“You can do this. Just go up and say what you need, look the clerk in her eyes, and be calm. If you do all these things, you will get what you need.”
I can still hear my shaky voice repeating these sentences aloud as I slowly walked down the aisle in Walgreens recently. Reading the words just now broke my heart and made me tear up a little. Because of one terrible experience with Walgreens, I forever have anxiety anytime it is time to restock my medical supplies for my methotrexate injection.
Recently I traveled to Las Vegas. If you have traveled anywhere while battling chronic illness and pain, you know the extensive attention to detail required to pack. You have to double and triple check your luggage to ensure you have all your clothes, medicines, and supplies, in addition to the other items you take when traveling. Honestly, by the time I finished packing, I was so exhausted that I almost talked myself out of traveling. But, despite my exhaustion, I pushed on.
Friends, I was so excited about going to Vegas that I slacked in my attention to detail. I somehow managed to arrive in Vegas for my week long vacation with my methotrexate vials, but no needles, alcohol wipes, or a sharps container. Basically, I brought the medicine to give myself the injection, but forgot to bring the other items to actually administer the injection. How funny, right? It’s like when you get all your ingredients ready to make a great sandwich…then discover a key one missing after all your preparations. You know how it goes, you slowly pull out the lunch meat, the mustard (or Mayo or Miracle Whip), and cheese and place them on the counter. You then grab the chips and your plate to put everything on. You finally go searching for the most important part of the sandwich, the bread, only to discover you have none. Forgetting my needles was like that. Yeah, I missed up big time…I WAS EXCITED PEOPLE! Who are you to judge me?
On day 4 of my 7 day trip I discovered my mistake, and knew a trip to the local pharmacy was required. Immediately anxiety set in. As my mind raced, memories of the horrible experience with Walgreens last year flashed through my mind. I began to see myself shuffled to multiple Walgreens locations across town because the pharmacist or tech thought I was a drug seeker. As the intense memories flashed, I could hear myself whimpering in pain as my feet drug across the linoleum floor because I was in too much pain to lift them. I could see myself hunched over holding my stomach in pain, approaching person after person asking for help, only to be turned away. Before I knew it, the horrible flashback was abruptly interrupted but sound of my voice yelling “NO, THIS SHOT WILL HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL I GET BACK HOME!”. There was no way I was going through that again!
Yep, you read that right. Now, before you judge, let me explain. Rather than again experience being perceived as a drug seeker by Walgreens’ staff, I would rather compromise my remission and wait to do my weekly injection. I know, I know. As I type this the little voice in my head says “that is nuts”. But, if you have ever had an experience like mine, then you know how traumatizing being mistaken for a drug seeker can be and you completely understand why I reached the conclusion I did. See, it may be hard to believe, but I have not purchased needles at my local pharmacy since the incident with Walgreens last year.
Well, fortunately, I have someone in my life that is much more rationale than I am…my husband. He heard my outburst from the next room and ran in. He came into the room so fast he brought a little wind with him. After he caught his breath, he asked “hey, what’s wrong?” I sheepishly replied, “I forgot my needles and can’t do my shot tomorrow.” He gave his signature sly grin and said “well, we have a Walgreens down the street and you just have to go get new needles.” Teary at this point, I looked down at the floor and said “don’t you remember what happened last time, I can’t go asking for needles at this time. It’s 11pm and I will for sure be accused of being a drug seeker. I can’t go through that again.” His joking demeanor quickly softened, he placed his hand on my back and said “listen, I don’t know how scary this all is because I haven’t been through it. But, you can’t assume all Walgreens will be like last time…that doesn’t make you any better than them.” Confused, all I could muster was “huh?” He continued, “if you think all Walgreens will treat you that way, you are doing exactly what they did to you. You pride yourself on being better than stuff like that…be better then.” Feeling challenged at this point, and impressed that my husband still knows what to say to make me change course, I perked up and said “you’re right, let’s go.”
We quickly loaded the kids into the car and headed to the Walgreens 2 blocks away. Too nervous to ride, I told my husband “I’ll drive.” Surprisingly, I do that when I am nervous…I have to drive. We have already covered my control freak type A tendencies…I’m fully aware of them….so back to it. As I drove to the Walgreens, I gripped the steering wheel so tight that the decorative roping left an indentation in the palms of my hands. As I drove along the road, I analyzed my appearance and tried to encourage myself by going over how different I look now from when I went to Walgreens last year. As I said to myself “you look better”, we made it to Walgreens.
Heart racing, hands clammy, underarms a little moist at this point, I willed myself to remain calm and refrain from thinking about my last experience with Walgreens. I made myself exit the car and walk into the store. As the store doors slowly opened, the cold air from their air conditioner hit my face. The quick hit of cold air jolted me into the reality of my present situation…I am standing in Walgreens. Suddenly, I hear my heart pounding with loud thuds I was certain everyone in the area could hear. Concerned, I look around the store to see if anyone is horrified by the sound of my beating heart. Surprisingly, everyone is unbothered. Confident that no one could hear my scared beating heart, I headed toward the aisle labeled “Pharmacy”.
Slightly out of breath, I reached the counter and noticed a blond woman wearing a badge that read “Stacy, Pharmacist.” I cleared my throat and said “excuse me, I need to buy some needles.” Stacy quickly gave me a up and down glance, smiled, looked me square in my eyes and asked “do you know what size.” I quickly replied, “yes, 29 1/2”. Stacy quickly bent down and began to fumble behind the counter, while keeping her eye contact with me. As she fumbled around behind the counter peering into my eyes she asked “what are you injecting?” I quickly replied “1ml of methotrexate and 1 ml of b-12.” Stacy quickly replied “ok, and popped up with a bag of needles”. I quickly paid the $2.99 for the pack, and walked as fast as I could out the store. When I reached the car, out of breath, I whispered “I did it. I got them.” My husband softly replied, “see.”
Friends, some of you reading this are probably thinking “what’s the big deal?” You may even be asking “so you bought some needles, so what?” Well, I am so glad you asked. When you battle chronic illness and pain, and are treated poorly because of other’s misconceptions, it does something to you. It can make you leering of others, and unwilling to seek help…often to your detriment. It can also make you become what you despise. This experience taught me that what happened to me last year at Walgreens will NEVER be ok, BUT it will also NEVER been an excuse to refuse to get the help I need or be a reason to justify becoming what I loathe. While conceptions about chronic illness and pain are VERY real, VERY REAL, they, along with the mistreatment we experience because of those misconceptions, cannot and will not be a crutch.
It is impossible to convey just how freighted I was attempting to buy needles for my methotrexate injection. But, I did it. Now listen, I am not naïve. Do I think that my “better appearance” may have made this process a little easier? Yes. But, did looking better remove my significant anxiety? No. The point dear friends, I needed something to ensure I received my required medication. Even though fear of what may happen (although based in what actually HAD happened previously), tried to stop me, I pushed on. I encourage you all to do that. We can’t control the misconceptions…we can just keep pushing and living.