“Dead or Alive” or “A Queue of Skeletons”

After a lengthy spell away from WordPress I climb back onboard this morning, and in the data it says that someone has used the search term: “Is writer Mark Bickerton alive?” Now at first I think it’s very nice of them to ask. But then, as is my propensity, I begin to wonder if there’s some more sinister motive behind the question. For example, are they hoping I am, in fact, dead? Are they wanting me alive so they can kill me? Are they researching an article on the number of writers claimed by Covid? These are all harrowing suppositions and in the end I decide not to dwell, or to prefer they are merely checking I am OK.

As a matter of fact I am OK. I am very OK. I am very happy. Except for one thing, the one thing that drew me back to WordPress in order to write…

In volunteering for the NHS I’m doing lots of medicine collections for those isolating or elderly or both. It’s a job I love doing… except when it comes to collections from a certain pharmacy nearby. I don’t know why exactly, but they are just sodding hopeless! Sure they’re under pressure from a higher demand than old normal, but honestly they’re like death warmed up in there.

The shelves stuffed with medication are alarming, and sometimes I do wonder if people really need half the phials and blister-packs the doctors hand out like Dolly Mixtures. But that’s a side issue and perhaps another blog. The shelves are floor-to-ceiling, and it just so happens that the meds I need are on the top, which is not ideal when the staff are all knee-high to a grasshopper. I shudder with nervous anticipation of broken necks as I see the lady teeter on tiptoe on a stand that wobbles and wheels around like an unruly supermarket trolley. At six-foot-three I want to suggest getting the meds down for myself and save her from certain death, but of course I am not authorised to do so.

When finally she manages to claw down the bags of goodies, there is now a protracted palaver of admin to dispense the items, involving a mobile app she doesn’t understand and the good old-fashioned paper and pen, which always seems to run out. The tension is unbearable and the lady behind me begins to tut. I feel for her, because now I have to give another name and subject the staff to further death-defying ordeals, and take my chances on whether the correct medication is ultimately dispensed because that’s a lottery too.

I do some research and see on a forum that I’m not the only one bemused and frustrated at how hopeless it is, and how a five-minute job in other pharmacies can in this establishment turn into an hour that feels like days.

When finally I get into the open air, fully expecting it to be dark, the queue shuffles forward, looking daggers at me for taking so long. I smile sheepishly, wanting to say it wasn’t my fault. Some of them even sympathise, knowing the horrors I’ve just survived and knowing (eventually and with any luck) it’s something they’ve go to survive too.

But that’s if they do survive it. They could be there for hours, days, even weeks. And when I climb into my car and speed away from the nightmare, I’m sure in my mirror I see a queue of skeletons, a bundle of clothes at their feet. I stress again that the job I’m doing fills me with a great sense of satisfaction, it’s so rewarding when people are genuinely appreciative of my efforts, it’s just this one pharmacy that fills me with dread, that makes me question if I can get through it.

Then, this morning, someone is asking if writer Mark Bickerton is alive. And therein, definitively, lies the answer – they saw me in that queue and want to know if I survived it!

1 thought on ““Dead or Alive” or “A Queue of Skeletons”

  1. I’m glad you are feeling a buzz again Mark. Maybe writers spend too much time in their heads? The joy of helping people is not to be under-estimated. I have spent every other day looking after my dad since March. It’s fulfilling to come home knowing I’ve helped somebody.

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