Working at a clinic for men who have sex with men is not a traditional career path for pharmacists.
“I was a bartender in New York during the 1980s,” the patient says to me after a cough. “Liza Minnelli would call, and she’d say, ‘Hi. This is Liza,’ and I’d answer, ‘Liza who?’” Only a clever and funny man would dare say that to the great and fabulous Liza Minnelli.
Edmund (not his real name) wants to stop smoking. He’s 70, but with a full head of hair. I ask him why he wants to stop smoking. He was afraid for the worst during a terrible coughing fit. Edmund mentions most of his friends have already died. My mother passed away many years ago, so I know the pain that follows death, but not the loneliness of living when friends are only memories. It turns out that Edmund isn’t dying. “But I knew I had to change. That’s why I’m here.” Edmund tries a nicotine gum and says it tastes better than ones in the United States. “Why are you here?” he asks me.
Good question. I grew up in Winnipeg, but have been living in Europe for the last 10 years. I lived in Berlin, where the party never stopped, but there, the only elderly people I met were grumpy, drunk or both. Germany is not known as the land of the happy. Last October, I moved back to Winnipeg to start an internship at Our Own Health Centre. A decade abroad meant my old licence expired, so I needed to jump through hoops to be a licensed pharmacist again, and one hoop was this internship. I’ve helped answer medication questions and presented information on how prescription drugs can cause harm. I’ve worn vinyl gloves to assist a doctor treating a patient for anal warts. My office is shared with a sexologist, and there is a model of a penis beside butt plugs of increasing size. Working at a clinic for men who have sex with men is not a traditional career path for pharmacists, but there is nothing traditional about my own life.
“Once I’m relicensed, I’ll transfer to Vancouver,” I answer. “To live by the mountains and sea.” But is that the whole answer?
I ask Edmund more questions about his habits with smoking and he tells stories about musicians he met and how he performed in a play on Broadway. Edmund is a smart gay man who has lived, truly lived, and now returned to Winnipeg. Despite the horror of witnessing AIDS and many tragic deaths, he manages to lob a joke now and then. “Did you hear the one about the gay Canadian?” I shake my head. “He’s like a gay American except uses maple syrup instead of Crisco.”
I laugh. Just like Liza laughed. This is when I realize why I’m really here in Winnipeg and in Canada, and not abroad and alone. If I’m lucky, I’ll grow old. I won’t die in my 30s or 40s. I’ll help and be helped by other caring men who aren’t grumpy. This has been a cherished time with these kind men at Our Own Health Centre. Together we’ll grow old, laughing along the way.
–Ba Luong completed his internship at Our Own Health Centre and Walmart Pharmacy and is now a licensed pharmacist. His blog, canuckinlederhosen. com, is about observations of life in Canada after a decade living in Europe. He’s working to publish his first novel, Berlin’s Queers Prefer Beer.