Blog 2022

A Relationship Beckons: Luca/Big Tommy (#6)

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click Crisis Averted #1 on the sidebar of the blog page.

Big Tommy

The Mansion

Luca and Debra were shown into the massive living room. The brawny henchman with the permanent scowl adorning his face patted down Luca first. His rough hands ran roughly over every inch of Luca’s frame and sparing no part of him including his crotch. He then did the same to Debra utilizing the same lack of finesse over her curves including her breasts and the upside down V of her womanhood.

Immediately after the frisks were completed, their eyes were drawn to the two-story floor-to-ceiling glass wall that fronted the lower Chesapeake Bay. At this late hour, it was a black tableau played out through vertical, rectangular panels set in tracks along the floor and ceiling. Apparently, the panels could be opened like folding doors to allow access to a wide balcony with stairs leading to a lower level and a swimming pool. Beyond that lay more stairs descending to the beach. A high, glistening curtain framed the glass wall ready to be deployed when required.  The faint sound of the gentle surf caressing the beach sifted through the thick glass along with a gentle whiff of salty air.  The twinkle of orange sodium lamps to the west belied the south island of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel complex. Tommaso Romano had purchased several oceanfront tracts on Willoughby Spit, demolished all the buildings on them and built a towering three-story regal edifice that rivaled European castles. It bespoke the vast amount of money Romano’s crime family earned through its various arms of illegal activity.

Debra knew that Luca was oblivious to any of the history behind the residence. But when she’d first visited Romano’s stately home, she’d done a bit of research on the area and Romano’s part of it. This peninsula took its name from one Thomas Willoughby, a pilgrim who arrived in Virginia in 1610. Legend had it that this finger of land materialized overnight, created by a terrific storm–possibly a hurricane–in the mid- seventeenth century. The Willoughby family quickly took ownership of the newly created acreage and their named had become attached to it forever.

Debra could feel the cold sweat against Luca’s hand as it grasped hers as they walked stiffly and tentatively into the colossal space. The vaulted-ceiling of the room dwarfed the furnishings which were rich and expensive and coordinated with a professional hand. An assortment of comfy, over-sized chairs and two large sofas dotted the space amid coffee and end tables of light-colored mahogany. The arrangement lent an inviting and–at the same time–intimidating air.

“The view’s much better during the day.” The words came from behind them and emanated from a deep, accented voice thick with the gravelly timbre of a longtime smoker and bolstered by the sharp, confident resonance of success.

Debra and Luca turned. Though they both were quite familiar Big Tommy’s vocal signature. Luca instinctively released her hand and clasped both of his together in front of his crotch. Romano stood just inside the nine foot doorway. Two linebacker-sized men in dark suits with sizeable bulges in their jackets took up a rear guard position behind their boss.

Tommaso Romano was as wide as he was tall. No more than five-nine, he carried at least two-hundred and fifty pounds around his torso and prodigious legs. His dark features both in hue and expression were captured in a bowling ball-like face punctuated by black eyes, thick black eyebrows and a curved, black Saddam Hussein moustache that looked like a large equatorial caterpillar had taken up residence beneath his bulbous nose.

“We normally open the panels to let in the night air. But this April evening–as you know–is a little chilly. I must have you both back during the summer for a swim and a meal.”

Luca nodded and said in a rough whisper. “That sounds…wonderful, Tommy.”

Debra added. “That’s very generous, Mr. Romano.”

“Nonsense,” Tommy replied. “Please call me Tommy, we are family. Are we not?”

“Of course…Tommy,” Debra replied hesitantly. She looked in the direction of the door and saw Romano’s bodyguards standing like statutes on either side of the doorway.

He motioned to two overstuffed chairs separated from a wide couch by a wide sand-colored coffee table. Romano plopped his gelatinous frame onto the sofa, taking up a goodly portion of its seating space. When they were seated and without prompting, a liveried waiter in a short white tunic and black trousers appeared with a tray on which sat three shot glasses, a bottle of Sambuca and a long-reach lighter. The servant who appeared to be of Spanish or Mexican descent set the tray on the coffee table. In each shot glasses rested three coffee beans. The houseman poured generous amounts of the anise-flavored liquor. He then picked up the lighter and clicked it so that a long finger of flame curved up from its barrel. He touched the flame to the contents of each shot glass. Each glass seemed to erupt.

Tommy Romano waved away the waiter who left the lighter and the Sambuca on the tray. He studied his guests over the flames that were growing smaller. “We wait for the flames to turn blue. Then we drink…”

Luca held up a hand indicating he did not want to partake. “Tommy, I’m not…”

Romano’s hard gaze turned to granite, cutting off Luca without a sound. “You come into my home and refuse an offer of hospitality. You will drink. We have an urgent matter to discuss…as you know.”

By now, the flames had dwindled to a blue haze. Tommy placed his meaty paw over the shot glass smothering both the fire and the vessel. He nodded to his guests that they should do the same. Luca instantly covered his glass with his slender almost emaciated hand. Debra did the same, wincing as she did so, anticipating some pain. But none came…a brief warmth.

Tommy lifted his glass. “Cin Cin alla nostra salute!” Luca and Debra touched theirs to his. They tilted their heads back and downed the fiery liquid. Debra winced as the burn fell to her belly.

Romano relaxed his bulk deeper into the cushions.  He steepled his hands in front of his chest. His black, emotionless eyes bore into his capo. “You know why I have summoned you here tonight.”

Caroline

Caroline could not sleep. The events of the day clung to her like a skunk’s spray. She padded into the kitchen in her in her t-shirt and short. A coating of sweat dampened her clothes. She moved down the hallway. Cracking the door to his bedroom, she checked on Peter. In the faint moonlight sifting through the window, she could see his angelic face deep in the throes of slumber. His breathing was deep and regular with a slight snore. He cradled a football in his arms. The sight of him safe and unharmed comforted her.

Caroline moved back into the kitchen and the small desk area built-in near the pantry Their Williamsburg carriage home was small compared to what she was used to when she mas married to Luca. It was a four thousand square foot domicile in Newport News. Trading the luxury for her sanity was worth an untold price.

She sat at the chair before the desk, opened the drawer and removed a large manila envelope. Undoing the clasp, Caroline removed the sheaf of documents. She read over the legal document from her attorney that had been sitting untouched for two months:

Request for Change in Child Custody

Without hesitation, she plucked a pen from the coffee cup on the desk, clicked it and scribbled her name on the second page. With a heavy sigh, she closed her eyes and prayed for strength. This was going to be the flight of her life. And she was not looking forward to it.

To Be Continued-

If you have a pharmacy story or a story (heroic or challenging) of everyday life in your healthcare world, send it to me by clicking the link below…

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A Relationship Beckons: Jake/Luca (#5)

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click Crisis Averted #1 on the sidebar of the blog page.

Jake

The Photo

As the garage door descended with a low hum, Jake managed to extract himself from his Toyota Tundra pick-up truck and wearily climb the four steps to the interior entryway. He trudged into the mud room carrying with him the heavy yoke of fatigue. His two-story Georgian in a medium-sized bedroom community in upper Newport News, Virginia was eerily dark and deafeningly quiet. It was always that way when Lizzie stayed with his sister, Claudia, or his mother.

He placed his soft-sided briefcase on the kitchen counter and draped his white lab coat on top of it. He flipped on the lights as the refrigerator kicked on with an electric drone. The clock on the microwave read twenty-three minutes after nine.

