In my span of years as a retail pharmacist I have heard (and seen) some doozies. One man was picking up his wife’s prescription for a yeast infection and I asked him to have her call me if she needed any further information. He said, “She puts it in her hoo-hoo, we get it!” (Hence my term for the vagina.) Another soul asked me why she was pregnant. I asked her how she was using her spermicidal jelly and she told me proudly, that yes, she put it on her toast and ate it every day. No lie. Another woman actually pulled her shirt up in front of a waiting line of customers to show me the rash under her breast.
I don’t have many adventures in counseling these days since I work in a hospital now but occasionally we fill scripts for patients being discharged who have no insurance or money. Yesterday, I had a real mind-blower and it wasn’t funny at all. Yesterday I had my first brush with adult illiteracy.
At first I thought the fellow was joshing me. I was counseling him on his prescriptions and he asked me for a marker. That’s not unusual because many people draw hearts on their blood pressure pill bottles or sad faces on their antidepressant bottles. As I turned away to find a Sharpie he said, “I can’t read.” I started to smile because he was a younger fellow, decked out in gangsta attire and he was sporting grills and I thought he was messing around with me, the stodgy pharmacist lady in the white coat. He said, “No, seriously, I can figure out some words but I can’t read this shit.”
My mouth fell open. I was thunderstruck, embarrassed and at a true loss for words. I gaped there like a fish sucking on air until I gathered my wits and said the first thing that came to my astonished head, “Well, I think it’s time to work on that.” I am an imbecile! What was I supposed to say? It’s no wonder he was in the hospital, he can’t read the directions or names of the medications he was taking before he landed here.
But no, he was as serious as a heart attack. He is one of the 25 to 42 million (the stats vary) adult Americans who cannot read or cannot comprehend what they are reading. And the US is ranked 49th in literacy levels amongst the 158 members of the UN. Astounding! We are one of the most powerful nations on the planet and yet almost 55% of our citizens cannot comprehend written communication higher than a 5th grade level. I read this essay regarding illiteracy in America: http://www.nrrf.org/essay_Illiteracy.html. Read it if you have some time. It points out some serious flaws in the way we educate our youth but I know there are other factors. Fodder for another blog at a later date, perhaps?
Back to my man. He doesn’t have a job, health insurance or a phone. He lives with his parents, has a daughter (she was with him and I fell in love with her on the spot), and a driver’s license; they gave the test to him orally. He has diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety and is on some serious medications that could kill him if he doesn’t remember the directions correctly. And I was terrified for him.
I urged him to go to the sources of assistance that the social worker provided to him so that he could learn to read and take control over his life. I must have sounded preachy because he kept looking to the sky and telling me the Good Lord is going to take care of all his problems. Being an atheist, I wanted to shake him and tell him, “Your Good Lord is going to have you at his pearly gates before your time if you don’t get off the higher power high-chair and listen to those of us here on earth who are trying to help!” But I smiled, nodded and agreed with him because that was what he wanted to hear. One learns to do this when a patient is adamant in his or her beliefs.
I am not a psychologist and I had to get back to my other tasks but I would’ve talked to this man all night if that’s what it would take to get him empowered. I do not know how he has managed to make it this far. And I have a sneaky notion that he has no intention of changing.
I have no idea what will happen to him now. I hope that he changes his mind about god taking care of him. I hope that he wakes up and utilizes whatever he’s got available to him. I hope his family stops enabling him and helps to break the barriers of whatever is holding him back.
All I really know is that I don’t want to see his smiling face or his beautiful daughter in my hospital ever again, unless it’s for a friendly visit and not because he had to be admitted again due to medication issues. And I hope all my wishes for him come true.