Customer's privacy must be respected


January 24, 1995|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

There are some things in this world that are sacrosanct. What a person tells his priest in the confessional isn't to be shared with anyone. A lawyer-client relationship may not be violated. And doctor-patient communication should always be completely confidential.

But in a pharmacy, people are expected to discuss some of their most personal and private issues in a public place. Hemorrhoids, vaginal discharge, constipation, jock itch, body odor, lice and incontinence are just a few of the delicate problems people try to solve in a pharmacy.

Of all the sensitive topics handled in the drugstore, contraception and sex are among the most embarrassing. We have received lots of letters from readers detailing their frustrations about purchasing condoms or talking about sexual side effects.

"When I was a sailor boy in 1944," one reader wrote, "we were taught to be modest and prudent and discreet. So as I entered the little local drugstore to purchase a package of condoms I asked the young lady behind the counter in a quiet voice for a package of prophylactics please.

"She opened a drawer under the counter, removed a package and slipped it in a bag. I paid her and left for my destination.

"At the proper time, I reached in my peacoat pocket, opened the sack and discovered she had sold me a packet of laxatives."

Few pharmacy chains have recognized the need for privacy and set aside space for confidential consultations.

One reader has offered a circuitous solution: "Go home and telephone the pharmacist. I've done this more than once and have always been given the necessary information without embarrassment." Pharmacists need to respect people's feelings. They might not need a confession booth, but some privacy would be appreciated.

Q: Have you ever heard that a crushed garlic clove could help heal athlete's foot?

A: One home remedy calls for sticking partially crushed garlic cloves between the affected toes. Anti-fungal creams are more convenient and a lot less pungent.

My doctor prescribed Seldane to combat my persistently runny nose and postnasal drip.

After reading the package information, I'm hesitant about taking it. I've had bypass surgery and for the past few years have been on Inderal to stabilize an irregular heartbeat.

We understand your concern, since Seldane (terfenadine) can lead to a dangerous heart rhythm disturbance if the dose is too high or if it is taken with certain other drugs such as erythromycin, Nizoral (ketoconazole) or Sporanox (itraconazole). Even grapefruit juice can interfere with proper Seldane metabolism. Seldane might be safe for you, but please discuss your fears with your physician. Another nonsedating antihistamine, Claritin (loratadine), is not reported to cause arrhythmias.

Q: I worry about my mother. She takes a handful of pills every day, most at breakfast time so she doesn't forget them. That means she's swallowing Lasix, Premarin, Synthroid, calcium and iron together. Is that a good idea?

A: Popping down a bunch of pills at breakfast might be a mistake.

Calcium can interfere with iron absorption. Iron, on the other hand, can reduce the amount of Synthroid that gets into the bloodstream and diminish the thyroid hormone's effectiveness. Your mother needs periodic testing to make sure the Lasix diuretic is not depleting her body of potassium, magnesium or calcium.

We are sending you our Guide to Drug and Nutrient Interactions, which discusses how medicines can change nutritional needs. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 with a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 envelope to Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. N-123, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.

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