Words to Never Forget
“You must always try to find out, why.”
These were words, Brian would never forget. He had qualified as a Pharmacist at Chelsea School of Pharmacy, in London, England, and had started his apprenticeship at the London Hospital, Whitechapel. Mr. Sykes was the head pharmacist, a very pleasant man with a photographic memory, often quoting paragraph and page number from the Martindale Pharmacopoeia while Brian turned the pages, checking out what he said. He was a ‘Wikipedia’ when computers were something only found in science fiction stories.
Doctors would often phone him from operating theatres, with questions and he always had the answers for them, often preparing a mixture of chemicals and drugs which Brian had to run up to the operating theatre and hand the concoction to a nurse who was waiting for him.
“How do you know what to prepare?” he once asked Mr. Sykes.
“You must always try to find out why?” was the answer Mr. Sykes gave him. “Ask yourself why the illness has occurred. Why does the patient need the operation; what caused it? And when you have the answer, then preparing the medicine to cure them is simply a matter of putting 2 and 2 together.”
Brian never forgot those words; they became a way of life to him. Years later, when he managed his own retail Pharmacy; he spent many hours talking with clients when they presented him with a prescription to be dispensed, checking to see whether the Doctor had made a correct diagnosis. Of course he never voiced an opinion when he felt that the Doctor had erred. He simply wrote his thoughts in a diary that he kept and watched for further prescriptions when they were handed in to see whether the Doctor had changed the diagnosis and treatment.
When Sally walked into his Pharmacy crying, he broke his rule. Sally was the married to Costas, an accountant with a practice in the rooms above Brian’s pharmacy. Brian had known Sally since they were at school together, from Grade 1, when they were both six years old. Sally had never been an attractive girl, but ever since she had married Costas, she had blossomed. It was almost as though being loved by someone had had started a fire with-in her, and brought out her hidden beauty.
Brian looked at her as she handed in her prescription. She was pale, her eyes red with tears; her hand trembling with her lips as she spoke.
“Could you please fill this prescription?” she asked her voice cracking with tears.
“What is wrong?” he asked her, taking the prescription from her, and handing it to the pharmacist to be prepared.
“Costas has been sent to a mental institution,” she replied. Costas Bouritas was her husband. His parents had left Greece almost 40 years ago, and settled in the town, running a small restaurant. Costas had not followed in his father’s footsteps. He studied for and became an accountant. He was well respected in the town.
“Tell me what happened,” he asked, offering her a Kleenex to dry her tears.
She took the tissue from him, and wiped her face. He led her to his study, sitting in the chair next to her when she sat down. He waited patiently for her to collect herself, knowing that whatever she said would be very emotional.
“Well, you know that we went to Greece to meet the family. They live on the island of Corsica, and it was a pleasure being there. The family was wonderful to us, spoiling us terribly. The first week, they took us everywhere through the island, which I found very beautiful. Every night, over dinner, there was laughter and joy, and we were introduced to family that we never knew existed.
It was during the second week, after we had become acclimatized and a part of the family, that Costas and Mikolas had an argument. Mikolas was one of the family, a difficult person. I got the impression that he was upset with his father spending so much money on us. I must be honest it did worry me after a while. The family was not wealthy at all. More than often, we offered to pay, but they simply would not let us.
One night, and it was when the Greek labour unions were on strike, we women were sitting outside as usual, leaving the men to talk about whatever was the custom. I remember hearing Mikolas shouting.
“You are not Greek, so how can you tell us what to do? You are not born in Greece. Your father and mother were, yes, but you… the only thing Greek about you is your name. I could kill you for what you just said.”
I don’t really know what that was all about. They started talking softly again, so I couldn’t hear what they said, but a few minutes later, Mikolas stormed out of the house, swearing. That was when he started calling us names, telling us to get out of Greece, and go back to where we came from. I must tell you, he didn’t use very nice words in telling us this. That was when Costas lost his temper, something that is very rare with Costas. He ran after Mikolas, trying to find him. When he didn’t return, I went looking for him and found him on the beach, watching the seagulls as they dived into the water for a fish.
“What happened between you and Mikolas,” I asked him. “Why did both of you lose your temper like that?” He wouldn’t tell me anything.
Then he seemed to forget that we were not from Greece. We had been told by the Travel Agency that we had to drink bottled water. This was because our bodies were not accustomed to any bacteria that was found in Greece. Costas started to ignore that it was as though he was trying to show everyone that even though he did not live in Greece, he was still very much a Greek. He started to drink water directly from a tap, rather than the bottled purified water we had been told to drink.
