Brockville pharmacist reflects on helping patients at height of pandemic

·3 min read
Pharmacist Therese Guirguis of Brockville, Ont., has done a lot of the heavy lifting during the pandemic, including arranging for a nurse friend to provide her patients needed injectible anti-psychotic medications. (Submitted by Therese Guirguis - image credit)
Pharmacist Therese Guirguis of Brockville, Ont., has done a lot of the heavy lifting during the pandemic, including arranging for a nurse friend to provide her patients needed injectible anti-psychotic medications. (Submitted by Therese Guirguis - image credit)

After a challenging year that saw a Brockville, Ont., pharmacist go above and beyond her regular duties, she's now looking forward to taking on another task — administering the COVID-19 vaccine.

Like most people at the start of the pandemic a year ago, Therese Guirguis was caught off guard by how quickly life changed.

When the pandemic first hit us a year ago, we had to do stuff that we never thought that we would have to do ever in our lives. - Therese Guirguis, pharmacist

"When the pandemic first hit us a year ago, we had to do stuff that we never thought that we would have to do ever in our lives."

She and her husband co-own Leeds Pharmacy in the eastern Ontario town. It was one of the few types of businesses allowed to remain open in the early days. Even some doctors' offices were closing temporarily, either for a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) or staff, she said.

"Lots of those patients came over [to pharmacies] when they had any issues," she told CBC Radio's All In A Day.

Some of those patients included seniors and people with mental illness who rely on regular injections of anti-psychotic medications — something they couldn't receive when physicians' offices were shuttered.

Because the only injections pharmacists in Ontario are allowed to give are vaccines, Guirguis knew there were only two options — have the patients switch to oral medications or find someone who could administer their medications.

The first option was not as easy as it sounds. Switching to oral medications comes with its own set of problems around patients being able to tolerate a new type of medication and take it properly, she said.

"All those patients need their injection for their own safety, caregiver safety, our own community safety, well-being. Mental health and physical health go hand in hand, and you have to make sure that the person is really being stable on both aspects to take care of themselves and their loved ones."

Luckily for her customers, Guirguis has a specialization in psychiatry and used to work at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. She has friends in the field, including a nurse who was willing to travel to the pharmacy to give the medication.

The pharmacy opened its counselling room, provided PPE, faxed the doctors, filled out the necessary paperwork and followed up with patients to make sure everything was OK.

Gearing up for vaccines

All this was done along with making sure their store was as safe as possible, including installing Plexiglas barriers, she said.

"We were happy to be able to help because at the end of the day, like, we're part of this community. We have an obligation towards everybody there."

While Guirguis hadn't heard anything from the local public health unit earlier this week about if and when the pharmacy would be able to offer COVID-19 shots, she's ready for the call.

"We would be loving to participate and we will be very proud to support our government in the rollout of vaccines to be able to protect as many Canadians as we could," she said.

Guirguis said they also plan to help customers with accessibility issues make it to the pharmacy to receive their doses.