machine. He pressed the start button and the automatic cuff inflated around his upper arm. I looked to my left and saw the police officer, with gun drawn, round the corner and head toward the prescription counter. The officer and I made eye contact and I nodded toward the blood pressure machine to my right.
The officer approached slowly and quietly. When he was about ten feet from the forger, the man spotted the officer and stood abruptly, presumably to run from the store. But his arm was locked in the blood pressure cuff and he was pulled back into a sitting position, a sitting duck waiting to be apprehended.
I breathed a sigh of relief while the officer smiled and shook his head. The forger shook his head also, but looked down with a very disheartened expression on his face. The officer disengaged the accused from the machine, read him his rights and cuffed him. I walked up and showed the officer the forged prescription. I confirmed that I had verified it had been altered before I called for assistance.
The officer took the prescription into evidence, asked me a few clarifying questions, confirmed that I may be needed to testify if the case went to trial and then led the handcuffed man out of the store and into the back of the squad car.
The rest of that night shift was reasonably quiet with only a few other patients filtering in occasionally. But, needless to say, my concentration was broken and I got no studying done for the rest of that night.
I was never called to testify and assume that the man agreed to a plea deal, or had a good lawyer that got him off. Either way, I had a “good citizen feeling” about helping catch the guy. But from that point forward, I always took a few extra minutes to study those emergency room prescriptions for accuracy before processing them.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!
This year I want to “pass it forward” by ending my blogs with a shout out to some of my writer friends and ask that you take a moment to stop by their blogs and websites also. This week check out: