With all the talk of babies and the desired lack thereof as of late, I felt that the recount of a story about birth control would be appropriate on the back of my last post. Enjoy.
It was the spring of my senior year of college.
I had phone call that I didn’t want to make.
The phone call was to my local Walgreens, and I didn’t want to make it because I was terrified of the answer to my question.
See, I’d been on birth control since I was 18. Originally it was to help reduce my acne and regulate my period, but at 22 it was also serving its intended purpose: keeping my ass baby-free. My current pack of pills was running out and I needed more, but for the first time this process of obtaining new pills was complicated.
Because six months before my dad had been laid off, and I was totally without insurance.
I didn’t know how I was going to get my birth control pills, but going without wasn’t an option. It wasn’t just about the no-baby part of it, either. (Though Kyle and I both agreed that this was a large portion of it.) By that time I had been on the same birth control for four years, and I worried about the hormonal turbulence that would descend upon me if my body suddenly wasn’t getting the same hormones and chemicals that it had come to expect. Frankly, I didn’t want to find out.
So I looked at my options. I knew that buying them outright would be expensive and we were broke as hell. Like, the-only-reason-we-could-afford-our-rent-was-because-our-landlord-had-quit-paying-our-water-so-we’d-quit-paying-our-rent-and-were-now-squatting-in-our-own-house broke. Broke-broke. So that was considered a last-ditch option. I know I looked into Planned Parenthood, but for reasons that I don’t remember that wasn’t a usable option; if I had to guess, it’s because they couldn’t or wouldn’t give me the three-month cycle pills (11 weeks of active pills, one week of inactive period pills) that I was (and still am) taking. I looked into buying them online, but they were still quite expensive and the websites that sold them looked as if they may or may not also sell free-range babies. So I finally made the phone call that I didn’t want to make and asked the question that terrified me:
How much would it cost to buy my birth control without insurance?
When the pharmacist that I was speaking to gave me the fateful number, it surprised me. $120 for three months of birth control; still a lot of money for a college senior with only a part time job, but less than half of what I had feared. I exhaled quickly and said without thinking, “Oh! Is that all?” The man on the phone laughed and said, “Yes, that’s all!” Then he asked me if I would like to go ahead and refill my prescription right there on the phone. I gave him my information, and he told me that it would be ready in about 45 minutes.
A short time later, I was walking into the Walgreens. Now came the other hard part.
I walked up to the pharmacy and gave the woman behind the counter my name. She typed my name into the computer and asked me, the words coming out by rote, “Okay, any change in your insurance?” My eyes dropped to the counter. “Yeah,” I said, “I don’t actually have insurance anymore.”
The silence that followed was probably only a second or two, but it felt like it stretched out over days.
I felt the woman pharmacist stop short, fingers frozen above the keyboard. I felt the sympathetic gaze of the mom at the window next to me, her eyes reading, “Oh, you poor dear.” The pharmacist behind coughed softly. “Oh. Okay, well, not a problem,” she said in a sweet voice that was a little too high. “Just give me a sec to get your new information in the computer.”
I know I should have been comforted by the intended kindness that I was being shown, but it actually felt worse than if it had been animosity. I could have fought back against that, but their pity disarmed me completely. Under their sympathetic eyes, I was even more humiliated than before. I felt about an inch small.
The woman pharmacist turned away from the counter and knelt in front of the tub labeled with a giant “D” and rifled through the envelopes of medicine. She got to the back and started again at the beginning. Then she pulled the tub out of shelf and peered behind it. A male pharmacist appeared at her shoulder. “Whatcha looking for?” I instantly recognized him as the owner of the voice I spoken with on the phone a few hours earlier. “I can’t find her prescription,” she said, indicating to me. “Last name, Dietrich.”
“Oh, I got this one,” he said, and immediately turned to the other wall. He reached up and grabbed a paper bag sitting on a high shelf all by itself. I didn’t know why the unconventional packaging or the solitary location, but in my misery I assumed that it had something to do with my shameful uninsured status. That was the sprinkles on my mortification cupcake, and I could not pay and grab my paper bag from him fast enough.
I practically ran out of the store, and I felt their pity chasing me the whole way.
It wasn’t until a few hours later, after I was back home and dinner and a drink had begun to sooth my injured pride a little, that I attended to my hard-won prize. Sitting at the kitchen table, I opened the bag for my three-month pack of pills, but when I saw what was inside I couldn’t breath.
Inside that bag was a box, assumedly the one that the pill packs came shipped in. And inside that box were three three-month pill packs.
I called Kyle into the kitchen and showed him the contents of the bag. I retrieved the crumpled receipt from my coat pocket and checked the total, but I’d only been charged for the one pill pack. Yet, here were three. I couldn’t believe it. My first theory was that in a rush, the pharmacist had mistakenly thrown the whole box into the bag, thinking that there was only one pill pack inside. But Kyle quickly pointed out that pharmacists generally don’t haphazardly throw prescription medication around like that; you probably don’t get to keep your job too long if you do shit like that. But that meant…
He must have heard it in my voice. He must have heard the fear in my voice when I asked the question, and the relief in my voice when I heard the answer. And he must have known that I was young, probably tight on money, and just trying to get my birth control. So he grabbed a whole box, threw it in the paper bag so that the larger mass wouldn’t be noticed, put it up on the shelf so that none of his coworkers would notice it, and handed it directly to me before anyone could ask questions about it. I can only imagine what kind of risks he incurred in doing so, but I was beyond grateful to him for being willing to do so. I wanted to thank him, to somehow acknowledge the incredibly wonderful thing that he’d done for me, but Kyle pointed out that by bringing attention to his actions I might be costing him his job, which is kinda the opposite of what I wanted. So I did nothing but silently thank him from the deepest part of my heart.
To this day, I don’t know whether his kindness grew from knowing what it’s like to be young and broke (my theory) or a fierce political belief that all women should have access to birth control (Kyle’s theory), but either way, it doesn’t really matter. The compassion that he showed me that day was so deep that I still have trouble understanding it. Those pills that he gave me got me through the next nine months, and by the time they ran out I was married and solidly on Kyle’s insurance. They got me through a period when I had very little money, a whole lot of debt, a wedding to plan, and a life outside of college to actualize. I had a lot of worries, but thanks to that kind pharmacist, birth control wasn’t one of them.
I never did get to repay that man for his selfless compassion, or even thank him. But someday, I will pass on his compassion and generosity on to someone else. I will be his kindness to someone who needs it as badly as I did then.