“He then started having diarrhoea, with his stomach working very badly. Whatever he tried to eat, he threw up. He became so weak that he struggled to get out of bed in the morning, and lay there all day. They called in a Doctor, who prescribed something to control his diarrhoea, and it helped for a while, but he still stayed in bed. He wouldn’t get up. That is when I decided that we had to come home to receive treatment, not that I didn’t trust the Greek doctors, it is just that I felt that I had to get him home.”
“Did they Doctors keep seeing him?” Brian asked.
“Yes, we had two Doctors look at him. They both gave him a thorough examination, but whatever they gave him didn’t seem to help. As I said, his diarrhoea stopped, but he just wasn’t with us mentally anymore. His mind kept wandering, and he would often start shouting at everyone for no reason at all. It was as though he had lost his mind. What started off as a wonderful holiday had turned into a nightmare. I even started wondering whether perhaps Mikey had somehow poisoned him. I brought him home about a week earlier than we had originally planned.”
“What did the local Doctors say?” Brian asked, puzzled as to why Costas should have started behaving the way he did.
“They told me that he was reacting to the food and the medication he received in Greece. “
“Why is he now in a mental institution? “
“Well, he just wasn’t the same,” Sally said blowing her nose, “he acted like a crazy man. The doctor referred him to a psychiatrist who examined him and then told me that he should be confined to a mental Clinic for treatment.”
Witrand was a mental institution just outside the town they lived in. Patients with serious mental problems were sent there for treatment, treatment that often lasted many months.
Brian remembered Mr. Sykes words, “You must always try to find out, why.” He thought for a moment, then, looking at her as she sat next to him, he said.
“Sally, if I gave you some medicine to give Costas, would you give it to him?”
“What do you mean?” she asked looking at him, a puzzled expression on her face.
“Well, I think I may know what is wrong with Costas,” he replied.
“What do you mean?” she repeated, looking at him carefully, a ray of hope showing in her eyes.
“Wait here a second,” he said, “I just want to fetch something from the dispensary.” He walked to the dispensary and after a few minutes, came back with a large bottle.
“This is what I want you to give him,” he replied. “I want you to give him 12 tablets three times a day every day until the bottles is empty. Then, if he is not better, come back to me and I will give you another bottle.”
She looked at the label on the bottle. “But this is minerals,” she said, looking at him puzzled.
“That is correct,” he replied. “It is a multi-mineral tablet and will not react with any medication he is receiving. You will be giving him a massive overdose of minerals. His body will retain those that are missing. What the body does not need it will reject, and he will pass it out in his faeces. Please take it, and do what I suggest.”
She looked at him, thinking carefully about what he had said. She had been a customer ever since he had started practicing in their town. She had learned to trust him, and although she was apprehensive about giving Costas a massive overdose of something not prescribed by the doctor, she felt that Brian would not lie to her.
“How much do I owe you for this,” she asked after a few minutes.
“There is no charge,” he answered. “My payment will be that I will see Costas back at home, a well man.”
Sally took the bottle and with her prescription, and left the pharmacy.
Two weeks later, Costas returned home, and went back to work as though nothing had ever happened.
Sally walked into the pharmacy looking for Brian. She looked wonderful, her hair neatly groomed, her face beautifully made up. She smiled with happiness when Bran came to her.
“What made you decide to give minerals?” Sally asked.
“Well,” Brian replied, “I remembered what a very clever Pharmacist once told me, ‘You must always try to find out why.’ When I thought about Costas’ problem, I came to realize that the diarrhoea he developed, had leached his body of minerals. There would be no harm in giving him huge doses. If I was wrong, his body would simply discard it. If I was right, his body would keep what it needed, and throw out what was not needed.”
“So Mikolas then did not poison him?
“Well, in a way he did,” Brian answered. “He made Costas believe that his body could handle the bacteria found in the water, bacteria that Greeks had become immune to, but bacteria which anyone that was not Greek, would find harmful.”
Sally leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, Brian, for giving Costas back to me, ” she said taking his hands in hers. “You are a wonderful man. Oh…Thank you.”
Great short story entry for the contest!
You make your characters come alive without too much explaining.
That’s what I appreciate in a writer. Let the reader fill in his own details.