An unlikely ally


Image by Luke Mitchell.

Angelo Pricolo remembers a patient who scared him… at first

Some may be old enough to remember Serpico and that enormous role that Al Pacino played in the film adaptation of the 1973 Peter Maas classic novel. If so then you have a good picture of Danny Dandas in appearance and nature.

Managing a huge methadone program for the first time as a young graduate I still didn’t really have all the experience and confidence to handle some of my patients. Danny fell into this category and the first time I saw him I thought I had taken on too much.

It’s not what Danny said that made me nervous; it was everything else about him. How he stood, how he looked and probably what he didn’t say. Yes, what he thought is what scared me most. But I was resilient if nothing else and was determined to act the same with all comers even if this one churned my insides.

Don’t judge a book by its cover sprang to mind every day and eventually I saw Danny smile. It wasn’t long before dosing Danny became something I looked forward to. We started to build a rapport and I enjoyed flaunting my relationship with him as others in the pharmacy stood back in case they caught something.

I realised that the type of interaction I had with him influenced how others viewed Danny. When we engaged in friendly banter the mood was relaxed and he became another part of the rich tapestry that was community pharmacy in the eighties in the northern suburbs.

Danny started to tell me stories; some were typical daily life events with his twist on the world scene. But on occasions he would recount an episode in his life that had me mesmerized and waiting for the next installment.  

He told me the story of a brothel he ran with his mates. I’m not sure what sparked this but he went into lots of detail and some was not really appropriate for the setting. He told me it was the reason he couldn’t return to his native Perth.

“Was it illegal?” I naively asked. “Yeah, but that’s not why I can’t go back. It was run by bikies and we stormed in the front door and forced them out the back door. Then we ran the place”.

Maybe it isn’t appropriate that I recount this story, but it was part of my work to interact and Danny was opening up so I listened. He was establishing his credentials with me and I was lapping it up.

One day I was driving to work listening to the radio a bit distracted as I approached the pharmacy. Part of a story floated in my subconscious on arrival about a hold up and shooting at a pharmacy overnight. The blue and white tape surrounded the front door as I swung around the back to park.

I feverishly searched my memory for details of the news and the shooting; it must be the same one. Sure enough as I approached the front door a couple of hefty, uniformed and armed policemen raised their arms to block me.

It wasn’t until lunchtime that the police let us enter and then they explained the full story. We had been piecing it together with bits of information that filtered through but when we were taken into the crime scene, only yesterday our pharmacy, the police filled in all the gaps (most of the gaps).

At closing time the night before, it was dark and about 855. A nervous twenty something male entered the pharmacy, shut the door behind him and revealed a 40cm machete. What transpired was the nightmare that I’m sure would live with my then boss and the staff that were on that night forever.

The would be thief spent 5 minutes gathering money and drugs and my savvy boss managed to hit the panic button during the ordeal. So as it turned out the response time lined up exactly with the escape time so they met at the front door.

Armed with his booty he opened the front door he had recently slid shut and was confronted with armed police shouting and pointing pistols. He literally ran through them knocking them to the ground and he proceeded at speed across the road.

What happened next was the unfortunate shooting death of the young man who stole to feed an addiction that led him to this drastic measure. An act that endangered so many lives and cost him his own was over in a rush of blood and violent finale.

The following afternoon we re-opened the pharmacy. It was packed. Between catch up for the morning closure and people just wanting to be a part of the goings on we were in a nervous daze ourselves.

Reporters wanted sensational interviews and customers wanted to hear details and make sure the staff were all ok. The death of the intruder kept playing on my mind, especially as more details emerged.

Mid-afternoon one of my regular methadone patients came in to see me and announced he could no longer be on our program. He was quiet and sincere and almost apologetic. He was a carpenter by trade and often fixed little things for me at the shop and we did a bit of a contra with his account.

So it surprised me until he explained. “You know that guy that got shot last night? He was my brother-in-law so my wife wants me to change pharmacy.”

Notwithstanding the sorrow I felt with this revelation as closing time approached the events of the night before kept playing on my mind. Closing the door at 9 and then walking round the back to my car was looming large and it was flooding my thoughts.

Danny came in for his dose and I confided in him that I was feeling nervous as well as upset about the whole affair. Without asking any questions he listened and looked and then told me he would be back before 9 “Just to hang out.”

I was never happier to see Danny Dandas than at 8.45 on that Monday night. He came in and respectfully stood at the front door as customers walked in and out. A bit after 9 we locked the front door and he walked us to the car park and his calmness oozed over us.

A really bad day finished with a kind act from an unlikely ally. I left that job after a year and I’ve never seen or heard of Danny since. Maybe he went back to Perth.

Angelo Pricolo is an addiction medicine pharmacist and former National Councillor of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

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