Angelo Pricolo reflects on the unexpected loss of two pharmacy friends
Some telephone calls just start bad and get worse. There is no good way to hear about the death of a friend, but holding a useless piece of technology to your ear fills you with an empty sensation as you try to process the news.
When you run your pharmacy for enough years you end up with two families. There’s the one you see all the time and the one you always seem to be racing home to see. Both are important, although it can take an event to remind you how attached you become to the work family.
David started working for me over a decade ago. He quickly stamped himself as the night man, preferring to work until midnight rather than open early. He also could front up night after night, which takes a special breed.
David often reminded me that part of his Vietnamese culture meant he could always find a bargain. It also helped him quickly secure some prime shifts on the weekend; he had a real appetite for hard work.
Part of the weekend/nightshift etiquette for David was to turn up for work a bit dishevelled. David had the ability to look like he just got up at any time of the day. I always felt like he must blossom with activity in the small AM hours and work must be what he did the rest of the time.
It was actually refreshing to know he had many interests outside of work, although that did not mean he was not committed once he clocked on. When David started work he turned into the most caring pharmacist I have ever met.
Sometimes through unconventional means he was able to connect with patients everyone else struggled with. Many of those patients will also be mourning a tremendous loss now.
You can’t imitate real concern or bluff genuine care, and David quickly won over customers with his own unique and honest flair. It wasn’t fake or overstated, it was just David being himself. A product of a loving family he always cherished, David was never far from his beloved Sydney and those care packs that were sent down from his loving mother.
When David started at my pharmacy in the inner Melbourne suburb of Brunswick he really was a godsend. He arrived at a time when finding good staff was difficult and I was struggling to cover shifts. Constantly trying to balance my home life and the challenge of a late night business, when David slotted in close to Christmas it was the best present I could have ever received.
It’s funny how these things happen. I’d rung around looking for staff; advertised and prayed for some help and then this young man just appeared from Sydney. Newly qualified but with an appetite to work; it seemed too good to be true.
Sometimes that’s just how it felt too as David challenged even the most compassionate boss. He sometimes struggled to hear his alarm clock or to find an ironed shirt but he had a charismatic way of making these blemishes dissolve into insignificance as he diligently hit the ground running.
And run he did: like his NSW State of Origin rugby league team, he was productive every minute of his working day.
He just loved referring to AFL as soft, as he told me and anyone else who cared to listen just how good the Melbourne Storm was. Rugby was a passion as were so many sports for David, as too much sport was never enough.
Last year a beautiful young student applied for a job at the pharmacy. With her family at home in Vietnam, Hanh was in her second year at Monash University. As with every student I took on, David quickly assumed the role of teacher and coach and she flourished under his guidance.
He had an amazing ability to teach the students in his distinctive style. He managed to be encouraging, challenging and at times confrontingly direct as he insisted on a standard to be met.
It was hard not to picture David and Hanh as a possible couple. Not suffering from shyness myself I did clumsily point out their cultural match. But David gave me no sign that his eyes had strayed that way and as always was the professional mentor.
A first tragic telephone call alerted me to the horrific car crash that took David and his passenger’s life on a road trip in Tasmania this week. The second call confirmed that the passenger was that beautiful student pharmacist.
I’ve spoken to many distraught staff members in the last 24 hours as we all battle to accept the passing of two colleagues. Two gentle souls who touched many people they had worked with and served.
The profession has been robbed of two enthusiastic pharmacists. One still at the undergraduate level but already maturing into a fine young woman, the other already at the height of his practice, we now deal with a huge hole they leave.
I will always remember and admire the young man that appeared in my dispensary those many years ago. We all watched him mature and turn into an exceptional caring pharmacist and an extraordinary friend.
He made us laugh and cry, often on the same day, with his dry humour and cheeky smile. He met Hanh and the two have now left us too soon but will always be close in our thoughts and hearts.
Angelo Pricolo is an addiction medicine pharmacist and former National Councillor of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.