Even as dog-tired as he was, he missed the sound of Lizzie’s bare feet pitter-pattering across the hardwood. Or the gentle, breathy whisper of her voice calling out “Daddy” every few minutes to ask an innocent question or for a snack or to be read a bedtime story. He yanked open the stainless steel door of the KitchenAid and retrieved a longneck. He twisted off the cap with whoosh of air and sucked down two pulls of the ice cold beer. It hurt sliding to his belly. But it felt good. And after the bitch of a day he’d experienced, he needed it.

Moving through the kitchen and into the spacious master suite, he switched on the lights, toed off his shoes without untying them, removed his Polo pullover and undid his belt. Bare chested and in his stocking feet, Jake walked toward the bathroom. To do so, he moved past Olivia’s tall Colonial-era lingerie chest. The article of furniture still held all of his wife’s jewelry, intimates and delicates. The contents had not been touched nor moved since he’d provided a dress and other clothing items to the funeral director for Olivia’s visitation. Her walk-in closet also appeared the same as it did before her death.

On top of the chest rested three photographs rimmed by ornate, frilly frames.

One was a black and white balcony shot taken minutes after they had become husband and wife. It possessed an gauzy, artistic quality and–Jake thought–if it were to be enlarged would belong in the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk. In fact, Their reception had taken placed a few miles away from that cultural attraction at one of the downtown hotels in Norfolk. The second picture was a light-hearted maternal likeness of Olivia and Lizzie taken a week after his daughter’s birth. Mom smiled down on her seven-day old daughter with a sleep-deprived but intensely, gratified countenance. The bright-eyed infant clutched mom’s index finger as a toothless smile stretched across her tiny, perfect face. The third shot was a spontaneous portrait of the new family when Lizzie was a year old. This photograph was Jake’s favorite. It tugged at his heart with an intensely emotional weight. But it was laced with a hauntingly harsh history. The day it had been taken was one of the best of his life. A few weeks later, his life would come crashing down around him when he received news of Olivia’s death.

Despite his weariness, Jake paused before the lingerie chest. The framed likenesses at eye-level, peered back at him. He stopped to regard them frequently. Each time his heart bumped and sank as if a large boulder had been placed atop it. Tonight with the house hushed and deserted, Jake was drawn to them again and the memories they evoked.

Jake and Olivia had been married for a year and half when she had become pregnant. When Lizzie was born, they were both over-the-moon ecstatic. A year later, Olivia had arranged for a photographer to take their portrait on the sands of Fort Story on a glorious spring day. With their backs to the Atlantic and the setting sun casting a golden hue on their tanned faces, all three were in the midst of a belly rattling laugh following the photog’s outrageously bad dad jokes. Lizzie loved it and chortled with abandon causing Mom and Dad to follow suit. The photographer snapped eight shots in rapid sequence. The full tableau of photos was framed and hanging in order on the wall upstairs in the room over the garage.

Later that night as they ate dinner at a moderately-priced Italian restaurant at the Virginia Beach oceanfront, the meal almost finished and with Lizzie’s cheeks smeared with marinara, Olivia placed a small envelope on the table in front of him. “What’s this,” he asked.

“It’s something from me to you,” she replied huskily. “Just for you!”

“DaDa!” Lizzie exclaimed as she sucked a short cut-up noodle through sauce-covered, puckered lips.

With a knotted brow, Jake flipped open the flap and withdrew a square piece of thermal paper. He turned it over and looked at the black-and-white image of an ultrasound. The first rendering of their second child.

Jake’s mouth dropped open. “You’re pregnant? Again?”

He leaned over and stamped his mouth on Olivia’s, claiming it. “How? When?”

Olivia shook her head. “You’re a pharmacist. Do I really need to explain?” Olivia hesitated then added, “Or should I recreate how it happened tonight after we put Lizzie down?”

Jake grinned lustily. “Yeah, that’ll be great,” he growled. “I mean…you know…”

“About six weeks ago.”

Mimmi

Back in the present, those four words echoed in his memory. A weighty ache clutched his heart. The pressure squeezing his ribcage pushed the breath from his lungs. Perspiration erupted from every pore of his skin. The photograph of the three of them was in his hands. He’d lifted it from the top of the dresser without realizing it. With the back of a hand, he swiped at a stray tear snaking its way down his cheek.

It had been about three months since his last panic attack. In the three years since he’d buried Olivia, the anxiety-laced spasms had begun to occur less frequently. But they still happened, especially when he was fatigued. He hated them. But at the same time, they reminded him that his all-consuming love for Olivia was real–and still present. Jake was deathly afraid of allowing his feelings for her to melt away. He never wanted to forget her or push her memory onto the back burner of his heart.

The chime of his cell phone harshly interrupted Jake’s . He wagged his head once to clear the memories then removed the device from his back pocket, checked the caller ID and clicked on.

“Hi Mom,” he said as energetically as he could.

“You sound tired, darling.”

“I am. How did my girl do today?”

His mother gave Jake the broad brush strokes of his daughter’s day, what she ate, what televisions shows she watched and her nap time. Then she added a grand motherly milestone to the list.

“She did great. She drew a picture of me. She said ‘This is you, ‘Mimmi.’ I look like a snow man with hair. But it the cutest thing ever. I put it on the fridge.”

“Wow, that’s awesome.”

“She asks lots of questions. “Why is the sky blue? How many eggs are in the carton. I took her shopping with me. And…” There was a pause on the line.

“You there , Mom?”

“Yeah, and she was running and accidentally hit her hand on the coffee table. Then she yelled, ‘Damn it’!” Have you been saying bad words around her?”

Jake rubbed his temples between his thumb and forefinger with his free hand. He smiled to himself. “Oops! She may have heard me say something like that.”

“Jake,” she admonished. “I don’t want my granddaughter learning all that bad Marine language. Mind your tongue!”

He sighed. “I’ll do better, Mimmi!”

Jake’s phone chimed in his ear as she spoke indicating he had a text message. He moved the device away from his ear and saw that the message was from Stephan Willings, his pharmacy district manager and boss. Acid instantly began churning in his belly. This can’t be good, he thought.

“Did you hear me?” Lily asked.

Jake could tell by her tone that she had asked a question. His failure to reply prompted a second inquiry.

“What, Mom?”

“I said, ‘What time do you want me to bring her by tomorrow?'”

The Phone

Jake thought on the question. “Um. Let me come over there. I have an errand to run tomorrow. Then I’ll swing by. Okay, see you then. What errand?”

Jake thought about making up something, but instead leveled with her. “I have to return something to someone. Maybe around eleven.” He told her good night and clicked off.

Jake tapped the icon on his phone and read Willings’s message:

We need to discuss your not following policy regarding the drive-thru today. Call me first thing in the morning!

That could have waited until the morning. or better yet, until he returned to the store in tow days. It was just like that sonofabitch to leave him a message after work, Jake thought. Willings seemed the type to take pleasure in ruining Jake’s evening. Screw him! I have something a little more important to do tomorrow.

He reached into his other back pocket and removed a second cell phone. He’d retrieved it from the floor under one of the chairs in the waiting area of the pharmacy after he’d locked up the department. The chair had been askew. Being the ultimate Marine, Jake needed everything square and perfect. It was a quality that made him a good Marine. And it was a quality that also made him a good pharmacist. He moved the chair back into alignment and that’s when he spied the stray device.

