The other day I had to go to the chemist to pick up a prescription for my mother. Had I known what was awaiting me I would have brought a book, a thermos with tea and some sandwiches. They’re big on organised queuing in Sweden and whether you’re in the post office, the bank or at the chemists you first have to get a ticket with a number from a state of the art ticket machine.
So when I arrived at the chemist I first had to make a selection between a ticket from the prescription queue or one from the non-prescription queue. This was simple enough since I had a prescription.
All three booths were open and in each a customer was being tended to. There were only three numbers ahead of me, which I interpreted as a good sign. So I waited. After about five minutes nothing much had happened, the pharmacists were still busy with the same customers. I waited. One pharmacist got up and disappeared through a door, and she was gone such a long time I was starting to wonder whether she'd taken her lunch break. But she still had a customer waiting at the booth... Eventually the door opened and she reappeared, but then she recognised the lady who was being served in the non-prescription section and went over for a chat. I waited.
One of the other customers finally got up and left. I willed the pharmacist to push the magic button that would bring me one step closer to release. But instead she got up and disappeared through the aforementioned door. I tried to breathe slow, deep breaths into my belly. I looked over to where the other people were waiting, thinking we could roll our eyes together and bond over this snail-paced service, but they all sat staring stoically at something on the floor about two feet in front of them. So I waited.
The pharmacies in Sweden are equipped with a worrying number of chairs, loads are crammed in the waiting space for you to place your weary buttocks whilst waiting, and then you even get to sit down opposite the pharmacist once it's your turn. These chairs send out a very clear message: you ain't going nowhere, just sit back and relax.
The first pharmacist ended her chat and returned to her seat, sent her customer on his way, and miraculously decided to push the button. One step closer. The second pharmacist also returned and sat down. She didn't push the button, instead she started typing on her computer. I waited. More people entered, and one lady went straight to the non-prescription counter (which was deserted) waving a blue piece of paper. She was directed to the vacant booth where the pharmacist stopped typing and motioned for her to sit down.
I wanted to shout. I had been there for 23 minutes by now, and was only one meager step closer. And now some blue-papered lady got to sneak ahead.
Another customer got up and left. Push the button, push the button... but now the person serving the non-prescription section had disappeared, so the button was left un-pushed as the pharmacist got up to tend to those without a prescription. I was starting to wonder whether this was a safe environment for those suffering from high blood pressure.
The blue-papered lady's mobile phone rang. To my despair she started chatting away without giving a moment's thought to the pharmacist (or me!) who appeared unable to proceed further with the preparation of the medications. I wanted to throttle her, all of them. I looked at the time: 28 minutes had passed. It seemed like an eternity.
Eventually the phone call ended, the blue-papered lady got her pills and left, the button was pushed and I was one step closer.
By the time my number was finally displayed I had been in there for 38 minutes. I was dizzy and delirious as I staggered towards the seat opposite the pharmacist, and as I handed over the prescription I was close to tears. The pharmacist smiled at me but as she looked at the yellow slip more closely her smile changed to a frown. The prescription had expired only a few days earlier. I left empty-handed.