WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
At the Feb. 7 Nothing More Beautiful session, pharmacist Rob Taylor discussed the highs and lows of being a Catholic pharmacist.
When I was asked by His Grace if I would speak here tonight, one of my first thoughts was "Am I really worthy to do so?" I don't think that was abnormal, but it perhaps symbolizes a mindset that could hold back any one. In many ways, I am not truly worthy, but we are all called to serve others in some way.
As Blessed Mother Teresa says: "Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love."
I believe this is what evangelizing in the workplace is. We all have the opportunity to touch others in our daily lives, and all we have to do is realize it, and have the faith and courage to act upon it. When we do so, we will be blessed and given strength to continue. We simply should take a step forward and try.
One could define the workplace as where we are employed, but is not the workplace anywhere we come into contact with other people? Does not the workplace exist no matter where we are?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to become a pharmacist like my dad. I suspect that my father's example had everything to do with it. There was something about what he did or, more precisely, who he was, that influenced me tremendously.
I grew up in a small town and my dad and his brother owned a small pharmacy. It seemed like everyone in town liked Dad. When he received a call on a Sunday night because someone needed a prescription filled, I was always willing to go to the store with him. I loved being with him and he rarely refused me tagging along.
No matter what the reason was, or the time of day, he always had a smile on his face and joy in his voice when he talked with a patient. When he visited a patient at the local nursing home, I saw love and compassion on his face and heard it in his voice. Some could say he was just the town druggist, but I now believe that he touched the lives and hearts of so many people as he practised his profession.
He was a giver. I could see that in the way he treated my mother as well – always thinking of others before himself.
Even though serving others is what we are called to do, it is not just what we do, but who we are. We cannot say one thing and do another. We cannot be of two minds, as St. Paul reminds us. If we desire to do what God asks of us, we will be blessed with the grace to accomplish it. It will bring joy to our hearts and the fruits will be everlasting.
Dad was a busy man. But when it came to golf, that was another story. Golf was his passion, and it quickly became mine as well.
I was greatly influenced by his kindness and patience as he taught golf to my brothers and me. His teaching about the etiquette, honesty, integrity, self-control and perseverance that golf demands was to have a large influence on my life.
His dream was to have me take over the family pharmacy, but I disappointed him when I said I wanted to make my own way in life. Quite a stubborn and insensitive response to one who gave his family so much! His untimely death of a heart attack at age 55, just five months before my pharmacy graduation day, was a very sad time in my life. I went through a time of blaming myself for destroying his dream.
Our family went to church most Sundays. Mom and Dad were involved in St. David's United Church. I had learned most of the books of the Bible by heart and had memorized the 23rd Psalm. Our pastor was a great guy.
In the fall of 1969 I entered the UofA, and faith wasn't very important anymore. Peer pressure seemed to wring it out of a person. Religion and faith weren't relevant in the university life. Or at least, it wasn't for me.
But as I realized years down the road, I truly had been influenced by the example of my mom and dad, and by the faith we practised.
At university, I refused to get caught up in the drug scene, the drinking and lifestyle that many others seemed unable to resist. Of course, I knew that if I was caught with drugs, my pharmacy career would have been over.
I never went to church throughout my university years, other than when I came home for Christmas and Easter. I never thought that faith was important. In fact, I never even thought about it. Only now as I look back can I see how distant I was from God.
During my last year in university I met a girl who was not only beautiful, but who seemed genuinely interested in me. We started seeing each other regularly. I noticed that Carol had what seemed to be an odd habit. She would go to church every Sunday and even at other times during the week. And it was a Roman Catholic Church no less!
My mom had been raised in Atlantic Canada in a Protestant town, and really didn't have much use for "those Catholics." She didn't have much trouble with Mary, but it was "that darn pope." "How could a man be infallible?" she would say. Her fear was that I was going to be converted by this Catholic girl.
Well, I did end up marrying that Catholic girl. We didn't have a wedding Mass, which was difficult for Carol's mom and dad, but they showed me true humility, unconditional love, patience and acceptance. In hindsight I would change that if I could.
