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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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Pharmacy Visit

You are a big man, a little heavy, but nothing
that can’t be fixed by daily, brisk walks
or swept away by a
dose of cancer and a blast of treatment.
You have been called from your glass enclosure
to help me.

A productive, bronchial cough
is still with me–too long.
Chinese practitioners call this a lurking pathogen
tossing antibiotics into my weary kidneys to excrete
as a mindful French woman
with her midday steamed leeks.

You stand at a distance.
With an effort to be patient
as you explain,
“Bronchitis is an inflammation
of the bronchial tubes
of the lungs.”

I do not scream at you.
I am not a feverish,
confused, old woman.
I am a nurse
and I know all that–
and more.

You speak calmly to me.
Patiently suggesting “Throat Comfort Tea,”
not the “Breathe Easy Tea”
I have been taking for difficult breathing.
You say it is incorrect.
You repeat.

“You need Sore Throat Relief tea.”
You have to be kidding me!
But you are not.
You are just getting me out of your busy life
so you can finish work
and go home.

I buy the “Throat Comfort Tea.”
The box instructions saying it is for the sore throat
I don’t have.
When I get home I drink it.
And at day’s end
reach for the whisky.

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Muriel (Aggie) Murch graduated as a nurse in England in 1964 and was later accredited as a nurse in the US. Her memoir Journey in the Middle of the Road: One Woman’s Path Through a Midlife Education was published in 1995. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in anthologies and journals including Between the Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses, Stories of Illness and Healing: Women Write Their Bodies and Learning to Heal: Reflections on Nursing School in Poetry and Prose. Her latest book, The Bell Lap: Stories for Compassionate Nursing Care, was published in 2016. She also produces independent radio programs for She and her husband divide their time between London and their grown children. She can be found at


About the Poem

“When we ask for help, we need to be seen and heard. On this particularly occasion, I felt acutely aware that this was not happening. Being sick may have helped the encounter to pass without incident, in that I didn’t have the energy to respond as I might have. As I left, I thought of all the others who came to this small local pharmacy–those as old or older than I, with less knowledge than I, not as strong as I, who maybe looked even worse than I–and my heart grieved that this man might not see us for who we are or who he too will become. The whiskey helped words to surface and sleep surround me. The lurking pathogen receded.”


5 thoughts on “Pharmacy Visit”

  1. Medical practice has often been referred to as a calling. Due in part to burnout and in part to the corporatation of medicine, it is becoming more common to have an experience of “Please go away now”.

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