He tapped the screen again as he’d done in the store. The time came up on the screen. 9:42pm with today’s date. The wallpaper background on the screen was a photograph. A boy with a wide grin and sparkling green eyes. Jake’s heart gave a slight bump at the sight of the boy. It was Peter, the boy to whom he’d administered the breath saving inhaled medication. The son of the attractive thirty-something mother whose name he did not know. For an unspoken reason, his chest swelled slightly with anticipation. He would have to figure out how to return the device to her.

“Screw you, Willings!” He whispered the words audibly in a husky baritone. “I’ve got other plans.”

Rx

Luca and Big Tommy

The Meeting

Luca silently braked his Mercedes S-Class sedan to a halt two blocks from his boss’s multi-million dollar mansion on West Ocean View Avenue in Norfolk in the dark shadows under a weeping. His  slinky black-haired vixen Deb Perry sat in the passenger seat. As Luca turned off the motor and the engine clicked with heat under the hood, she leaned over the console and placed her plump lips close to his ear. On a heavy sigh, she whispered, “Time for a little me time? We’re early. We have some time for…you know.” Her right hand slipped beneath his leather jacket and slid with erotic intent against his torso.

Luca inched his head away from her with a frustrated jerk and grasped her wrist, removing it from his chest. He placed it firmly on her thigh.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Big Tommy is what’s wrong.”

Deb rotated her palms toward the ceiling of the vehicle. “So!” She’d noticed Luca’s quiet, agitated demeanor on the drive over, but decided not to push him. He seemed forlorn,

“He’s been riding my ass. We’ve been losing territory to Gomez’s. They’re squeezing us…me out. I’ve lost a shitload of revenue. I used to be the biggest earner in this area. Tommy wants to see me. He’s been losing points every month.” Luca raked his fingers through his thick, black mane as he pushed out a lungful of air. “He asked me here tonight because he wants a solution.”

Deb moved away from him as if he were suddenly electrified. “Then why I am here?”

He’d been staring at the designer steering wheel since they’d arrived. Now, he rotated his gaze to her. His eyes were hard and revealed a deep-seated fear she had never seen in the time that she’d been sleeping with him. She had become Luca’s girlfriend during his final two years of his marriage to that bitch Caroline. As his Amore mio and sometimes go-for, she’d learned the basics of Luca’s business. Luca owned two dry cleaners in the area. But Deb knew that was only a front. Her man was currently a capo of Big Tommy’s drug smuggling enterprise. Tommaso “Big Tommy” Romano was the boss of the Romano mafia family in the Norfolk, Virginia area.

After the FBI had all but obliterated the five major crime families in New York in the seventies and eighties. And following the conviction of “The Teflon Don” John Gotti and his death in prison, members of the families began a slow migration out of the five boroughs in search of more fertile areas of revenue.  The nineties and first decade of the new millennium saw the rise of organized crime in southeastern Virginia. The loansharking, prostitution rings and drug smuggling catered to the enlisted men and women of the large military community, the business men and any and all who wanted the escape of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl

But in the last seven or eight years, a new player had appeared to compete for the illicit drug market. Fernando “The Spic” Gomez, a Cuban émigré had infiltrated the area. Gomez’s growing enterprise and family had been eroding away at the revenues of Luca’s enterprises. Hence, the points he was supposed kick up three points to Big Tommy from his collections. “The Spic” moniker had been given to Gomez by Luca. Deb doubted that Gomez knew about it and would not take kindly to the racial appellation.

“Gomez’s gangs have been cutting into our profits. We lost another neighborhood in south Norfolk. I’ve been kicking up the same dollars to Tommy by dipping into my own cash. But that’s running out. The last two payments I sent him were less than what he’d been expecting. He’s not happy. He wants to discuss…” Luca filled his chest with air and pushed it out slowly in a shaky exhalation. “…options.”

Deb knew what that meant. Big Tommy wanted to discuss a coming war against the rival family. And she sensed Luca was nervous about how Big Tommy was going to deal with Luca’s dwindling tributes.

She said what Luca was having a hard time expressing. “I’m here for your protection. I’m your human shield, right?”

Luca gazed out the windshield. “Yes,” he gasped in a husky whisper.

Rx

Caroline slammed down the landline. Damnit! she cursed out loud. She hadn’t been able to locate her phone. After multiple checks of her Escalade, her purse and the grounds between the parking lot and the emergency room, Caroline concluded she’d misplaced it. It had gone missing at some point during the day. She’d just ended a call with her mother, Nora, who’d not seen it. Nor did she remember seeing her with it. Caroline also checked with the emergency room, asking for Gretchen the friendly nurse. But she had gone home for the day and the woman who answered the phone was not aware of any unclaimed device. And there was nothing in their small box of lost and found. Then Caroline tried the pharmacy where she’d frantically demanded the pharmacist’s help Peter. He’d come through wonderfully. But at this hour the store was open but the pharmacy had closed about an hour ago. Shit! Caroline expelled a exasperated gust.

Peter was asleep in his bed. She’d given him his Singulair right before bed. After his breathing treatment at the hospital, Peter had been discharged. Caroline purchased two extra inhalers from the outpatient pharmacy at the hospital, placed one in her purse and one in Peter’s backpack. She was about to call Nora who had left earlier and let her know she was on the way home when she’d realized she did not have her phone.

Clad in a lightweight tee-shirt, a pair of gym shorts and a shroud of frustration, Caroline climbed under the covers and extinguished the bedside lamp. In the dark of the room and the large expanse of the massive king-sized bed, Caroline felt lost and alone. After the lost phone, Peter’s medical emergency and her confrontation with her ex, Caroline was frazzled. She sighed again, quelling the tension. That’s when tears slipped from her closed eyes down her temples into the hairline of her disheveled locks.

After ten minutes of silent weeping, she wiped the moisture from her face and summoned a reserve strength. She recalled a familiar quote that had buoyed her often. “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the small voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I will try again tomorrow.”‘

To Be Continued-

If you have a pharmacy story or a story (heroic or challenging) of everyday life in your healthcare world, send it to me by clicking the link below…

Check Out David’s Books

Send David Your Healthcare Successes and Challenges

If you find this blog entertaining and informative, please share it with your contacts and on social media through the links on this web page…if you are a pharmacist nurse or doctor, please share it with your colleagues…thank you

 

A Relationship Beckons: Luca (#4)

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click Crisis Averted #1 on the sidebar of the blog page.

Luca

My Ragazzo

“What are you doing here?”

Luca Clivio’s brows furrowed at Caroline’s apparently audacious question. He divided his threatening gaze between Caroline and her mother, Nora. Each time Luca’s eyes held hers, Caroline’s gut clenched. Today, it was like her intestines were being squeezed in a vise.

Luca let his eyes slip in Peter’s direction. Appearing to be asleep, the boy’s eyes were closed and he seemed to be breathing better. “The last time I checked, he’s my ragazzo, too.” The thickly accented Italian words were delivered with menacing elan underpinned by a calm yet intimidating intent. Luca relaxed his brows and hiked them in a silent challenge toward Caroline.

“I only meant…” She cleared her throat. “I mean I hadn’t had time to call you. How did you get here so quickly?”

Caroline shot her mother a quick look. Nora’s face had hardened to stone. Her defiant scrutiny of her ex-son-in-law was absolute and brimmed with loathing.

“Do I not have the right to see my son? Especially when he is in the hospital?”

