‘We have to be gentle with each other.’

Christchurch flower wall.
Image courtesy Visit New Zealand – Christchurch and Canterbury.

Pharmacists, other health professionals and the community are all facing a tough time in the months and years ahead, following the tragedy in Christchurch

Fifty people are now confirmed dead, with a number of others injured, after an Australian man who had expressed white supremacist opinions opened fire at the Al-Noor Mosque and Lindwood Mosque in the South Island city.

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison have described the events as a terrorist attack.

According to New Zealand’s Pharmacy Today, “fallout” from the tragedy continues into this week, particularly for pharmacists and pharmacy employees working in the vicinity of the attacks.

Des Bailey, from the nearby Selwyn Pharmacy, also penned a piece for the publication discussing how pharmacists can talk with their patients in the aftermath.

He told the AJP that he was first alerted to the fact that “there was something going on at the mosque at Dean Avenue” five minutes away from his pharmacy, when his daughter texted him to alert him on Friday.

“The picture got quite confusing,” he said. “We heard of shots throughout town, then we heard Lindwood Mosque was hit. We were trying to piece it all together, and then we heard that a van was exploded on Strickland Street, quite close to us.

“We were thinking, ‘is it a car bomb?’”

The accused gunman was arrested in Brougham Street, outside a car yard close to the pharmacy.

Mr Bailey told the AJP that doctors from the medical centre next door contacted the pharmacy and asked whether he intended to have it remain open.

“We said we’d let people in one at a time – we were still serving people who were on methadone and suboxone.”

A regular patient, who was at Christchurch Hospital having chemotherapy, came to the pharmacy at 4.15 and reported that a number of gunshot victims had been sent to the hospital.

“So we stayed open till 5.30, and I was able to drive home,” Mr Bailey said, saying that “thank goodness” nearby schools had been locked down.

He said that on Monday, he held a debriefing session with the pharmacy team.

“We were a bit edgy. We were running through a few ‘what-if’ scenarios: what if the car bomb had gone off? Or police had apprehended him further down the street, closer to the pharmacy?

“We have to be very sensitive to our Muslim customers,” he said. “We have a fair number of Somalian refugees here. A lot of these people have escaped violence to come here: Nigeria, Somalia, Eritrea, and Egypt – I actually came from Zimbabwe myself to escape violence as well, 19 years ago.

“We just said that we have to be gentle with each other. We’re all a bit fragile.

“And straight after that a Muslim husband and wife walked in and I greeted them, said ‘Salaam’.”

He asked how the couple were and they replied that they were well, but a friend had sustained a gunshot injury to his leg during the attack.

Mr Bailey praised the efforts of the Canterbury Primary Response Group, who advised them to stay off digital media, not read about the event, and not “keep replaying” it to themselves. They were advised to try to get back into a normal routine and focus on their own work, he said.

Medical services and other first responders had also been “fantastic” in response to the tragedy, he said.

He told the AJP that “Pharmacy-wise, we’re going to have a lot of mental health problems”.

“We’ve got 50 funerals this week. And when the trial starts, witnesses are going to have to be called up and unfortunately, have to live through the event again.”

New Zealand’s Pharmaceutical Society said on Facebook that its thoughts were with all pharmacists and pharmacy staff after Friday’s tragedy.

“Special thoughts are with any pharmacists or pharmacy staff who were caught up directly in Christchurch, or are going to be involved with the long term care and support of patients, family and communities in the weeks and months ahead,” it said.

“Salaam alaykum to all our Muslim pharmacists and pharmacy staff. You are our sisters and brothers. We are at one with you. We are here for you.

“If you have been impacted by this tragic event and are struggling and are stressed, please know that it is ok to feel any range of emotions and that it is also ok to ask for help.”

The Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand posted that it was getting in touch with member pharmacies that were within the cordon area to offer support.

“Please look after each other during this difficult time,” it said, linking to a Stuff article about self-care and care of others.

New Zealand’s Medical Association and Medical Students’ Association also offered support.

Australian pharmacists have expressed solidarity with their colleagues and with communities across the Tasman.

And one Australian pharmacist academic expressed her sorrow.

Readers who are distressed can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910.

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