The local pharmacy. A place where we go to collect our regular monthly prescriptions, pick up the winter stock of paracetamol and sometimes even browse for the latest hair colour. It’s been an important cog in the wheel of local communities in Ireland for decades and employs thousands of people across the country.

I’ve worked part-time in my local pharmacy for the past four years. It’s been a job that has allowed me to pay for my Masters, finance my car and has given me great training in customer service and product knowledge.

I’ve worked in the pharmacy when the country was battered by the Beast from the East, countless Flu seasons and now during COVID-19, but I’ve never experienced work like this before.

In January and early February we noticed the demand for hand sanitizer and surgical face masks had increased, but no one really paid much notice. Customers were still travelling abroad on ski-trips, weekends away and the coronavirus seemed like a distant thing, far far away and never to reach our shores.

Yet, things began to change around the middle of February. Luckily we had bulk-bought hundreds of bottles of hand-sanitizer, but after a couple of days that had been snapped up. We ordered more, and then that was gone too. We set up waiting lists for both masks and hand sanitizer and tried our best to make sure we prioritized those elderly and infirm customers who were at most risk.

Once St. Patrick’s Day arrived and the original cocooning advice was implemented, our small pharmacy was broken into two distinct teams. We worked three 12-hour shifts in a row just to try and keep up with demand. Deliveries which were once a luxury service were being called upon, and we were trying our best to make sure that none of us got sick too.

“Our customers are like our family. We would know most by name and their faces are etched into the memories we share with them.”

Our customers are like our family. We would know most by name and their faces are etched into the memories we share with them. Their excitement over the arrival of a new grandchild, a loved one returning home from hospital and even the days when they have been given the ‘all clear’. The pharmacy has been a shoulder to cry on when they lose a parent or family member. We provide continued support to the local community throughout their highs and lows.

We haven’t seen these familiar faces in weeks. Most are cocooning away, keeping themselves safe and sound and we know it won’t be too long before we can laugh again once more. Unfortunately, we have lost some of our customers to this dreadful disease. Some of their medication is ready for collection, but it still lingers on the shelf. We will miss these customers dearly, their laughter, gratitude and personalities will never be forgotten by us.

Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. We’ve all experienced tremendous loss and sacrifice, but by working together we’ve kept each other safe. Your local pharmacy has been a hive of activity since the onset of COVID-19, we’ve been here for you and will always be.