Caroline swallowed hard. The saliva in her mouth was hot like scalding embers. “That’s not wh–”

“What…happened?” Luca demanded, drawing out both words.

Nora stood up and took one step toward Luca.

Luca responded in kind. “Where do you think you are going, old woman?”

“Luca!” Caroline spat barely above a whisper.

Nora wagged a crooked, dry and cracked finger at him. Then she challenged him. “Je sais ce que tu es et ce que tu fais, connard!”

Caroline rose from the chair creating a barrier between the two. “Mother, please do not do this. Not now!” Caroline spun toward Luca.

Luca chuckled to himself and divided an amused look between mother and daughter. He leaned in and in an ominous tone repeated his question. “What happened?”

Caroline moved a step sideways blocking Luca’s view of her irate mother. She cleared her throat again. “He had an asthma attack. I brought him here to get treatment.”

Luca simply stared.

“How did you know he was here?” Caroline asked, summoning a modicum of nerve.

Luca sniffled and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. Caroline noticed a rim of red around his eyes and a glassy sheen over the corneas. He was .

“Answer me, Luca! How did you know?!”

Surprising herself, Caroline reached out and grasped his elbow, turning him. Over her shoulder, she called to Nora. “Stay with Peter, we’ll be right back.”

The Hallway

Luca resisted at first. But Caroline squeezed her grip on him tighter. The last thing she wanted was Peter waking up. After a reluctant moment, he allowed her to guide him toward the hallway. When they were outside the room and out of Nora’s view, he wrenched his arm free and seemed to be struck by a thought. “Where is his inhaler?”

“Are you high? Have you been using?”

Luca’s visage turned degrees hotter. He raised his clenched hand and brought it to within inches of her face. Caroline instinctively moved back a step. Her heart lurched in her chest. “Are you going to hit me? Again!?” She demanded in a querulous gasp. Caroline looked beyond Luca and saw a nurse shoot a concerned glance in their direction. The healthcare worker quickly averted her gaze, but did not move off.

Then seconds later, she cast a sideways glance, keeping watch over the interaction. She picked up the handset of a phone at the nurses station and held aloft, waiting to see what happened.

Seeing Caroline’s distraction, he stealthily scanned the immediate area. “Why did you not give him his inhaler? You forgot it again, didn’t you?” Luca’s accusation stung, hitting her like a gut punch.

Caroline averted her eyes, admitting her perceived culpability. Once before several months ago, Caroline had left Peter’s inhaler at the house just before she dropped him at Luca’s for the weekend. After his tirade, she had driven home and returned to Luca’s with the medication.

The Accusation

“I told you this would happen!” Luca sucked in a deep, breath and clenched his fist again. The muscles in his jaw flexed with fury. “You stupid…”–he lowered his whispered voice several octaves–“bitch! You are a shitty mother.”

The hurt and frustration was all too familiar. Emotion swelled in her middle. She could feel tears welling. Caroline squeezed her eyes shut, The aspersions had been a weekly occurrence during their turbulent union. His jealousy, possessiveness and verbal abuse had been belittling and fear-inducing. After a while, she had become numb to the constant attacks. Leaving him had been a monumental, nerve-racking action on her part. Since their separation, Caroline had begun to climb out of the dark hole of depression and degradation Luca had dug and in which she had been living for the past few years.

This is why you left him, Caroline! This is why you left!

She swallowed hard, filled her lungs with air and launched an unplanned counter attack. The words were murmured but laced with contempt. The forefinger of her right hand jabbed at Luca. “You’re not going to do this! This is why we are no longer together.” She glanced toward the room where Peter lay sleeping and Nora stood, eyes wide, observing them melded to the floor as if she were cast in stone. “Peter is fine. He had an attack. I got him help!”

Luca inched closer to her, looming over her with his immense frame. But he stopped, slammed by her next utterance.

“How many lines have you done? I can smell whiskey on your breath, too. You stink of it!”

A movement of gold and blue appeared from behind Luca’s left shoulder. It was the nurse, Gretchen, who’d taken Peter’s vital signs. “Excuse me,” she asked in a cheery voice. But she quickly divided a concerned look between them. “Is everything okay here?”

Luca shrunk back. Caroline hesitated. Mortified she rubbed her forehead with two fingers and sighed. “Yes, we’re fine.”

Gretchen paused, then held Caroline’s gaze. Her non-verbal question appeared to ask if she needed help. “We’re fine,” Caroline repeated.

After several moments, Gretchen gave a slight nod and moved off.

Caroline turned her attention back to Luca who was dragging a hand down his face. She resumed her interrogation. “How did you know Peter was here?”

The Woman

He had turned to regard the comely nurse. At Caroline’s question, he pivoted back toward her. The rotation of his shoulders revealed the figure of a woman thirty feet behind him. The lithe female leaned defiantly against the hospital wall on one shoulder facing Caroline and Luca. She was dressed in a form-fitting sweater, tight jeans and ankle-high black boots. Her straight blonde hair hung down to her breasts. The topography of her form curved and undulated in all the right places. One ankle was crossed over the other and her eyes were riveted firmly on them both. There was no sense of mortification on her features at being discovered studying them. In fact, her lips were curved into a smirk of satisfaction at the confrontation she was witnessing.

Something about her niggled Caroline’s brain. Her forehead squeezed into tight lines at the sight of this femme-fatale. “Is that your current screw?” She demanded, reverting her gaze back to her red-faced ex-husband.

“Watch yourself, puttana!” Luca swiveled his head to regard the figure to whom Caroline referred.

“Or is she your supplier?” Caroline persisted.

When he turned back to back to her, Caroline could see the muscles in his jaw and neck flexing with virulent tension. His face had taken on a deeper shade of crimson. She swallowed, unsure where her defiance was generated. Perhaps, it was because they were in public. Or perhaps, it was because she had reached the limit of her patience. She had yet to inform Luca, but she was going to file for sole physical custody with the courts. She refused to allow Peter to continue being exposed to his drinking, womanizing and drug use. However, telling him scared the hell out of her.

Apparently the realization that she was goading him cut through his drug and alcohol-addled fog. He relaxed just as an armed security guard appeared in Caroline’s field of view.

“That’s Deb. Debra Perry, she works for me,” Luca declared.

It was at that moment it hit her. She’d seen this woman before. But before the memory could take full form, the guard stepped forward so that Luca could see him also. He stood a few feet from the pair with feet spread and his hands resting on his thick utility belt. His muscles were taut, ready to react. “Folks,” he stated in a deep baritone. “You need to take this outside. You’re disturbing the staff.”

Luca scanned the officer and sneered. He split a condescending leer between the man and Caroline. After an unsteady moment, Luca snarled, “I was just leaving.” He leaned toward Caroline again. His gaze and his head wavered slightly. Caroline breathed in a healthy dose of his bourbon-soaked breath. “We are not done.”

The guard closed the distance, grabbing Luca by the upper arm. Luca wrenched it free. “Don’t touch me!” To Caroline, he whispered with a laser-focused intensity. “I’ll see you again, real soon!”

-To Be Continued-

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A Relationship Beckons: The Pharmacy (#3)

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click Crisis Averted #1 on the sidebar.

The Pharmacy

The Confrontation

“Why is the drive-thru closed?!”