My introduction to the Catholic Church was one of understanding and acceptance. No judgments were made, and there was always kindness and care in the words and actions of our priest. It was in the words given with clarity and love, that I learned what it really meant to be Catholic. I could not have had a better experience.
Carol never forced me to attend Mass with her – sometimes I would go, other times not. But she never wavered in her faith. She never pushed nor prodded nor threatened. Carol led by example. She lived her faith.
A challenge arose as our first children (twin girls) arrived. Their pending Baptism offered an opportunity to make a decision regarding my own faith life. I said I would allow them to be baptized Catholic as well as brought up according to the laws of Christ and his Church.
But what about me personally? The Baptism preparation posed questions that had a great impact on my future.
Later that year, after just over three years of marriage, Carol and I went on a Worldwide Marriage Encounter, which was a great experience. One of the lead couples gave us information on how we could be involved in numerous ministries in the Church.
We found ourselves becoming involved with Catholic Engaged Encounter. It was on an Engaged Encounter Enrichment weekend that a new realization came to me. I believe it was the Holy Spirit that helped me to realize that Carol and I had been called together by God to live a sacramental marriage.
I knew for sure that we were called to be one in marriage. That opened the doors to learn more about the Catholic faith, and to be receptive to being part of it. It was Carol's example of faith, and I'm sure her many hours in prayer, that helped me to overcome any hesitation.
I was received into the Church with my first Reconciliation, profession of faith, Confirmation and first Eucharist on May 5, 1979. It wasn't long before I realized that I had found what my heart had been searching for. The truth I was seeking was made clear by the teachings of our Church. That truth, which she has consistently proclaimed from the beginning, was so strengthening and set me free in many ways.
Even though this was a joyous time, it also heralded personal challenges. How do I practise my faith in my pharmacy setting? What am I being called to do?
Around this time, the rudiments of the morning after pill were forming. The use of intra-uterine devices (IUDs), whose only action is to disrupt implantation and thereby cause an abortion, was gaining momentum. The tentacles of the contraceptive mentality were reaching into the lives of many. I was at the proverbial crossroads.
Pharmacists face issues of conscience over whether to prescribe drugs and devices that interfere with conception and the implantation of a fertilized human egg.
The idea of "freedom of conscience" for health care providers was relatively new then. I heard about a group called Pharmacists for Life, so I joined. One of my colleagues from Calgary called and asked for help with drafting a conscience clause to be presented to the Alberta College of Pharmacists. This conscience clause was to give pharmacists the ability to refuse to fill certain prescriptions based on our beliefs – or if these prescriptions violated our conscience.
That was in 1980 or so, and it has been a battle until the present day. There have only been small successes, even till the present. All health care disciplines are affected by this challenge, so please pray for those you know in these workplaces.
As recently as seven years ago, I was lobbying regarding the code of ethics for pharmacists. I met with the president and a councillor or two regarding the need for protection of conscience.
The area of abortifacients was important, but there was also another cloud on the horizon. Abortion's sinister twin euthanasia was rearing its head in many countries. Our country has been a special target for supporters, most likely because we have no law regarding abortion.
I argued that if any legal status comes to euthanasia, many pharmacists may be asked to carry and dispense the products that could be used to end a life. It is morally inexcusable to put pharmacists or any health care practitioner in that situation. There must be protection. Does the code of ethics give that? I don't think so.
The code of ethics talks about the rights of the patient. As a pharmacist, I am to value those rights, and provide the expertise and services to protect their health, and help treat illness. Since I believe (and as far as I am concerned, science proves it) life begins at conception, how can I do anything to harm life? Do I not now have two patients – the mother and the child? How can I ignore one and knowingly harm the other?
All health care practitioners and workers have to be protected from being forced to dispense anything injurious to life. It is expected that if we do not wish to dispense these, then we are to help the patient find a pharmacy that does. Is this just not being complicit with the deed? The battle still rages.
One might think that if I am against dispensing what might be harmful or am concerned about violating my conscience, then all I have to do is leave pharmacy and find another profession.
Well, that is one answer, and I know pharmacists who have done that. Believe me, I have gotten down on my knees more than once and prayed: "Lord, if I am not meant to be here in pharmacy or if you want me somewhere else, please deliver me from this and make it clear where I should be."
