There’s a certain type of person who takes advantage of the Covid-19 crisis, writes Terry Maguire

“The good lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity” 

WB Yeats.

As our business struggled to cope with the panic generated as the public discovered Covid-19 was as serious as unstable TNT in your basement, we found that most people are decent and good. What was clear and encouraging was the rise in public collective caring. People genuinely acted more kindly; strangers greeted in the street, pharmacy clients extended conversations with deeply-felt thanks and overall, children were better behaved. Yet, as in any time of human turmoil, there remained those focused more or less only on themselves.

A member of staff drew attention to a trending social media video of one of our patients being apprehended by security at a local superstore. Naked to the waist, he reminded me of a bull-calf charging pointlessly. He rammed the entrance head-first, only to be repelled by the burly, indifferent employees. 

He then, after a tirade of innovative expletives, hurled a metal stand, in place to direct social-distancing, but this merely bounced off the door frame. I was as impressed by his determination as I was by the staff’s patience. He had attempted to steal three 40-ounce bottles of vodka from the store before being ejected, and his online performance suggested significant incompetence and real incapacitation. For him, this was day six of a bender that started before St Patrick’s Day and possibly was inspired by the crisis. Police, the night before, had raided his flat, where 20 had been partying for five days and confiscated alcohol and took away a complete sound system.

Dispensed daily medicines by our pharmacy, he had been absent since then and when, at the end of the video, I saw police arrive and knowing something of the conditions of his probation, I knew it would be some time until we saw him again. 

Naked to the waist, he reminded me of a bull-calf charging pointlessly.  He rammed the entrance head-first, only to be repelled by the burly, indifferent employees. He then, after a tirade of innovative expletives, hurled a metal stand, in place to direct social-distancing, but this merely bounced off the door frame

Three days into the crisis, a methadone patient, one who frequently complains about the inconvenience of attending the pharmacy daily for supervised consumption, casually asked what would happen if she was forced to self-isolate.  I didn’t know, but would find out and I found that updated service guidance meant that if self-isolating, the central service would deliver daily methadone doses to the service user’s home. I told her. Next day, I was informed that she was self-isolating for 14 days, since she was in contact with someone with Covid-19 symptoms. Now, this is fine, but technically — and this is the bit that grinds with me — she was in the pharmacy and was potentially infected with the SARS–CoV-2 virus. Properly following the guidance, I should have closed the pharmacy for a deep-clean and laid-off all staff for 14 days, as they had been in contact. 

I didn’t, because there was a high probability she was a lying, selfish toad and since she could be depended on in this regard, we were confident we were right.  No-one got sick and when this patient returned after her 14-day home delivery service, I was less friendly; not sure if she noticed. She told me she enjoyed her self-isolation, had a new hairstyle and got a new boyfriend, whom she firmly believed was ‘the one’.

Sheila, who lives in one of my flats, telephoned to tell me her GP had designated her as high-risk and we therefore had to deliver her medicines. The prescription collected from the GP, I decided to deliver it myself, as it would allow me to address outstanding rent. I arrived at the flat to find her lying on the sofa, so drunk that she could not raise her head and I told her I would telephone tomorrow. 

When I did, she complained that due to the shut-down, she could not pay her rent, in spite of me trying to point out that she was on the dole and her income was completely unaffected and anyway, I was talking about the rents for January and February. 

The government would be protecting her from eviction over this crisis, she insisted, and I agreed that indeed, that was a good thing.

Terry Maguire
Terry Maguire

Terry Maguire owns two pharmacies in Belfast. He is an honorary senior lecturer at the School of Pharmacy, Queen’s University of Belfast. His research interests include the contribution of community pharmacy to improving public health