It’s 9.50am on a Sunday and I’m stood in a supermarket queue waiting for the tills to open. Working 60 hours this week left little time to go food shopping. We’re short of the basics like milk, eggs and gin, the last of these being of the greatest concern to me. Last night it was touch and go as to whether I tried adding tonic to our remaining meagre supplies of alcohol hand sanitiser.
Having flashed my NHS smartcard at the staff on the supermarket door to be let in early, I joined the elderly shoppers, who were awake and organised, and the NHS staff – who drifted slowly around with sunken eyes making the place look like the shopping mall scene from Dawn of the Dead.
There is now a feeling of unreality that would fit well in an apocalyptic movie. The streets are bare and the roads quiet, yet at the pharmacy queues of people form outside despite opening earlier than usual.
In they pile with the repeated mantra “hand gel? Loo roll? Paracetamol?” As if it were some mystical incantation to ward off the evil, followed by incredulity that we can’t predict the next product delivery. Then they demand prescriptions for inhalers, paracetamol and phenomenal quantities of hormone replacement therapy drugs, suggesting a gynaecological symptom of COVID-19 that has, as yet, gone unreported.
I imagine by now that all pharmacies have had complaints about lack of stock and waiting times, exacerbated by constant phone calls to either request scripts or enquire about hand gel, loo roll and paracetamol, and patients freaked out by the constant presaging of apocalyptic plague.
Of course, any crisis brings out the best and the worst in people. We’ve seen the groups of residents who have divided up each street and take turns to care for the elderly and needy around them. Several have come into our pharmacy and left their names as being willing to deliver desperately needed medicines, although that brings its own governance challenges.
We’ve had many thanks for our work from grateful patients accompanied by boxes of chocolates we usually only see at Christmas. And we’ve been thanked for rationing all products, particularly soap, hand gel and paracetamol to one per person, regardless of the pleas and arguments. Yes, these arguments have shown a less charitable side of people.
As Mrs Xrayser and I were leaving the supermarket on Sunday a woman came rushing over and thrust a bunch of flowers into the hand of my wife. “I saw your pharmacy badges,” she said, indicating the NHS lanyards around our necks, “ and I just wanted to say thank you for what you’re doing!” I was so touched by this spontaneous act that I felt tears start to well up in my eye, which I can only attribute to tiredness.
A long-running C+D contributor, the identity of Xrayser remains a mystery, but his irreverent views are known by all. Tweet him @Xrayser