It was more an accusation than a question. And it had been thrust at Jake Murphy by his supervisor and district manager, Stephan Willings. Willings was a small, wiry man of about twenty-eight dressed in black slacks and a white Oxford shirt with the Alliance name and logo embroidered over the left breast. Suspicious brown eyes bore into Jake over a thin, crocked nose that must have been broken at least once. Jake surmised he’d probably been punched. He wanted to crash his fist onto the man’s face right now. Today, Willings was not his supervisor, not a colleague or even an acquaintance.  He was the enemy personified.

Willings had taken over the DM position about eight months ago and gone through the corporate training in Charlotte for six weeks. To Jake’s mind this was akin to a re-education camp where new front line supervisors were forced to drink the Kool-Aid if they wanted to advance themselves into management. They quickly forgot what it was like to be a frontline pharmacist: the stresses, the frustrations and the constant worry about not making a drug error. Instead they spouted the company propaganda like mechanical automatons.

Today, Jake was mentally and physically exhausted. He was in great physical shape, lean and muscular. At least that’s what the mirror told him. He ran five miles a day while pushing Lizzie in her running stroller even on the days he worked twelve hour shifts at the pharmacy. This regimen was a holdover from his days in the Corps. It helped to offset his sometimes crappy diet, his mediocre and lackluster culinary skills and his profession’s twelve-hour work days.

If he got to eat during his shift, it was usually bites of a sub sandwich in between prescriptions. He ate decently about half the time. Mostly on his days off because he had to care for his four year old Lizzie. As a growing child, she required healthy, nutritious meals. So Jake shopped once a week. He prepared three meals-a-day least twice a week. On the days he worked, Jake’s sister and mother helped him out by watching her. Lizzie ate like a princess at Mimmi’s and Aunt Claudia’s house. Once a week, he indulged her with a Happy Meal. So far she enjoyed being spoiled by her grandmother and spending nights playing with her cousins. She was a handful, but that little angel put the sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step. Since Olivia’s death, Jake’s life had been a maelstrom of depression and grief punctuated by short bursts of fatherly pride underpinned by a parent’s limitless love.

Shortly after the frantic woman had arrived at the counter requiring help for her asthmatic son and the crisis had been resolved, Jake had ordered Helen to pull down the curtain on the drive-thru so that she could help him in her limited, untrained status as a technician trainee. That thirty minute episode had put them even farther behind with patients lined up waiting for shots and even more waiting for prescriptions. Closing the drive-thru was a cardinal sin in the industry. Management became apoplectic when pharmacists did it. Jake had been caught off guard by Willings’s visit ten minutes ago. Swearing under his breath, he whispered to himself, “Could this day get any worse?”

A Bad Day Gets Worse

Willings repeated his question. “I said, ‘Why is the drive-thru closed?'”

Jake sucked in long breath, held it a moment then blurted. “Because I’m drowning here. I have very little help. Helen’s doing her best. But she’s still in training.”

Willings shrugged. “You can’t close the drive-thru! Open it now!”

Jake began shaking his head before the last three words were out of his boss’s mouth. “No! If you want it open, get your butt over there and start ringing the register. It’s my license and the safety of my patients on the line.”

He had prepared himself for this moment for several months. Jake pulled open the drawer just below him and removed a three page document. He extended it to Willings. Jake glowered at this man who evidently had forgotten what it was like in the trenches. The man’s face hardened at the rebuke.

“What’s this?” He croaked hoarsely.

A Legal Remedy

“That’s the Virginia Board of Pharmacy’s Working Conditions Document. They put it out earlier this year. You need to read it. It says the pharmacist shall have complete control over every aspect of the practice of pharmacy. If you try to override it, the company could be subject to disciplinary action!”

The enormous tension that had been building crested at the back of Jake Murphy’s neck, spreading like an avalanche over his shoulders. Now, it engulfed every fiber in his athletic thirty-four year old body. He struggled to maintain his composure and hide his barely controlled stress.

It was just past noon on this late June Monday at Alliance Pharmacy. His pharmacy served the upper reaches of Newport News just south of Williamsburg. Things had gone to shit thirteen minutes into his day and had gone steadily downhill from there. His cell phone had chirped just after arriving indicating he’d received a text message. He’d turned over the phone lying on the counter in front of his computer terminal and read it.

“Damn it,” he muttered. He wanted to use more potent language, but a patient had been standing before him, waiting for Jake to acknowledge him. The man had been wearing a path on the shiny floor tiles in front of the pharmacy for ten minutes before Jake had raised the gates at nine. Kyle, his morning shift technician, said he’d tested positive for the virus and wouldn’t be coming in. He checked the work schedule taped to one of the bay walls in the pharmacy, Helen, his mid-shift technician and a middle-aged, pleasant woman who was still learning her duties would not be until ten-thirty.

The Onslaught

“I’m here for my booster shot,” the edgy patient demanded. “I’ve got to be to work in fifteen minutes.”

Jake sighed. “What’s your name?” The man gave it to the pharmacist.

Jake had pulled up the appointment schedule as three more folks walked briskly down the center aisle, their eyes leveled at the pharmacy department searching like starved animals.

Jake shook his head slightly and said, “Sir, your appointment is not until eleven. It’s only nine-fifteen–”

“Well, I just thought you could give me my shot and I’d be on my way.”

What Jake wanted to say was, “We’re not a fast food restaurant. You wouldn’t walk into you doctor’s office two hours early, would you?” Instead, he swallowed and as calmly as possible said, “Sorry sir, you’ll have to come back at your appointment time.”

The patient huffed, spun and stormed off.

Now hours later as Jake squared off with his direct supervisor, a trio of new patients approached, he cursed Alliance Pharmacy, the retail pharmacy industry and the mess they had made of his beloved, dedicated profession. Alliance, a large national chain struggled to keep up with the massive firms like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. In the lust for the almighty dollar and increased market share, the chain pharmacies had trimmed labor hours, pushed ungodly amounts of prescriptions on their staff, added immunizations to the menu and scared off good help with poor working conditions and even worse pay.

Now as the morning had turned to afternoon, Jake felt like he was being swallowed by the leviathan-sized of  pile electronic prescriptions queued in the computer and COVID boosters that had been scheduled. Helen was frantically scurrying from the pharmacy bench to the inside register, trying to keep up while Jake tried to answer the phone, answer questions and fill prescriptions. On top of everything else, the company told him and all his compatriots that they had to accept walk-ins as well. “How the hell did they expect us to get the prescriptions filled?”

Honorable Service

Jake remembered the frantic mother who’d brought her bluish-lipped son into the pharmacy. Tending to that emergency had put Jake and Helen even farther behind, but it was one of those moments a pharmacy staff would remember for a long time. They had assisted a boy in respiratory distress and calmed a fearful mother. Too often, they received the brunt of a patient’s frustration and impatience because they weren’t fast enough or their insurance co-pays were to high which of course the pharmacy had no control over. But today, they done something wonderful and heroic.

Jake knew that though he seldom saw the outcome of his work. It was good, honorable service. They eased patient’s suffering, improved their health and longevity. They prevented diseases by administering immunizations.  Today when he’d squeezed the albuterol into Peter’s lungs, he’d seen an almost immediate improvement in his cyanotic skin and labored breathing. A surge of relief and satisfaction had surged in him.

“My doctor just sent over a prescription five minutes ago.”

Jake held up a hand to the patient. “Sorry ma’am. We have at least a five hour wait.”

“Five hours?!”

Jake cast Willings a defiant look that said, “I dare you to say something!”

