As an expat I find people are always asking me, “how do you manage your prescription meds when you are living in Africa?” So I thought I would share some of my experiences with you.
First of all, no one has ever asked me about my prescription meds. But I don’t care. I’m forging forward.
I am on three medications for the long term. One is an over the counter, doctor recommended, maximum daily dose of Reactine. I have been on it for years. For chronic hives. It’s a money suck mostly, but whenever I decide to stop it I last approx. 36 hours and it all comes crashing down. So I buy in bulk and accept my fate.
I am also on two prescriptions to manage a top secret condition, which is depression. I share that publicly only because I don’t keep many secrets and also because I’m not ashamed of it. It happens to nice people and I’m one of them. I am extraordinarily thankful that medication works for me and is side effect free. I managed to move to a whole new country and start a business so I’m high functioning indeed.
But still I’m on three meds. None of which I am willing to go without for more than a day or two because of the consequences. You don’t just stop taking them. So….
I did some checking before I arrived in Morocco. Reactine is available under a different name. Same with one med but not the other. Not available here so I knew I would need to be well prepared.
Before I returned from my visit last August I went to my doctor, got prescriptions for both meds for 6 months and got a 6 month refill on the one not available here. I went to the pharmacy, filled it, paid. Done. Safi. Complet. I ran over to Costco and got three giant packs of Reactine – the 84 tablet ones. Done. Off I go back to wonderland.
Being an overcautious person, just before I flew out, I was at the pharmacy and I double checked to make sure they had my refill on file. “No Miss Black, we have nothing for you on file.” Damn!!!! Something got messed up somewhere, but I had no time left so I made a mental note for later and carried on my way.
Fast forward 6 months. I’m off on a VISA run soon and meeting some of my favourite mules from Canada. Er, I mean friends. Not mules. Friends who pack things I need. This is how it all went down recently:
– I email my doctors office. “Please I need a refill. Can you speak to the doctor, she knows my circumstance. I need it for 6 months.” No reply.
– I send another email. “Please. I need a refill. Can you please speak to the doctor and set it up for 6 months. This time I really mean it.”
– A reply comes! “There is a $25 charge to send the request to your pharmacy. It can only be refilled for 3 months.”
– Long, deep sigh. Eye roll.
– The time comes and I get on the phone and call the office. “Hi, I emailed about the refill. I’m calling to give you my credit card number for the $25 charge.”
– She takes my number. Puts through the charge. And makes sure the charge goes through before we talk any further.
Me: “Please can you send the prescription to the Rexall Pharmacy on Lakeshore?”
Her: “In Etobicoke?”
Me: “That’s right.”
Her: “Sure. But I can only do it for 3 months.”
Me: “Please (!!!!) speak to the doctor she knows my circumstance”
Her: “Oh right, there is a note on your file. That should be no problem. Do you have our fax number?”
Me: “Why do I need your fax number?”
Her: “So the pharamacy can send us a prescription refill form.”
Me: *** F F S*** (What is the $25 for I wonder? To cover the cost of the fax paper? What happened to free healthcare?
– So I get on the phone to the pharmacy.
Me: “Hi. It’s me. I need a prescription refill and would you be so kind as to send my doctor the form by fax.”
Pharmacy: “Sure. Let me look at your file. Oh. We have a 6 month refill on file for that. Do you still want me to fax your doctor?”
Me: *** F F S***
Me: “So when will that be ready for pickup?”
Pharmacy: “Oh, 20 or 30 minutes”
Jesus buddy. Simmer down. I’m in Africa.
– Then I call back to the doctors office so they can process the refund for the $25. Honestly.
– Next thing, I text my right arm, my General, my rock in Ontario, the ever-idle-with nothing-better-to-do-mother-of-three….
Me: “Sandra, be a lamb would you. Wrap up your new born and run through the freezing rain and get my meds. And pick up some condoms while you are there.” (Sandra – you see – is “surprisingly” fertile.)
Sandra: “Awesome. All you goddamn people moving to Africa and calling me with all your little problems and chores that need to be done……..”
– Next day I get a text with a photo of the receipt. I email her the money. Done.
– Next thing, I text my friend David.
Me: “David, next time you are on the entire opposite side of the city, would you be a lamb and stop by to see Ryan and Sandra and the kids? They have a package for you. Just pop it into your carry on and fly it over to Europe with you and I’ll get it when I see you. K?”
— Easy peasy lemon squeezey.—
Now it occurs to me that if one med has run out then I will need to go to my doctor in Morocco to get a new prescription for the other one. For 6 months, until I can get back to Canada and take the easy route. And oh what an easy route that is right now.
Now I need to have a friend call and book my appointment with my doctor here because her receptionist only speaks French. So that happens, and off I go to the nice German lady doctor. We talk for quite awhile. I understand that doctors want to engage me in prolonged conversations when prescribing antidepressants. It’s the responsible thing to do. But after quite awhile of this chitchatting, I start to think that she might be a little lonely…?
Finally get my prescription. Now I have to head off to one of the gazillion pharmacies in town. Centrale Pharmacie is my first choice, thinking it’s one of the bigger ones so they are more likely to have a good supply. Right?
The nice lady comes out with one packet of pills. ONE. A 14 day supply. FOURTEEN DAYS. Plus one packet of painkillers that I got for a whole other problem. I look down with a bit of a “what have we here” tilt of the head. At the same time I notice the prescription is only for three months. Duh. Of course it is.
Me: “Um. Do you have more packets?”
Me: “Um. So. How should I fill this?”
Her: “Go around to the others.”
Then she hauls out the stamps and the paper ledger book and sets about recording my prescription, doctor, date, DIN #. Marks on the paper the pharmacy number and then stamps it. I’m used to the stamps by now. My only thought is that this one piece of paper is not going to last through three months and one packet at a time.
I wander off in search of a better stocked pharmacy. We repeat the exact same routine. One packet. “That’s all we have.” AND then she gave me another packet of painkillers. I self-monitored that situation and said, “No no. No repeats on this one.”
Seriously, doesn’t that ledger book of yours prevent double dipping? To what effect was the stamp that happened at the last place? Can I wander the city getting painkillers for the next three months? What would I do with them once I got them? And what if another depressed person comes in today to fill a prescription? Do they have to wait for the next donkey delivery? I have SO many questions.
I assess my choices now. Apparently I need to either make a day out of going to every pharmacy I can find and collect one packet at each until I have my supply or go back every 14 days for the next three months, with my cherished piece of paper, hoping there is enough space for all the notations and stamping that are going to happen.
The funny thing is that every time I go in asking for “Reactine” I also get only 14 days worth. So much for the three packs of 84. “Please Sir, may I have some more?”
I have to tell you, it’s a lot less expensive here to get these meds. But my Costco bulk buying bulk mind is not coping very well with this stingy handing out of one box at a time. It’s really challenging my thought process to not be able to buy large quantities of things. I went to get shampoo at the salon today and I was expecting the 1L pump bottle that sits in your shower for 6 months and instead got a tube. Literally the size of a large toothpaste tube. It makes sense when you consider the economy of scale. The largest bill here is 200 dhs. That’s $26 Canadian. There isn’t a huge market for thousands of products and there is a pharmacy literally on every corner. (I say this like there isn’t a Walmart on every corner, but just stick with me here). Most people can’t afford to stop off at the big box and drop $300 on their VISA for the convenience of not having the return EVERY FOURTEEN DAYS. And really, there is not a single reason why I can’t do that same thing. Just pop in and pick up what I need, when I need it. But wow I miss the convenience of the 6 month prescription, stored on the computer, paid for with plastic, and stocking my shelves so I can think about other things……….like bacon.