Its raining Chemists

Last week, I was out to buy a few medicines & suddenly realized that in last few weeks, more than 10 chemist stores/pharmacy stores had setup shop around the area where I live. There were four pharmacies in the same market complex itself, one of them newly opened. Well, buying medicines is going to be convenient now, I thought. I couldn't have been more wrong!

As I walked into the first of the four stores (98.4), I saw a huge rush on the counter, no queue but around 12-13 people ahead of me. There were some people buying prescribed medicines, some others buying shampoos and others buying drugs for common cough and cold. One was stating his membership number so the points he had earned through his purchase could be credited to his account (I still find the concept of credit points at a pharmacy weird). My turn came after about 20 odd minutes and as I handed the prescription to the pharmacist, he declared that he had just 1 of the four medicines. So I walked out, I stepped into the 2nd pharmacy store (Guardian). Same story, huge rush, 8-9 people ahead of me, people buying shampoos, face packs and mouthwash, waited for around 15 minutes and again the guy behind the counter told me he's got just 2 medicines on the list. Third (newly opened) chemist had just shampoos and soaps but 5 people waiting nonetheless.

And as I was walking into the last medical store in the shopping complex, I got a feeling of deja vu. I realized that it wasn't just a feeling; the same sequence had happened almost thrice before. I had come to this shopping complex and none of these big, branded, flashy & colorful medical stores had medicines I had been looking for. What good were these glamorized pharmacies if all they stocked were Crocins, Aspirins, Vitamins, Sanitary Napkins & Shampoos.

Flashback......A month & a half ago, I was hunting for health clubs around the place I live, and I had found just 2 of them in a 5Km radius of my home, one of them being a high profile health club which charged a bomb for membership. I had picked up the Yellow pages and started calling the gyms listed; all but these two had closed down. One of the guys I called commented that he was running into losses with the health club, so he had to shut shop. I find worth mentioning that there are at least 8 full fledged hospitals (not just clinics) in same 5 Kms radius in which there are just two health clubs.

What's the relationship, you might wonder! As I see it, Health clubs signify proactive & preventive while hospitals/chemists mostly signify reactive & remedial, and it makes me wonder how we're approaching the years ahead. We have more pharmacies than health clubs, more hospitals than recreation centers. Most of the clubs & recreation centers that I see are way out of reach for even the upper middle class; they cater only & only to the rich. Development in healthcare isn't something bad and medical problems aren't always caused by things we do; sometimes it's just destiny. But, some of it IS in our hands, in the way WE live life. We’re aware of this but we still go-on pushing our system: sleep late, sleep less, wake up late, overeat, gorge on oily food and aerated drinks & live sedentary lifestyles. Then, once in a few months, we de-tox ourselves and find peace for a few days. Of course, the peace is short-lived and we return to our chaotic lives where we continue to constantly abuse our body & system.

Anyways, coming back to where I started from: As I walked to the fourth medical store in the shopping complex, I saw that there were two old men buying medicines there. One of the men had handed the pharmacist a list of toiletries and the guy behind the counter was getting the stuff from the shelf. The second old man was very frail, somewhat yellow and had a disorder because of which he wasn't able to speak properly. He initially struggled to explain to the chemist, the name of the medicine he wanted. I was getting impatient! Then, after a few minutes, the old man slowly reached into his pocket and brought out a piece of paper which had the name of the medicine written on it. The pharmacist took the piece of paper and went to get the medicine from the rack. The medicine cost 47 rupees and the old man gave the chemist a 100 rupee note. The chemist handed the old man he balance of 53 bucks. But the old man looked puzzled as he looked at the 50 rupee note and three coins that the guy had returned him. He told the chemist that he was expecting 65 bucks back. The guy again tried to explain him that 100 minus 47 was 53 but the old man still couldn't understand and insisted that the pharmacist return him 65 rupees. The discussion went on for a few minutes and then the other old man offered to help and tried to explain to the person that the drug cost 47 rupees & the pharmacist had returned him the right amount.

The thin old man thought hard as he tried to count something on his fingertips and then as he suddenly realized his mistake, he slowly said to the chemist "Sorry beta, pataa nahi mujhe aajkal kya ho gaya hai" (Sorry son, I don't know what's happened to me these days). The chemist replied "Koi nahi uncle jee, kya pataa budaape mein humaari aapse bhi buri haalat ho" (No problem uncle, who knows in our old age, we may be in a worse state than you're in).

When I heard that, something in me snapped. I felt so bad that I instantly felt a strong urge to cry. Then something happened within, and the feeling instantly turned into anger. Right then, I got a phone call from my wife, and for no reason, I snapped at her. I remember driving back home with a heavy heart. I made up to my wife after I reached back home but I continued to feel heavy & sad all day.

It's been quite a few days since that incident happened, but the pharmacist's words still pierce deep. I don't know whether it was pity for the old man, or the guilt of my impatience, or was it the agony of imagining myself in the old man’s shoes for that brief instant. Whatever it was, what I saw & heard touched me deep and stayed there.

It's scary visualizing old age, taking into account the increasing life expectancy & the lifestyles that we're leading today. Maybe the increasing medical stores around us signify preparation for rush hour ... as my generation ages!