This story is by Morlino Morris and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
THE BUCKET LIST
The steady downpour made it difficult to see as Alice Morgan, a pharmacist, tried to change lanes on the way back to work. She was speeding, hoping she wasn’t too late. Only moments earlier, she had been stuffing her lab coat into the laundry chute. It fell down and away from her at the exact moment she realized her terrifying discovery.
What is a box top from a methotrexate 2.5mg bottle, a chemotherapy drug, doing in my lab coat pocket? I have not filled any prescriptions for this drug in ages. She thought to herself. But I did fill Mrs. Hazel Brown’s prescription for sixty tablets of metolazone 2.5mg, a diuretic.
Oh God! What have I done?
It looks like mandatory overtime has finally taken its toll. Alice did not complain when she came home exhausted after working sixteen hours and had to help her daughter rehearse her lines in the school play. That is what a loving single mom does. But now, she has made a medication error.
Hazel Brown, 89 years old, is a loyal customer of the hospital pharmacy where Alice works. Alice is the first African American pharmacist hired at the pharmacy. Mrs. Brown is proud a woman of color is on the staff. She and her husband never had children. She calls Alice her adopted daughter. She has come to rely on Alice’s suggestions on how to best take her medications. Mrs. Brown is a little forgetful and has poor vision. Periodically, Alice phones to make sure she is taking medications as prescribed.
Mrs. Brown and her husband are going on a trip on their bucket list. She has not disclosed the destination. She does not want to jinx their trip.
Mrs. Brown told Alice she will pick up her prescription for metolazone 2.5mg tomorrow. So, Alice plans to rush back to the pharmacy, grab the prescription bag and switch the medication before the error is discovered. Alice asked the next-door neighbor to watch her daughter Kelly.
“What drags you back here at this hour?” Beth, the evening pharmacist, asked.
“There is an important envelope I think I left on the counter or accidentally tossed into the trash,” Alice nervously replied.
“Mrs. Brown picked up her prescription already. She said to tell you goodbye,” said Beth. That news caused Alice’s heart to race. She quickly scans the shelves for metolazone 2.5mg and methotrexate 2.5mg. There is not a bottle of either on the shelves. Without drawing attention to herself, Alice grabs the prescription file and quickly flips to Hazel Brown’s prescription. She turns the prescription over and quickly jots down the lot number and expiration date she entered earlier off the bottle. She also retrieves Mrs. Brown’s phone number.
“If you threw the envelope in the trash, you are out of luck. Housekeeping has already been here,” said Beth. Alice quietly exits the pharmacy.
In the car, Alice says a prayer and nervously dials Mrs. Brown’s number. There is no answer. When she arrives home, she tries the number again. Still no answer. Alice needs help. She needs advice she can trust. She dials Sue.
Sue is her best friend and counselor. She helped Alice get back on her feet after her husband left, two months after five-year-old Kelly was born. Alice feels Sue will help her calm down and figure out what to do next.
“Sue I need your help. Something terrible has happened. I think I gave a patient the wrong prescription, a cancer drug of all things,” said Alice.
“Are you sure?” asks Sue.
“I think I am sure. Mrs. Brown has already picked up the prescription. I called her house and no one answered. She and her husband have probably left on their vacation. My life is ruined,” says Alice, as she tries to hold back the tears.
“Wait a minute. Get a grip on yourself. Let’s retrace your steps,” said Sue.
“I found in my lab coat pocket the box top from a methotrexate 2.5mg cancer drug bottle. But the last prescription I remember filling today is for metolazone 2.5mg, a water pill. That I know for sure. When it is busy, pharmacists do not stop to reorder a drug needed. We tear off the box top and place it in our lab coat pocket. This is a reminder to reorder the drug at the end of the shift,” said Alice
“Whatever you decide to do, I have your back,” says Sue.
“Thanks. I never thought I would ever be in this situation. I am faced with only two choices. For Mrs. Brown to suffer because I do not confess, is unthinkable. I could not live with myself. When I confess, I will surely lose my job and maybe my pharmacist license too. So, I will have to find another way to support myself and Kelly,” says Alice.
“Surely they will see it is an honest mistake any pharmacist could make,” says Sue
“But Sue, it didn’t happen to anyone else. It happened to me. They call me Miss Perfect. I am the first one to jump on another pharmacist for making the smallest typo on a prescription label. And now, I have given a patient the wrong medication,” says Alice
“Just wait until Mrs. Brown returns. Nothing can be done until she returns. Just use the time to explain the situation to Kelly,” says Sue.
As the days rolled by, Alice could barely sleep or eat. She dialed Mrs. Brown’s number every day. She reviewed her books on the side effects of methotrexate, like cancer of the lymphatic system, kidney damage, lower white cells, red cells and platelets in the blood, severe anemia, severe skin reactions, and rashes. Alice agonizes over the pain she is causing the person who trusts her. Alice wants to be a good pharmacist. She wants to make her daughter proud. She thinks about her own childhood. Alice grew up in a foster home. Her foster parent mistreated her simply because of Alice’s dark complexion. She was told her mother gave her up because she did not want her. She was told she would never amount to anything.
This morning Alice is using her last sick day.
“Good morning this is Alice calling in sick,” says Alice.
“Alice, Mrs. Brown was brought into the hospital last night. She is not feeling well,” said the pharmacist.
At that moment, overcome with emotion, Alice hangs up. Tears rolling down her face. She realizes what she has to do.
Alice hangs up before she hears the whole story.
Mrs. Brown and her husband went to Hawaii. On their last night there, they attend a Hawaiian luau. Mrs. Brown is allergic to pork. But to cross Hawaii off her bucket list, she feels obligated to try some roasted pig. She later experiences an allergic reaction. She is treated at a hospital in Hawaii. When they returned last night, she is still not feeling well. Her husband brought her to the hospital as a precaution.
Alice headed to the pharmacy director’s office. While waiting for the elevator, Nurse Jackie taps her on the shoulder.
“You are the lady I’ve been looking for. I’ve been waiting weeks for you to get back to me with the information I requested,” said Nurse Jackie.
“Nurse Jackie I don’t know what you are talking about. Right now I am in the middle of something. I don’t have time to help you or anyone else,” said Alice.
“You don’t remember me telling you on the elevator about the drug my mother is taking and I need more information on it? You looked like you were in a terrible rush that day. You mentioned something about your daughter’s school play rehearsal. So I said when you get a chance, get back to me. So you would not forget, I slipped the methotrexate 2.5mg box top into your lab jacket pocket,” said Nurse Jackie.