After my trip to Walgreens in Austin, TX, I honestly hoped I wouldn’t have to deal with anything healthcare-related in the US, ever again. Oh well, I was wrong.
A few days ago I started having a sore throat, and went down to the Walgreens on First and Mission (I’m in San Francisco) to ask about some antiseptic spray or something. I had braced myself for another less-than-pleasant experience, and was positively surprised when a nice and smiling pharmacist listened to me, discussed options, gave me advice, and made me feel like she was happy to do her job. Quite a change from the grumpy guy in Austin, who maybe needed a job change!
A day or two later, I realised that one of my toe nails was starting to become way too painful (said toe nail was traumatized on the judo mats some 10+ years ago, and has been bothering me at times since then — but this was starting to be really problematic). I tried heading for the pedicure first, who politely turned me away after a few prods at it and a few yells on my part: it was already infected, and I needed to see a doctor. Oh, heck.
There was a Walgreens nearby, on 4th and Townsend, so I dropped by to ask about doctors. Where/how/what? A very nice and friendly pharmacist (wow, two of them in the same city!) told me to head for the clinic behind the AT&T ballpark (24 Willie Mays Plaza) to see a Dr. Zee (or Zak — short for Zacharewicz, and easier to pronounce). I found the clinic quite easily (between the ballpark and the canal), checked in as best I could (forms are clearly not designed for patients visiting from abroad), and waited — quite a bit, but hey, I was a walk-in.
A friendly nurse/assistant (?) showed me in, asked me a few questions about what brought me here (I got to tell her the sad story of my poor toe nail) took my blood pressure, and left me to wait a few minutes for Dr. Zee.
Dr. Zee was as nice as I’d been told. She listened to my story, prodded my toe nail a little, thought a bit, and gave me instructions for warm soapy foot-baths, keeping me toe out of the dirty San Francisco street-dust, and a prescription. A really lovely doctor that I heartily recommend if you’re in SF and in need of one.
I left, $90 poorer but feeling almost warm and fuzzy about healthcare in San Francisco, and decided to drop in at the Walgreens which had sent me to pick up my prescription. That’s where I learned that I had to wait 15-20 minutes to get my medication (some antibiotic cream) instead of just being able to hand in the prescription slip and walk out with my meds (as I expected, based on my — limited and Swiss — previous experience). I decided to drop in later that evening as I was going out.
Fast-forward a few hours. I’m back at Walgreens to pick up my prescription. I’m told they can’t give it to me, because the doctor did not specify on the prescription if it was cream or ointment. They’d tried to call the doctor’s office but it was already closed, so I had to wait until tomorrow. I said I really didn’t care if it was cream or ointment, they could give me either. They said they couldn’t, that the doctor needed to confirm if it was the cream or ointment. I insisted, arguing that the difference in between cream and ointment really wasn’t important in this case, that all I cared about was to be able to start the treatment for my toe as soon as possible. The pharmacist (who was a different one from the one who recommended Dr. Zee to me) kept on like a broken record, telling me they couldn’t make the decision or give me one or the other. I insisted more, saying that no insurance would bother them about this because I was from abroad and would be paying myself, that I wasn’t going to sue them, etc. No success: the doctor had to decide, by law they were forbidden from giving me the medicine without her confirmation.
I stomped out, feeling powerless and furious, then stomped back in to ask for my prescription. If was going to have to wait until tomorrow for my prescription, I would go to a pharmacy closer to where I was staying, like the one on 1st.
So, this morning, after 11 hours of sleep (!), I went down to the Walgreens on 1st to get my prescription. I also needed some other medication for my cough and eye. The pharmacist (honestly not sure if she was the same one as the other day) was lovely. She actually took the trouble to explain me how the medication I’d been recommended for my eye in Austin worked (basically, does nothing else than shrink the blood vessels, so that it’s less red). Checked that there was no discharge, and said “OK, so it’s not conjunctivitis then” (a contrast with “I can’t tell you, you have to see a doctor” or some other stupid by-the-book answer). Discussed the other drug I needed with me too. Nice and helpful.
And when my prescription arrived (less than 5 minutes later — and I don’t know if they called the doctor’s office, but they didn’t bring it up) she mentioned that it was quite expensive: $70. I told her I was probably going to back out then, because it was just for an ingrown toe nail which had already started to get better with the soapy water baths. She agreed with me that the cream was maybe a bit overkill given that, and that I’d probably be OK with over-the-counter antibiotic cream. Over-the-counter antibiotic cream?! Yes, that have that here.
So, overall, a much more pleasant experience of healthcare services here in San Franciso (despite one episode of “we follow rules, here” broken-recorditis).