Monday, 1 November 2010

Them's the Breaks

I spent half an hour at our local chemist the other morning, waiting for a prescription to be filled. I didn't realise it but the morning is a bad time at the chemist, now that it's become a methadone dispensary as well as a shop.

The bulk of the clients for this new service turn up around 10 a.m. (roughly the same time, coincidentally, that the telephones began to ring when I worked at social security - we imagined the beneficiaries [or 'benos' as we thoughtlessly referred to them, in what I now try to persuade myself was our appalling ignorance and prejudice], staggering from their beds, brewing up their cups of tea, lighting their fags, propping their fluffy-slippered feet on the kitchen table and thinking, 'What am I going to do now? I know, I'll ring those buggers at social security and see if I can hassle a counter cheque out of them'.

The  methadone recipients know better than to try to hassle anything out of anyone. They look as if they've done enough hassling to last a very long time. They shuffle in and form a meek queue along the lefthand wall of the pharmacy. I can't honestly say it's a cheering sight. I suppose though it might be possible to regard it as educational. You couldn't look at that straggling collection of defeated human beings without noticing that their addictions have done them very little long-term good.

All of them have seen better days - at least I hope they have; I'd hate to think this is as good as it's ever got for them. Their complexions are grey, brightened only by a livid scar or two, a rash or sometimes a weeping sore. They move stiffly, some limp, they all carry themselves as if something - physical or mental - is broken inside them. Their general demeanour suggests that they are veterans of some terrible struggle that is still continuing and which they are unlikely to win.

The question remains though - is it the drugs that have caused all this damage or is it their illegality? Is it what they've taken or what they've done to get the things they like to take? I don't know the answers to those questions. The only conclusion that I can draw with any certainty is that illegal drugs are clearly dangerous.

But then again, so is life. I was reminded of this as I waited for my own medicine and listened to the two old ladies (not part of the methadone crowd) who sat at the table the staff provide for customers they can't serve straight away.

One of the women was there when I entered; the other arrived after me. The first woman greeted her friend warmly. 'How was the trip to Mittagong?' she asked,  as the second woman settled into her seat.

The newcomer winced and grimaced in reply. 'I didn't go in the end,' she said, 'I wasn't up to it. I gave my ticket to Ethel - she's my new neighbour, in the unit where Marigold was, until ...' Her voice trailed off without the sentence being finished.

'She must have been pleased,' her friend remarked quickly. 'That was a really friendly gesture. What a kind thing to do.' 'Well I don't know if it was,' the second old lady said gloomily, 'I feel a bit guilty about it now as a matter of fact.' She shifted uneasily in her seat as she talked on.

'The trouble is, you see, when they were getting out at Mittagong, Ethel fell down the steps of the coach. She's up there still - in the Bowral hospital. She smashed her hip, fractured her shoulder and broke both of her arms.'


  1. Oh, my! I know I shouldn't have laughed at the end, but, I couldn't help it. I hope Ethel heals quickly and doesn't take to meth as a result of her mishap.

  2. I think what happens to drug addicts is that they no longer take care of their bodies in any way, rather than it being the actual drugs 'poisoning' them. It's a combination, caused by being high, of not sleeping (for days on end), not eating (for days on end), drinking huge amounts of alcohol, and smoking at least 40 fags a day. And not washing.

  3. Another priceless vignette. As someone who's spent rather more time than I'd like to waiting in pharmacies lately, I could picture it so well. One afternoon as I waited, an elderly, probably Italian, man tried to explain what he wanted. He named the product, but the assistant tried to get him to tell her what colour the packaging was, which he couldn't answer to her satisfaction. He was trying to show her which one he wanted but she kept blocking the shelf from him, under some compulsion to make him tell her what the correct colour was - there were several for that product.

    I had to walk away to stop myself smacking her.

  4. Snoring - Ethel's doing nicely, developing a pethidine habit that should soon blossom into addiction, criminal activity and a spell in jail (a senile offenders facility, of course)
    Worm - the smell of fags does offset some of the more pungent undertones
    M-H - I'm sorry you've not been well, but I hope your pharmacy visits are not going to become a permanent fixture. I imagine your scenario with the nasty assistant continuing until the point where the Italian collapses, unable to get hold of the drug he needs, and lies on the floor gasping out possible medicine names and colours with his last few breaths, to no avail