Invariably, within a few days after I prayed, someone would come in asking for an IUD or the morning after pill. If I wasn't there to say I do not dispense them and the reasons why, to whom would they have gone?
A young couple came in one evening and asked about the morning after pill. It just happened that the parents of the fellow were customers in my pharmacy. After explaining to the young couple the possible consequences and my reasons for not dispensing, they seemed to understand and then left.
Ten months later, the boy's mother came into the store and exclaimed how excited she was to have received her first grandchild. I look back on that time and marvel. Why was I the pharmacist on duty at that moment? Why did they choose this pharmacy at this time?
So, if I was only meant to be there for those five minutes, to perhaps save that one life, then my entire pharmacy career would have been worth it. Just for that one baby, that one couple, that one set of grandparents.
Did I do anything magnificent? No. All I did was say what I believe is right. I heard a statement one time: "We are not called to be perfect; we are called to be obedient." There is much truth in that.
Most of the time we never know what effect the things we say or do has on people. What we do know is that if we do not speak the truth when we are given the opportunity, no good fruit will be produced.
One particularly satisfying part of my practice is when I have a couple who comes in to my pharmacy and they want to conceive a child. They may not know much about how the body works, and I have an opportunity to tell them about natural family planning.
After a few moments of my explaining about NFP and giving some simple instructions, the majority of the time their faces light up with hope and joy. I encourage them to investigate NFP fully, contact a qualified teacher and learn all they can. I provide resources and encouragement.
Three and a half years ago, I was hiring a pharmacist. My prayer was that I could find a pharmacist open to my ways of practising. During the interview, I asked her if there was anything she did not wish to dispense. Her answer, among other things, was the morning after pill. I'm sure the joy was on my face, as I assured her she would never be asked to do that.
A few weeks later, my family was camping in Jasper and we went to Sunday Mass. As I left my pew and stepped into the aisle to go for Communion, I came face to face with my new pharmacist. Not only did she have respect for the unborn, she was Catholic too! The Lord is good.
She is one of the most giving individuals I have ever met. I am blessed to have her in my pharmacy and cherish her deeply. Before my store officially opened, I had a priest friend come and bless our store. Here we were, the priest, my pharmacist, and my wife and I, praying as our pharmacy received a blessing.
Over the years, I have always clearly explained to all who work in my pharmacy area why I do not dispense certain medications and devices. All have been receptive and understanding.
We have had pharmacy students doing rotations in our store. They too, have had an opportunity to hear another alternative. I ask them to seriously consider the decisions they will face in their careers. The choices they make will define who they are and will have a great bearing on their lives and those whom they meet.
Most of the encounters we have with people in our daily lives are quite brief. Perhaps our eyes just meet as we pass on the street or we stand behind them in the lineup of a grocery store or as they sit down in the pew in front of us at Mass. Our contact may last only a second or two, and only sometimes do we have any conversation with them.
But I do wonder what our faces say to them during that short time. Was there a smile on our face? Did our eyes show warmth? Or were we disinterested and blank like a passport photo? At these times, the power is in our hands– maybe more accurately in our faces – and we are called to be life-giving to those we meet by offering a simple gesture – a smile, just a simple, sincere smile.
One of the first things I endeavour to do with anyone who works with me – whether it be one of our cashiers, managers, pharmacy team or others – is to help them develop the habit of doing two simple things.
The first thing is to look a customer in the eye, smile and say "Hello." When you are finished helping them, the second thing, is you look them in the eye, smile and say "Thank you." Two very simple things.
As Blessed Mother Teresa says: "Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless."
When I serve one of our patients who I know has medical challenges, it is my responsibility to be Christ to that person. Do I always feel like it? No. Do I always succeed? No. Do I regret the times when I fail? Absolutely. But I focus on the next time because it is the right thing to do.
G.K. Chesterton said: "If something is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly." So we cannot give up trying. We should not be afraid to reach out, even if we don't "do it right."
Dealing with patients and customers on a daily basis brings great opportunities. As a pharmacist, I am called upon to help people treat what ails them. When I am asked for something for the cold or flu, or indeed any minor ailment, I have at my disposal numerous medications.
