Main | Saturday, January 03, 2009

Mrs. Witten

Rite Aid Pharmacy, Grand Central Terminal

There's a woman in line ahead of me who has just handed over a huge sheaf of prescriptions. She is a middle-aged business woman wearing a navy suit. She has a Blackberry clipped to her messenger-style bag. The two clerks seem to know her and they immediately pick up their pace and begin darting amongst the shelves, pulling her order.

After about a minute, the pharmacist appears. He's a looming young man with severe black eyeglasses. He motions for the customer to step to the side of the register, which she does.
He reaches across the laminated counter and touches her hand.

"Hi Mrs. Witten, how are you doing?" he asks her.

"Well, you know. One day at a time. One day at a time, " she replies with a resigned shrug.

"Right, right. I understand," he says, nodding. "Is he feeling any better?"

"Well, he has his good days and he has his bad days, you know how it is."

The pharmacist nods silently. One of the clerks comes over and confers with him for a moment, showing him a few slips of paper. Mrs. Witten looks around apologetically at the customers waiting behind her. The pharmacist lays a few of the slips on the counter between them.

"So there's some good news and some bad news today."


"The good news is that three of these meds are completely covered by Medicare. 100%. No co-pay."

"But...." Mrs. Witten says, waiting.

"But two of these are only partially covered, and the Thalomid isn't covered at all. You'd have to pay up front for the Thalomid if you want it today. I'm really sorry about that."

"How much is it? A lot?"

"Yes. I'll have to check my chart for the dosages called for, but it's going to be over $1000. That plus the partial coverage on these other're looking at about $1400, maybe $1500 out of pocket today. Is that going to, what you want to do?"

Mrs. Witten looks down at the slips. "Do think it would be better...I mean...might it be cheaper for me to get it outside the city? I mean, nothing against you guys or anything, it's just...."

The pharmacist shakes his head, "No, I'm sure it will be pretty much the same everywhere. This is a very expensive medication, nobody really discounts it."

Mrs. Witten puts her shoulders back and reaches into her purse. "Well, it is what it is, I guess. What am I going to do? Not get it for him? He's my father."

I watch her flip past a few credit cards in her wallet, selecting one, then changing her mind and pulling out a different one and laying it on the counter. The clerk slips it away and moves over to begin ringing up the order.

The pharmacist touches her hand another time. "Do you want me to keep the Thalomid in stock for you? He's going to need it again in a couple of weeks."

"Um, I guess. Yeah. I'm going to have to talk to his oncologist again."

"OK, I understand. "

A few minutes later, I see Mrs. Witten standing in the terminal. She's staring at the monitor that shows the train schedule, but I can tell she's really looking at her own reflection in the glass. When I get to the top of the ramp, I look back one more time. She's still standing there, staring.

(Originally posted June 2005.)

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