In my novel, On Distant Shores, which officially releases August 1, 2013, the hero serves an Army pharmacist in World War II.
|Street scene, including drugstore, Cascade, Idaho, 1940s (Library of Congress)|
As a pharmacist, I found much
about my profession has changed, but some things have not—a personal concern
for patients, the difficult balance between health care and business, and the
struggle to gain respect in the physician-dominated health care world. Last week I discussed the role of the pharmacist in the 1940s, today we'll visit
the local drug store and see how its role changed during the war, and then I’ll review the
role of pharmacists in the US military.
Welcome to the
Corner Drug Store—1939
Perkins’ Drugs stands on the
corner of Main Street and Elm, where it’s stood all your life. Large glass
windows boast ads for proprietary medications and candy, and a neon
mortar-and-pestle blinks at you. When you open the door, bells jangle. The drug
store is open seven days a week, sixteen hours a day, so you know it’ll always
be there for you. To your right, old-timers and teenagers sit at the soda
fountain on green vinyl stools, discussing politics and the high school
football game. The soda jerk waves at you.
You pass clean shelves stocked full
of proprietary medications, toiletries, cosmetics, hot water bottles, hair pins
and curlers, stockings, cigarettes, candy, and bandages. You know where
everything is—and if you can’t find it, Mr. Perkins or his staff will be sure
to help you.
The owner, Mr. Perkins, is hard
at work behind the prescription counter with good old Mr. Smith and Mr.
Abernathy, that new young druggist Mr. Perkins hired last year. Mr. Perkins
greets you by name, asks about your family, and takes your prescription. He has
to mix an elixir for you. If you don’t want to wait, he’ll be happy to have his
delivery boy bring it to your house. But you don’t mind waiting. You have a few
items to purchase, and you’d love to sit down with a cherry Coke.
Welcome to the
Corner Drug Store—1943
Perkins’ Drugs still stands at
the corner of Main Street and Elm. Large glass windows boast Army and Navy
recruitment posters. The neon sign
has been removed to meet blackout regulations. The store is open for fewer hours
since Mr. Smith retired and Mr. Abernathy got drafted. Mr. Perkins hired Miss
Freeman. Not many people are thrilled to have a “girl pharmacist,” but if Mr.
Perkins trusts her, that’s good enough for you. Perkins’ Drugs and Quality Drugs
on the other side of town alternate evening hours so the town’s needs are met.
A placard on the door reminds you
that Perkins’ Drugs is authorized by the Office of Civilian Defense as a
pharmaceutical unit, meaning the store will provide a kit of medications and supplies
for the casualty station in case of enemy attack. You pray the town will never
Bells jangle when you open the
door. The soda fountain is closed. Mr. Perkins can’t buy metal replacement
parts for the machine, the soda jerk is flying fighter planes over Germany, and
sugar is too scarce a commodity.
A barrel stands by the door. You
toss in five tin cans, washed, labels removed, tops and bottoms cut off, and
flattened. Mrs. Perkins at the cash register thanks you.
You pass clean shelves with
depleted stocks. Proprietary medications, cosmetics, toiletries, and medical
supplies remain, but rubber hot water bottles, silk and nylon stockings, hair
pins and curlers, candy, and cigarettes are in short stock—or unavailable. Most
of the packaging has changed. Metal tins have been replaced by glass jars and
cardboard boxes. You pick up a bottle of aspirin and a tube of toothpaste,
double-checking that you brought your empty tube. Without that crumpled piece
of tin, you couldn’t purchase a replacement. Tin is too dear.
At the prescription counter, Mr.
Perkins greets you by name and asks about your family. Miss Freeman gives you a
shy smile and you smile back. There’s a war on and women have a patriotic duty
to do men’s work so men are free to fight. Mr. Perkins frowns at your
prescription for an elixir. He’s used up his weekly quota of sugar, and his
stock of alcohol and glycerin are running low. Would you mind capsules instead?
Of course not. Mr. Perkins phones Dr. Weber and convinces him to change the
prescription. Mr. Perkins can’t have the prescription delivered—he doesn’t
qualify for extra gasoline and he couldn’t find a delivery boy to hire anyway.
You and Mr. Perkins discuss war
news as he sets up a wooden block with little holes punched in it, then lines
the pockets with empty capsule halves. He weighs powders on a scale, mixes them
in a mortar, then fills the capsule shells. After he sets the capsule tops in
place, he puts the capsules in an amber glass bottle with the familiar Perkins’
You buy a few War Bonds. Your
wages are higher than ever with the war on, and with all the shortages there’s
nothing to buy. Besides, War Bonds are a solid financial investment and your
patriotic duty. On a poster by the counter, three little children in the shadow of a Nazi swastika remind you: “Don't Let That Shadow Touch Them. Buy War Bonds.”
Mr. Perkins thanks you for your
purchase, and you thank him for his service. War or no war, you know Perkins’
Drugs will always be there for you.
My main source was this
excellent, comprehensive, and well-researched book: Worthen, Dennis B. Pharmacy in World War II. New York:
Pharmaceutical Products Press, 2004.
http://www.lloydlibrary.org (Website of the
Lloyd Library and Museum, which has many articles and resources on the history
Labels: pharmacists, pharmacy, pharmacy in WWII, World War II