Saturday, February 23, 2008


Perhaps, I shouldn't think this way. As a pharmacist, I should be ready and willing to help the public with all of their healthcare issues. However, some of the questions I get are ones that I wouldn't be able to answer any better than the person asking. Yesterday provided me with 2 examples of these types of questions...

1) A women called on the phone to tell me that her 9 year old daughter fractured her pinky finger. Great. I thought maybe she'd ask me how much ibuprofen she could give her or some other medication related question. Instead she asked, "The doctor told me to buddy-tape her pinky to her ring finger, but it still hurts her when she moves it. What can I use to hold her finger in place and keep her from moving it?"

Now I've never broken my finger before. I've never cared for anyone with a broken finger. Moreover, in pharmacy school, they never taught us how to splint broken fingers. Any advice I could give her would simply be my best guess, which I'm not really entirely sure is any better than her best guess. After confirming with her that her daughter has a follow-up appointment to see a doctor in the not-too-distant future, I told her that she could probably tape the finger to a popsicle stick or a tongue depressor. Either that or she could just heavily tape around the joint so she's unable to move the finger.

A popsicle stick?!? That was my advice. I had no freaking clue.

2) A man brought me 2 boxes of non-stick gauze pads and asked me if either one of them would be OK to put over someone's eye (kind of like an eye patch). Again, homemade eye patches weren't covered in my pharmacy school curriculum, nor did I ever have the need to make a homemade eye patch for myself or anyone else. I stood there dumbfounded looking at the 2 boxes, and all I could muster up was to shrug my shoulders and say, "They'd probably work, but I really have no idea." Once again, his guess was as good as mine in this situation.

It's not that I don't like getting asked questions. I just don't see how I'd be expected to know the answer better than anyone else simply because I'm a pharmacist. Now, if someone asked me what's a good athletic brace to use for someone with a sprained ankle, I could tell you everything there is to know about ankle braces (and sprained ankles in general). However, that has nothing to do with me being a pharmacist. Instead, it's simply because I've sprained each ankle at least a dozen times. Therefore, by now I'm an expert on ankle sprains. Of course, my expertise would be the same if I happened to be a janitor instead of a pharmacist.

I guess I should be happy that people think so highly of pharmacists that they'll come to them with any medical issue they have. I'm just not qualified to help with some of them though, and while I'd love to go out in the aisle and help them make an educated guess, I worry about giving someone the wrong information. Therefore, if I do help, I'll usually preface it with, "this is beyond me area of expertise..." or "I'm just guessing here..." That way, they'll know to take whatever advice I give them with a grain of salt.

There was one time when a teenage girl in one of the aisles right in front of the pharmacy suddenly had a seizure and fell to the floor. The parents, nervous of course, came running to the pharmacy for help. Once again, I've never had a seizure. I don't know anyone with a seizure disorder. Luckily however, one of my techs' father had a long history of seizures, so she ran out into the aisle and kind of took control of the situation. The only thing I could do was make sure someone called 911.

In this case, I could have told them how to pharmacologically treat a seizure, but it's not like I could run out there and give her some valium (and considering we only have tablets and oral solution in stock, it probably wouldn't have been much good anyway). My tech had lots of experience in what to do while waiting for the ambulance to arrive, so she was the pharmacy's "expert" in this situation, and once again, it had nothing to do with her working in a pharmacy.

I suppose just about the only emergency situation I could respond to and actually be of some help would be if someone was having a heart attack in the store. This was actually covered in pharmacy school. I know the questions to ask. I know that it's generally a good idea to give someone a 325mg aspirin. If the person was someone who suffered from angina and had nitroglycerin tablets, I could instruct them to take the NTG and help determine whether the pain is simply angina or a possible heart attack.

Ugh... I'm rambling now. In any case, the point was that I get frustrated when people ask me healthcare questions that were not covered at any point in my pharmacy school curriculum. Most of the time, I don't have any better idea than the person asking the question, but I look like I should simply because I wear the white coat.


Carol said...

I once had someone ask me what they should do when they broke their mercury thermometer in their swimming pool! I told them to call a swimming pool place. Then there was the lady who called and said that she was cleaning her central heating system and her cat got into an uncovered duct. How to get kitty out? I had no clue. why would you call a pharmacy?

Anonymous said...

I agree it's hard to answer those questions unless you have personal experience with it. I sympathize with the customers though, because in today's health care system they may see so many different people along the way and it's hard to know who to ask when you have a question -- and of course we pharmacists are by far the most accessible.

pharmacy chick said...

We get all kinds. Once I had a child drop a big can of tomatoes from a grocery cart right on mommy's foot, Gads there was blood all over the place. They come running to me. I did the best first aid I could and sent her to the e.r. She came back a couple of hours later with 2 rx's and she said the Dr asked her who did the bandaging--she said the pharmacist--he said, "did a good job!"

of course I have also had the idiot questions: "how do you cook skewered corn?" (what?!?)
"I dunno, skewer it and cook?"

greensunflowerRN said...

I think that is what every health professional faces. The things people will ask a pediatric critical care nurse about their 85yo relative in acute care, are things I cant answer because i am so far removed from that type of nursing, but evidenly a nurse should know everything.

Healthcare professionals are revered in our society, and in that they think we have huge amounts of knowledge only afforded to those with education such as ours. It is actually a product of society rather than the stupidity of the asker.

BTW, my dog threw up, can I give her benedryl as a mild antiemetic and how much per kg?


Un-PC RPh said...

I hate the questions about braces, bandages, DME, TED Hose, and first aid. I have no knowledge of those things. Perhaps I missed that lecture, but I do not recall this material ever being covered.

Last saturday the manager from the bank next door came in to show me her freshly ripped open finger she smashed in her car door. "Do I need stitches?"
"YES!" I told her.
She came back 10 days later to show me her finger again. She never went for the stitches, do I think she still needed them?

Ask me things I am not trained for and then don't take my advice and live with a mangled finger that is healing all goofy.

I do not get people at all....

You know I am a complete geek and know all sorts of trival and not so trival things unrelated to pharmacy, but no one ever asks about those things *sigh*

Ariadne said...

Mike, I'm a paramedic, and you did fine with your advice about the popsicle stick. I'd have said the same thing if I'd have been asked the question.

I love you blog, btw (and I'm single :D)