A Trip to Walgreens [en]

[fr] Une petite visite à la pharmacie aux Etats-Unis.

This is just too good a story to not write about it while I wait for somebody around here in Austin to come up with dinner plans.

Around noon, I noticed my left eye was bloodshot. Nothing terrifying. Over the afternoon, it started feeling a bit dry and painful, so I asked the hotel clerk if there was a pharmacy nearby. (Cutting a long story short, I figured out that this was the best course of action given the situation.)

A $20 taxi fare and a bottle of Visine later ($3.99), I have just been through the most surreal pharmacy experience in my whole life. I mean, I’d heard jokes, but I’d never seen it in person.

First, the pharmacist. For those of you who do not know the US, pharmacies are not privately owned (as far as I can see), as they are in Switzerland for example, but are part of a chain: Walgreens, CVS… There is a little booth where you can go to speak to the pharmacist and get advice — in that, it seems to match the kind of services I’m used to in a pharmacy. It stops there.

He finally puts down the phone and comes over to me.

– How can I help? *(in a “let’s get it done with” tone of voice — friendliness optional, obviously, and I ain’t getting none of it)*
– Well, my eye is red, and it hurts, and it might just be too much travel, too much A/C, not enough sleep, but it could be conjunctivitis…
– If you have conjunctivitis, then you have to see a doctor. Otherwise, you can *shmbl glmp znfgh — inaudible*
– Well, I don’t *know* if I have conjunctivitis.
– …
– Er, so, how do I know if I have to go see a doctor? How long do I wait before going to see the doctor if it doesn’t get better?
– I can’t tell you that. *(or something in that direction)*
– I mean… assuming it’s not conjunctivitis, and I use those drops, in how many days should it be over?
– Can’t say — it depends on the person. *(at this point, I feel like saying *I’m not going to sue you, you know, just looking for some kind of indication…”)*
– …
– Is there any discharge?
– No… just feels dry and painful
– OK, so it’s probably not conjunctivitis. If you have conjunctivitis, there is a discharge… so you should be ok with *shgmphh fgb*, over-the-counter.
– OK, thanks — can you repeat the name again?
– Visine A.C.
– Where do I find it?
– Aisle 8D.

I thank him and potter off to aisle 8D, not far away. There is a sign that says eye and ear stuff. The aisle is full of feminine hygiene products and sports elastic bands. I have no clue what Visine A.C. looks like, and it doesn’t seem to jump out at me.

I head back to the counter and ask for help. It is provided rather gracefully.

The shop assistant leads me down the *neighbouring* aisle (I could have searched for a long time in the wrong one) and shows me the drops. I spot another bottle just next to it, Visine L.R. Being a curious bunny, I wonder what the difference between the two products is. This is where it gets really bad.

– So, what’s the difference between those two?
– Well… let me see. They don’t have the same active ingredients. See… this one has a different active ingredient, and astringent.
– Er, OK, but what’s the difference?
– They have different active ingredients… This is the one the pharmacist recommends for you.
– I mean, what’s the difference in effect… what does the difference in active ingredients change?
– Well, this one will be more effective.
– But… how? what is the difference going to be?
– I can’t make any recommendation, but this one is what the pharmacist recommended, so it’ll be more effective for what you told the pharmacist you had…

Before I have a chance to confront his robotic, scripted, lawsuit-proof behaviour (which probably wouldn’t have done much good), the pharmacist comes walking by, and he passes on the problem (me) to him.

The pharmacist looks at the two bottles while I repeat my request for information.

– They don’t have the same active ingredients. This is the one I recommended. Actually, here, this is what you need.

He hands me the Visine L.R.