Willings muttered, “This is not the end of this!” He turned and spun, exiting the pharmacy. Jake watched him march through the front sliding doors. He turned back to the incredulous patient. “Yes, Ma’am. I do apologize. But we are short-staffed today. We want to make sure your prescriptions are correct.”

A sour moue slowly spread over her features. As she walked away, her frown deepened.

The next man in line was more understanding. ” He handed Jake his empty prescription bottle and said, “You guys are doing a great job. I’ll pick it up later in the week. Hang in there.” The older man shot a compassionate wink in Jake’s direction and smiled.

Remembering

As the man walked away, Jake swallowed his bitter anger, allowing it to dissipate slightly. Needing to think of something pleasant in his life, Lizzie popped into his mind’s eye. He was doing this for her, he told himself. He put up with all this BS so she could have a decent life. Then little Peter appeared in his thoughts and he again surge of gratification brimmed in him. He remembered smiling at the intelligent and beautiful mother as her fear dissolved. Her knitted brows relaxed, her eyes brightened and a new level of attractiveness spilled forth. Watching the relief and admiration consume her temporarily melted Jake’s stress. He may have saved a life today. If nothing else, Jake could hang his hat on that fact. It was the only piece of good news his day held.

He would give Lizzie a big hug and a kiss tonight when he picked her up even tough she’d probably be asleep. And he would thank the Almightly for sending her to him.

In all the excitement, Jake hadn’t realized it until now. He hadn’t asked the mother her name. He hadn’t recalled seeing a ring on the woman’s left hand. A small niggle of desire and possibility sparked deep inside him. He smiled inwardly and hoped the boy was doing better.

-To Be Continued-

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A Relationship Beckons: The Emergency Room (#2)

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click Crisis Averted #1 on the sidebar.

The Emergency Room

The paramedics wheeled Peter who was resting on the collapsible gurney straight past the crowded waiting area into the emergency room proper. He was lying against the angled backrest trying to absorb the myriad of colors, sounds and activity surrounding him. His nose and mouth were covered by a clear, green face mask connected to tubing that snaked to an oxygen tank lying beside him. The boy had been talking incessantly since being placed inside the back of the large rig and seemingly had reveled at the special attention and the siren-screeching ride. “I can’t wait to tell Stephen that I got to ride in an amboo-lance,” he’d bragged to Caroline as she caught up to the stretcher as they off-loaded Peter from the ambulance.

Caroline had followed the medical transport in her Escalade to Tidewater Regional Medical Center in Newport News. Now, she walked just behind the pair of first responders keeping pace with her hand resting on the angled backrest. A young woman in green scrubs standing behind the counter at the circular nurse’s station saw the quartet approaching and pointed to an open, glass-walled room.

“Put him in room three,” she instructed.

The pretty nurse followed everyone into the treatment room and greeted her young patient. “And who do we have here?”

The reply was muffled and hollow through the oxygen mask. “I’m Peter. Peter Clivio.”

“Are you Mom?”

Caroline nodded, a relieved smile creeping over her face. She adjusted her large purse against her shoulder and pushed out a weak, “Yes.

The nurse turned her attention back to the boy. “My name is Gretchen. I’m one of the nurses who will be taking care of you today.”

The paramedics had lowered one side rail of the gurney and pushed it against the hospital bed. Gretchen asked Peter to scoot onto his new bed. She disconnected his oxygen tube from the O2 tank and reattached it to the hook-up in the wall. The paramedics recited a quick report of the boy’s vital signs and Gretchen wished them a good day. Caroline thanked the two young, athletic looking men as they gathered up their gear.

Gretchen rolled a tall, medical monitor on a wheeled pole to the bedside and proceeded to place a pulse oximeter on the middle finger of Peter’s right hand and a small blood pressure cuff over his bicep. She calmly explained what she was doing in a soothing, unhurried voice. Peter still breathed somewhat heavily. Each breath briefly fogged his mask.

Gretchen noticed Peter’s hands trembling.

The nurse asked Caroline what had happened. Caroline relayed the episode of Peter’s asthma attack in the car and her frantic rush to the only place she could think to go quickly, the pharmacy in the northern stretches of Newport News and the heroic pharmacist who’d administered the albuterol puffs into her son’s lungs.

When she turned her attention back to Peter, Caroline took measure of this twenty-something angel who now captivated her son. She was about five-six with sparkly, ocean blue eyes that were striking beneath the silken, blonde hair pulled into a ponytail.

Her ex-husband Luca had taken Caroline to Italy three years before their divorce to Nerano, a small town on the western coast about three hours south of Rome on the Sorrentine Peninsula, a stone’s throw from Sorrento and a short drive to the Amalfi Coast and Positano. From their villa, they enjoyed a spectacular view of the Isle of Capri and the three Faraglioni in the Tyrrhenian Sea. She remembered the boat trip over to the island for a romantic lunch with Luca. Of course, that had been during better times–much better times.

She recalled marveling at the rich cerulean water as they circled the island in a charted boat. It was the bluest water she’d ever seen. Gretchen’s eyes held that same hue now over the pleated surgical mask as they darted between the instruments she was manipulating and her son who seemed taken by her natural beauty.

“–need this, Mrs. Clivio,” Gretchen said, holding out an unused blue mask to Caroline.

Caroline took the mask and replied, “It’s Miss Clivio.” She had divorced Luca a year ago. Though she was no longer married to the man, she’d kept his name for Peter’s sake. However, the moniker of “Mrs.” was one she refused to wear.

Gretchen nodded, acknowledging the correction. “Peter’s doing fine. His vital signs all look good. His breathing is a little labored but I think he will be okay. He’s trembling a little, probably due to the albuterol. The doctor will be in to see him in just a few minutes.” Gretchen slipped out of the room.

Nora Martel

It was then that an older, portly woman about Caroline’s height hastily entered the room. “Mon dieu! Is he okay?”

Caroline stood, leaving her purse on the chair. “Hi, Mom.” The women hugged. When they separated, Caroline looked her mother in the eye. “He’s fine. He had an attack. The pharmacist at the store gave him some albuterol. We brought him here just to be cautious.”

Though, she carried her years well, the ravages of time and raising four children had begun to take their toll. Her jowly face and liver-spotted skin added years to Nora Martel’s appearance. The hazel eyes still bespoke a sharp mind and the ability of critical analysis that came with sixty-five years of life’s trials and tribulations.

Nora’s eyes shifted to Peter in the bed. His eyes were closed. The fatigue and energy he’d exerted this morning trying to breath had caught up with him. Caroline followed her mother’s gaze to her son. “He’s exhausted. But he enjoyed the ride in the ambulance. He’ll have lots to tell his friends.”

“I won’t wake him. “And his father,” Nora added. She hesitated a moment. Then in a very soft voice muttered in French, “Est-ce-que le connard sait?” Nora Martel always reverted to her native language when she was worried.

Caroline sucked in a heavy breath and closed her eyes trying to summon patience. The last thing she wanted to endure this morning was the one quality her mother had perfected, and one in which she was a virtuoso: pushing Caroline’s buttons and finding fault with just about everything she did. Caroline performed a silent five count, re-opened her eyes and expelled the air and her response. “No, mother, the asshole doesn’t know.”

“Am I going to have to see him today?”

“Mom, this is not the time…or the place,” Caroline chided.

“You know how he’ll react when he finds out,” Nora continued.

