Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Trip To The Pharmacy

“Gimme drugs; gimme drugs.”
--Vinnie Barbarino
Welcome Back, Kotter

Ten days out, and something finally may get me.  It’s not the Cyclops, but a nasty little germ.  I became familiar with this particular little pest some years ago.  First it spends a little while incubating, during which time you still feel like a normal person—so you don’t really think of going to the doctor.  Then, quickly, and before you have time to react, the insidious little bugger takes you down completely—like emergency-room-fever-and-chills-delirium completely.  It’s not pretty.

The gory details are not important.  Suffice it to say, somewhere back in Albania I began to feel a telltale sign that this thing was back for another potential smackdown.  This time I'm determined to take it out before it ruins the final days of my trip and—gasp!—causes me to miss my final flight westward.  It's a battle I'm hell-bent on winning, obviously.  You bring a knife-of-an-infection, I’ll bring a gun-of-an-antibiotic; that sort of thing.

Yesterday I did some research and consulting—and also relied on the forever-burned, horrific memories of the last go-round—to settle on what kind of antibiotics I would need.  I had heard that, here in Greece, I could get whatever I needed without a prescription in a pharmacy.  I planned to hot-foot it down to one the following day.

This afternoon I had to walk through quite a few neighborhoods to find a pharmacy that was open.  Many pharmacies here close early on Tuesdays for some random, unexplained reason.  I finally found one and entered to find a plain-clothed pharmacist who did not speak more than a few words of English.   I told her I needed an antibiotic.  She didn’t understand what I saying.  This can’t be good, I thought.

The pharmacist handed me a blank piece of paper, and on it I wrote the name of the antibiotic I sought and some other stuff regarding how many milligrams I wanted and so on.  She then took out some sort of Greek-to-English drug-translation guide and flipped through pages until she found what she was looking for.  Finally, she turned to the adjacent shelving and retrieved a box of drugs.  Amid some Greek writing, the English name of my drug was on there.

The pharmacist didn’t ask me what was wrong, or why I needed the medicine, and I didn’t tell her, either.  She has no idea who I am, and I have no idea who she is.  We don’t even speak the same language, so the offering of information on either side would probably have been of no use anyway.

I bought three boxes of the antibiotics for a 12-day course.  Each box cost 2.20 €.  According to today’s exchange rate, that equals $9.30—even less than the average pharmacy co-pay in America.

I left feeling totally weird about the whole experience.  It was so unlike what we go through back in the States.  Then I got to thinking.  What other drugs could I stockpile for my return home?  I couldn’t immediately think of anything that might befall me, but given time, perhaps I’ll think of something.

Meanwhile, the pharmacist spoke enough English to tell me that I should take the pills with a little water.  Actually, if I understood her mime correctly, I think she was telling me that I should drop the pill in a little bit of water and then drink it.  Of course, I’ve never heard of such a thing.  Not only that, but I don’t know for how long I should wait after I drop the pill in the water before drinking it.  Ten seconds?  Until it dissolves?

Unfortunately, apart from a few recognizable English words in and around the package, like “Pfizer” (which is comforting, in this instance), the rest of the directions are, well, all Greek to me.  I know, that’s like the most tired cliché ever, especially after a few days in Athens.

Meanwhile, I have no idea what some other backpackers were talking about when they said Athens stinks.  I’m loving Athens.  Sure it’s a little rough around the edges.  But it’s like a gazillion years old—what does one expect?  And yes, it’s kitschy, and overrun with tourists, and on every other corner you trip over some Nigerian hawking fake Prada.  But what great European city doesn’t have that stuff?  Plus, I learned, if people would put their tourist maps down for a second, and wander the streets, they'd run into some pretty interesting and tranquil places.

People gave me similar warnings about Warsaw and Skopje, and on both counts, I thought they were dead wrong.  Perhaps I’m just a city girl with a certain bias.  In any event, there’s a lot to love about Athens and surrounds, not least of which is the most delicious chicken gyro served at the Smile Greek Restaurant just down the way from my hostel. 

I got that gyro tip, by the way, from two Canadian-girl backpackers with whom I shared my dorm the other night.  They were two of the most considerate, polite, and friendly girls—Canadian or otherwise—that I’ve encountered on this journey.  Now I feel bad for lumping all Canadian backpackers together under a certain stereotype.  I promise from now on to take them on a case-by-case basis.  Of course, I’ve only nine days left.  But better late than never.