My dad was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma the week after Father’s Day in 2000. I’d left for Australia just before Mother’s Day and returned two weeks later, and around that time he had been complaining of back pain and put his hand down on his back, near his kidneys — my mother was worried as she always is about everything. Their internist at the time said it was orthopedic and ordered six week of physical therapy. My mom went to her Osteopath, who is also a DO — he put his hand on my dad and said: “It’s not orthopedic.” And sent them for an x-ray.
We had the annual Father’s Day cookout in our yard, chaos as usual. On Monday when they went back to the Osteopath’s office, everyone said: “Oh did you have a good Father’s Day?” Then they were told there was a cloud. The protruding belly my mum thought was my dad’s weakness for sweets was actually the lymphoma wrapped down and around and pushing out. My dad had to have a surgical biopsy because of the location to confirm the lymphoma and what type it was. On my mum’s birthday, while the tall ships sailed into the harbor, we got those results, that it was b-cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, intermediate moving and my dad was starting stage three and we were starting chemo that very day. To note, I’d looked up various lymphomas the night before on the American Cancer Society website stage three in lymphoma is not good and there is no stage four that is death or it was in 2000.
So where does Harry come in? Harry was our local pharmacist. At one time our town had many small independent pharmacies, three (3) actually when I was growing up in the 1970’s, with soda fountains, glass display cases for candy, and personal service unlike the chains of today. By the end of the 1980’s, three turned to two, and Harry worked at Samuel’s Pharmacy but then bought out Brown’s when the elderly brothers ran it retired. But my folks never called it Brown’s they called it Harry’s.
My dad was supposed to get these shots to boost his white and red blood cells after his chemo treatments. They weren’t experimental but they weren’t part of the routine protocol either — which put us into insurance company coverage hell. My mum called and fought with the insurance company — my dad a retired postal worker/guard had a federal plan. At one point the nurse at the insurance company told my mum: “You think you have a good plan — but you don’t really.”
The insurance paid for a large percentage/coverage of these shots. When my mum went to pick them up, Harry came out and said to her cheerfully: “That will be three hundred dollars.” The insurance had paid over a thousand but the rest was not covered. Then as my mom took out her checkbook, he lowered his voice and said, “If you don’t have it now. Don’t worry you can pay me back later.”
And that is just one story. I’m sure Harry helped many other people that way, letting them pay off debts or giving them the medicine outright at a loss. I know he did this for one beloved person in town who struggled with AIDS/HIV in the early days. If not they probably would have lost their house and business. One of the nurses in our dentist’s office this week told my mum her dog had some serious illness and the medicine was over $120 dollars, but someone told her to go see Harry. He told her he could order and get it for her. The price $20. No mark up. Harry also hired people to do home deliveries, one driver and one runner besides a few people to help behind the counter ringing sales. My grandmother was notorious for making a large order, because she lived in the next city over and they delivered there as well as around our town. But she would call and complain and my mum would apologize but Harry told her not to worry.
Whenever I went to pick up medication for one of my folks, Harry was generous with time and questions especially in times of crisis when they were in and out of the hospital. Years later, when we were in calmer times and I went to pick up my medication she would ask me: “Did you see Harry?” And if I did: “What did he say?”
If I had a question or questions about a medicine or an interaction — Harry always took the time to answer my concerns or my mother’s that I was relaying, and he did this for everyone else too. Most of the time I did not ask to see him unless it was necessary. If I did see him for a brief chat, it was brief because people in line were waiting to see him or he was wanted on the phone. Harry gave time and his knowledge to people. That was the kind of generous person he was.
And he was quiet about it. I don’t think we will actually know how many people Harry actually helped he wasn’t a boaster. He mentored one of my mother’s students Carla who went to pharmacy school and worked with him for many years. He was like a second father to her and his nephew Chris also worked in the store, managing the lottery and the soda fountain where people would gather and discuss town news. Sometimes his son’s helped out on Sundays, mostly to make sure he closed on time and went to a family event.
When Harry fell over in the store — the police log said there was a hysterical call from Brown’s Pharmacy. And our hearts fell too when all learned it was a brain tumor. And someone went online and people that Harry gave to — gave back not just with messages and cards and love and prayers, but with money for his care and treatment — which of course did not work.
Harry passed away in 2017 leaving a tear in our hearts. Carla continued to work in the pharmacy, and Chris was there too but they hired a couple of part time pharmacists and closed on Sundays — Harry’s widow Janine came to the store often to watch over them. Apparently they offered to buy Janine out to keep the store open but instead, Harry’s widow, Janine and her family sold out to a heartless corporation Caremark/CVS which I’m sure was a larger, monetary sum, and gave the town only one (1) week’s notice.
Our local newspaper did a fluff piece and that is it. But actually it’s not, Carla sadly lost her husband last year and just a few months ago her father fell in the center of town, hit his head and died a few days later in the hospital.
My hope is that someone will come forward and back Carla and the other pharmacists and Chris in opening another independent pharmacy. This happened when the Lombardo family closed our town supermarket, a local resident/business man backed the former store manager and opened a very small market. They just had their twenty (20) year anniversary. Wherever he is I’m sure that Harry would bless this venture, and I’m praying it will happen as I watch the water — hoping the tide of all our tears will wash away any comfort that CVS buyout money will bring to Janine and her family.