Caroline cast her gaze to the ceiling. “Not now, please,” she insisted, bringing her eyes back to Nora’s. A single tear traced its way down Caroline’s cheek. Her mother was also always the first one to confirm what Caroline was thinking…and fearing. She could read her daughter blindfolded .

In addition to being concerned about Peter, Caroline’s mind struggled with the fear of what Luca might say–or–do when he found out about this latest episode. She had pushed the worry about Luca’s reaction into a corner of her mind temporarily as she phoned her mother to tell her to meet her at the hospital. Caroline had been on her way to her mother’s when Peter took ill. The plan had been for Nora to sit with Peter while Caroline ran errands. After she had hung up and as she trailed the ambulance, Caroline had become consumed with the possibility of Luca finding out. As a result, she experimented with different reasons and rationales for why she hadn’t remembered to bring Peter’s inhaler with her. Her hands had trembled as she gripped the wheel with a white-knuckled strange hold.

Despite the fact that they were no longer married, Caroline would never be rid of Luca. They shared a son. A son Luca doted on. Luca’s Italian heritage made him quick to temper. His occupation and his affliction made him suspicious and unpredictable. He was a powder keg. The tiniest spark could set off the volcanic rage, sending him into explosive–sometimes violent–tirades.

And for a few moments, Caroline recalled the relief and gratitude she’d felt when the pharmacist had administered the breath-saving medication. She made a mental note to go back to the pharmacy sometime soon and thank the man.

Nora dug into her daughter’s eyes with her own. Caroline surmised that her mother realized that she had pushed too hard. Nora patted her arm and relented. “We’ll deal with that later.” But, Caroline knew the issue was not dead. Her mother would pursue it relentlessly.

The Doctor Departs

Their conversation was interrupted when a short but authoritative-looking man dressed in khakis, a blue shirt and red tie and cloaked in a knee length white coat entered. His stethoscope was draped horizontally around his neck. “Good morning,” he said. “I’m Dr. Hobson. Are you,” he referred to clipboard he’d retrieved from the holder outside the door. “Mrs. Clivio?”

Caroline frowned your, but chose not to correct him. “Yes,” she replied with a single nod.

“Peter experienced a breathing episode today?”

“Yes. I forgot his inhaler at home.” Caroline shot a glance at her mother whose brow crinkled deeply. “A pharmacist at the Alliance Pharmacy helped me and gave him two puffs of albuterol. He called the paramedics who brought him here.”

“Let’s take a look,” the doctor said, rounding the bed. He placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder and said the boy’s name. Peter roused and blinked several times, looking up at the newest stranger. He asked Peter to lean forward and take deep breaths as he placed the stethoscope along various spots around Peter’s back. Then he listened to his heart. After several minutes, his preliminary exam complete, the doctor replaced the stethoscope laterally around his neck. “He’s breathing well. Still a little wheezy. He’ll be fine. We’re just going to watch him for an hour or so.” The doctor nodded and departed.

Caroline lowered her head, relieved. She saw the doctor’s comfortable shoes hesitate as he exited the treatment room. A shadow spilled from the hallway into her field of vision. She heard her mother’s whispered word of contempt in her ear. “Merde!” Caroline spun her head toward Nora. Nora’s eyes did not move in her daughter’s direction. Instead they were riveted on something in the doorway.

Caroline hesitated a moment, realizing Nora was staring beyond her. Caroline turned her head in the opposite direction. It was not something. It was someone. Backlight by the harsh emergency room light of the nurse’s station, Luca Clivio towered over the departing physician. The tension in his frame, the hard eyes and the repeated flexing, relaxation and re-flexing of his right hand into a fist sent a dagger of dread through Caroline.

To Be Continued

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A Relationship Beckons: Crisis Averted (#1)

(This is a fictionalized scene based on a real incident that happened years ago.)

The Crisis

“Honey, are you okay?”

Caroline caught sight Peter of the corner of her eye in the rearview mirror as they say at the red light. She was concerned. Her six-year-old was strapped into his car seat behind the passenger side. He seemed quiet and more subdued than normal this Monday morning. He protested saying he was tired. Dark circles hung beneath his young eyes. A niggling cough rattled in his chest.

Every other morning, he woke bounding from under the covers a chatty ninja, racing downstairs to watch cartoons or play with his toy cars heedless of her commands. She had taken his temperature and found it normal. Something just did not seem right.

Turning her head to look at him, she repeated her question. Again, there was no response. That was when she noticed the rapid heaving of his chest. His lips displayed a bluish haze. His rapid, shallow inhalations sounded like angry hisses.

She pulled over, stopped the SUV on the shoulder and quickly rifled through her purse looking for the albuterol inhaler. She could not find it. Panic welled in her. Dumping out the contents of the purse onto the passenger seat, her hands moved through the items desperately touching each one in the hope she’d overlooked it.

Shit! It wasn’t there.

Then the realization struck her: it was sitting on the kitchen counter where she had left it last night as she cleaned out her bag.

She swore out loud again.

Glancing into the backseat again, Peter’s head had slumped forward. His chin rested against his small, heaving chest.

Panic morphed into full-fledged terror.

Near Miss

Ramming the gearshift into drive, she slammed the accelerator to the floorboard. The Cadillac Escalade lurched forward, fishtailing sideways in the soft grass until the tires found purchase on the asphalt. A car horn blared followed by the sound of screeching rubber. The passing vehicle swerved dramatically barely avoiding colliding with her Cadillac.

She ignored the near miss and continued pressing the gas. Her mind ping ponged wildly, assessing her options as her heart was in her throat, bounding rapidly. Should she turn around and head back to the house to retrieve the inhaler? Or she should head to the nearest emergency room? By her estimates, both options meant thirty minutes.

Was Peter breathing?

Oh my God! She should have leaned into the backseat and checked on her son.

Her momentum pulled her alongside the car that had nearly struck her. The still-irate female driver glared over at her mouthing unheard epithets while at the same time moving one hand in rapid, ill-willed gesticulations. Ignoring her, the Cadillac crept passed the other vehicle as they both raced along. Her mind still trying to recall a place where she could take him that was nearby then through the windshield, she spotted a beacon of hope.

When she reached the turn off, Caroline jerked the wheel hard, barely braking. The Cadillac listed severely as the tires wined in protest. She skidded to a halt in one of parking spots at an obscure angle. The other driver, apparently unsatisfied with her earlier demonstration of dissatisfaction followed the Cadillac into the parking area.

Caroline pushed open the door so violently, it bounced back onto her. Pushing it open one more time, she rounded the hood in a full run and yanked open Peter’s door. She could she his chest moving erratically in short, inadequate bursts.

She unbuckled him from the car seat, pulled him onto her chest, darting around the other car which had stopped right behind her. The driver was exiting the car and shouting, “What the hell do you—”

Caroline screamed back, “He’s in trouble!”

She bolted across the parking lot in front of another car causing it to brake hard. Five seconds later, she disappeared inside the pharmacy.

Help Me

Jake swore under his breath at the growing workload before him for at least the tenth time today. The tightness in his chest expanded, threatening to consume him. As the pharmacist on duty on this first Monday of the month, the number of prescriptions thrown at him today was non-stop. He’d already had two patients scream at him because he’d had to tell them that their orders for pain medications wouldn’t be ready with the speed of a McDonald’s restaurant. It was always the patients on narcotics that gave him the hardest time. Another patient’s insurance wasn’t paying for her medication because it was too soon to fill. The patient refused to leave and was demanding that someone from the pharmacy call the insurance company to get an override because she was heading out of town.