I must honestly suggest the appropriate remedy. Sometimes that means they really do not require medication. If I am truthful and tell them that, or what they have at home will suffice, I put their needs before my profits. I might be able to sell them something, but not doing so is the right thing to do.
I used to mention to our children when they were either doing something that wasn't quite right, or they asked my advice about what to do about something, I told them to "do the right thing." I'm sure it drove them crazy sometimes.
Doing the right thing doesn't always bring you acclaim. Sometimes it brings scorn. In the short run, it may not get you what you desire, but in the long term, it will bear good fruit on earth and in the heavenly kingdom.
Dealing with customers on a daily basis brings numerous opportunities to be kind.
When I talk with one of our patients in private because they are struggling with a relative who is dying or they themselves have a serious illness, I have an opportunity to be Christ to them. There was a person who wanted me to pray with them in my counselling office because of a struggle they were undergoing. I would just listen, give them a passionate ear and pray with them. It took five minutes or less, but we were both blessed by that time.
One time, a man I had never met before came into the store. He had some questions about his medications and the cancer he was battling. I could tell he was struggling emotionally, and his wife was greatly concerned.
He excused himself to use the washroom and his wife confided in me that they were Christian, and they had been praying that God would heal him. She said he was becoming despondent about how poorly he felt and wondered if he would ever be healed. He returned at that moment to join us.
I said I did not know what God had in store for him, but all he could do was to surrender to God and do his best to give his will completely over to our Lord. There were tears in his eyes. I placed my hand on his shoulder and prayed the blessing from Numbers that we know so well: "May the Lord bless you and keep you . . .". As I finished with "May he grant you peace," I could tell that he had appreciated this short time.
That was the first and last time I saw him. They were on their way back home to somewhere in Alberta. What happened to him, I do not know. But if I had not given of my time there in front of the soft drink coolers, perhaps no one would have.
Another time, I received an email from another pharmacy that required a pharmacist to cover two shifts. I felt drawn to that request, said yes and the next night I was at that store.
During my shift I received a telephone call from a lady who said her husband seemed quite sick. She was distraught and said they had been sent home from the emergency department with some pain medication a few hours earlier. He was now feeling more ill, and the only thing that seemed to help was for him to have a shower.
I was busy, but I could tell she needed me to listen. She wanted advice. Not being a physician, I could not diagnose. But what I did tell her was that if he developed a fever of any kind, they should return to the emergency immediately, as the possibility of a serious infection could arise. She said she would do that.
The next evening, as I was back on the second shift, she called again. She said her husband had developed a fever and said, "The emergency doctor told me that if my husband had not come back when the fever started, that he may have been dead in 24 hours, as he had a severe case of cellulitis." This is a dangerous infection that spreads rapidly. She said "you saved my husband's life."
It is easy to see the hand of God in situations like these. Did God put me there to be that instrument?
As Catholics in the workplace, we must strive to be examples of what our faith teaches.
As Pope Benedict said last November to the bishops of France, "Catholics are called to serve the common good of society," to be "faithful to the moral teachings of the Church" and have "the courage to demonstrate their Christian convictions – without arrogance, but with respect – in the various spheres in which they work."
I will end with a story I heard many years ago.
Three seminarians were in the Holy Land near the Sea of Galilee and were up for a walk before sunrise. The light was beginning to show its face over the hills to the east. The first seminarian asked: "When can you tell that the dawn has come and the night has ended?"
The second one answered: "Is it when you can see a tree on the horizon and tell if it is a fig tree or an apple tree?" "No," said the first. Then the third one said: "Is it when you can see an animal running in the distance and tell whether it is a dog or a goat?" "No, that is not correct," said the first.
"Then when can you tell when night has ended and the dawn has come?" the other two asked.
The first one finally replied: "No matter what time it is, until you can look into the eyes of any woman and see there a sister, it is still night. And until you can look into the eyes of any man and see there a brother, you are still in the darkness. When you see them as a brother or sister, only then will you know the dawn has arrived."
Let us all be the light of Christ in this world in whatever way we can.