If he had a dollar for every time he heard that one!

The woman stood at the drop-off window, arms crossed angrily across her middle, silently shooting impatient darts with her eyes at Jake.

He had COVID shots scheduled every fifteen minutes. And finally, to make matters worse, one of his technicians had called out sick.

Jake put his hand on his forehead and dragged it over his face, taking with it the patina of perspiration that had formed on his skin. As his palm passed below his nose, he opened his eyes and saw her. It was a thirtyish woman clutching a child to her chest running full speed down the center aisle straight toward the pharmacy department.

I don’t need to hear it from anyone else today, he thought.

The queue at the inside pharmacy register was four deep and—because of the callout—his lone technician had been camped out at the drive-thru for the last forty-five minutes. They had managed to fill very few prescriptions to this point. His best guess was that he had about eighty prescriptions to fill at the moment. And surely there would be more to follow.

Ignoring the work and the frustrated stares of the patients in line, Jake watched the mother frantically trying to get his attention. She jumped the line at the cash register and elbowed the elderly gentleman there out of the way.

“Help me please! Help me! It’s my son!”

She shouldered her son around to face the pharmacist. Jake’s held his breath and braced himself for some kind of tirade. His angst instantly turned to alarm when he saw the boy. His lips were blue and a gray cast painted his skin.

“Oh shit!” Jake exclaimed. “Is he breathing?”

The Rescue

“Yes…but barely. I left his albuterol at home.” The mother’s voice was husky with fear.

Jake turned his head and hollered to his technician at the drive-thru window. His throat immediately went to his throat. “Helen, get over here now and call 911!

The technician named Helen stopped and turned her head. “What?!”

“I said, ‘Call 911’! Now!”

Racing from his workstation, Jake ducked into one of the pharmacy bays. Finding what he needed, he moved out front without delay. He instructed Mom to move him to one of the chairs in the waiting area. They slipped through the line of waiters as Jake removed the albuterol inhaler from its box. He shook it hard for five seconds. He asked the boy’s name and mom told him. While propped up on mom’s lap, Jake held the inhaler to the boy’s face and placed the mouthpiece between his lips.

“Peter,” he instructed loudly, “when I count to three, I want you to take a deep breath. One…two…three…”

He’d depressed the canister. The boy did not respond. The pharmacist was certain the powder had not make it into Adam’s lungs. Jake could hear the panicked, rapid breaths of the mother coming faster followed by a weak declaration filled with terror, ” Oh my God!” Jake shook Peter’s shoulder hard, rousing him slightly. Behind him, he could hear Helen in the pharmacy shouting into the phone at the 911 operator.

Jake repeated the procedure and counting to three again. On three, the boy sucked in as deep a breath as he could muster while Jake simultaneously depressed the cannister on the device. Again, a short puff of powder hissed into the boy’s mouth. The pharmacist encouraged the child to take several deep breaths to drive the medicine deeper into his lungs. Jake shook the inhaler again and administered another puff a minute later. He checked the boy’s pulse and respirations as patients gathered and gawked.

Helen called from the pharmacy over the repeated dings of the drive-thru bell. The impatient driver outside–unaware of the crisis inside–was mashing the button. “An ambulance is on the way,” she shouted.

A few minutes later, the color began to return to the boy’s face and the cyanotic tint of his lips began to fade. His chest began to move with deeper, regular inspirations and the wheeze from his throat eased.

How to use an inhaler

Relief

“There it’s working,” Jake said.

Mom loudly exhaled relieved sigh. It was apparent, she had been holding her breath. “On my God!” Thank you…thank you so much!”

Mom hugged her son tight to her chest and caressed his hair with a thumb. A patina of sweat glistened on the child’s skin. Jake placed his fingers on the boy’s wrist and checked his pulse once more. He counted the boy’s respirations.

Satisfied a crisis had been averted, he stood and said, “EMT’s are on the way.” He glanced around at the patients who had witnessed his intervention. A few had left. Those remaining peered at him with a newfound awe. One, an older man, said, “Great work, young man!”

The paramedics arrived and Jake relinquished care of the mother and child to the first responders.

Jake simply nodded and strode slowly back into the pharmacy and was greeted by three ringing phone lines, the incessant buzzing of the drive-thru and a stunned Helen. The tall stacks of prescription baskets listed precariously to one side like a dying plant.

“What do we do now?” Helen asked minutes later barely above a whisper.

The paramedics had loaded the youngster onto the collapsible stretcher accompanied by the relieved mother who made eye contact with Jake. She folded her hands in front of her in a prayer-like manner and mouther the words, “Thank you so much! I will be back.”

Jake moved his gaze to his technician and rolled his shoulders into a shrug and replied, “I guess we get back to work.”

To Be Continued…

If you have a pharmacy story or a story (heroic or challenging) of everyday life in your pharmacy, send it to me by clicking the link below…

Send David your pharmacy story…                                                                              Check out David’s Books

A Satisfying Shot

Pharmacy Access Saves

One observation all pharmacists understand is the nearly unlimited accessibility of pharmacists to the general public. For patients, this is a convenient and sometimes vital service. For pharmacists and their technicians, it is can be an extremely satisfying aspect of our jobs. At times, this ease of access can cause workflow problems for the very busy professionals behind the counter. In short, pharmacy access saves.

In this blog, I endeavor to highlight the great things we pharmacists do in improving the lives of our patients and to show how pharmacy access saves; and to educate the public and the industry about the obstacles and dangers inherent in a complex, overburdened retail pharmacy system.

I Need A Shot

Here’s an example of a wonderful service I was able to provide recently: An elderly woman called the pharmacy asking if she could receive a tetanus shot. She stated that she had cut her leg when the woman and her husband were spreading a manure over a garden. The woman was a regular patient with us. I was able to review her medication profile and run a report from Virginia’s Immunization Information System. She had not received a tetanus immunization in twelve years.

Pharmacy Access SavesWe were quite busy at the time (as usual). But I instructed her to come in right away. With the help of my competent technical staff, we moved around some workload to accommodate this patient. When she arrived, I inspected her wound. Luckily, it was not a deep laceration and did not appear to require sutures or an ER visit. And she said she didn’t want to go to the doctor. I administered her the tetanus shot and instructed her on how to care for the wound. Keep it clean. Apply triple antibiotic ointment. Watch for any signs of infection. The patient was extremely grateful for our speedy attention to her need.

We’re Not a Fast Food Restaurant

This situation is a perfect example of the benefit pharmacists and their technicians serve. She was able to come in without an appointment and receive her shot. This was a patient in true need of an immediate action from the pharmacist (unlike many of the overly demanding patients we sometimes encounter who think we are nothing more a pharmaceutical fast-food restaurant…this public image is one that our industry has cultivated over the last forty years and must fix! New York Times Article). And we averted the need for a visit to the doctor’s office, urgent care center or emergency room.

eMail Me Your Story

Pharmacists and pharmacy techs or patients: Please email me with your stories of how you really served your patients well.  I would love to highlight them in this blog. Tell me how Pharmacy Access Saves.

email me your pharmacy story

David Perry is a best-selling author and pharmacist. His medical suspense thrillers about pharmacy, medicine and healthcare are available in print, digital and audio formats are available where ever books are sold.

www.davidperrybooks.com