When The Restroom Is Not For Customers

While I was waiting for my prescription drugs, scanning the aisles and passing my time, I heard a commotion. I could figure out from the distance that a pharmacist was in a verbal duel with a customer. I walked toward the pharmacy counter and paused at the edge of an aisle, which was a strategic spot where I could do this reporting.

It was windy outside and my drug pick-up still ten minutes away, and since I was in search of a topic to write on, I listened in to the argument.

The pharmacist and the store manager appeared relaxed on the other side of the counter; the lady customer stood across from them, a few feet away from me. Her voice was shaky as she chastised the pharmacist, asking him to be more sensitive, and that Duane Reade’s reputation might be at stake if he failed to tend to its customers.

Fifteen minutes earlier:

The lady wanted to use the restroom. (Having lived in Newport for years, I knew that the restroom in this Duane Reade wasn’t for customers.) When she’d asked the pharmacist if she could use it, he responded in the negative. When she insisted citing abdominal pain, he said he’d check with the store manager. Ten minutes passed before the manager arrived and who replied in the affirmative, giving the lady the keys.

After using the restroom, she came out and began to reason with the pharmacist.fight-breaking-up-stopping-stop-break.png

Still standing at the edge of the aisle, my eyes saw Tylenol, my nose smelled VapoRub.

She complained that he’d taken a long time to allow her access; that she was an insulin-dependent diabetic who lived 45 minutes away from the pharmacy. The pharmacist, who was relieved that she’d relieved herself, repeated that the restroom wasn’t for customers (his vocal clarity now bathing in confidence). But, her argument as to why the manager had permitted her silenced him. Refusing to surrender, however, the man yelled, at times, which looked fair given the lady was shrieking throughout this conversation.

The aisle that I’d made my corner was suddenly buzzing with customers. The narratives in their murmurs were mostly divided.

Upping the ante, the lady protested that if she had fainted in the pharmacy during those ten minutes; if an ambulance had to be called in and she’d died en route to the hospital (her choking voice surgically removing any melodramatic pretentiousness); if the law enforcement then questioned the pharmacist, could he justify his decision to deny an insulin-dependent diabetic restroom access?

This terror of a hypothesis whacked a reluctant apology out of him. However, to be fair to the man, most narratives from the aisle agreed that he was not aware of her diabetes.


Who was right? Who was wrong? Restroom policy? Exception? Who deserved the exception?

I believed the lady. Imagine she’d fought with him for 30 minutes. She looked educated? Yes, she was howling.

Had she shared her insulin-dependency fact at the start, he might have responded differently. But her illness was private knowledge, rightly, or should she have revealed it?

He was following the store policy, and might be more upset with the manager than with the lady. Would the manager have patted his back had he been considerate to the lady?

A pharmacy may look like an extension to a hospital – where one can access restrooms – but it isn’t. It’s a pharmaceutical corporate from whom the lady expected a little humility.

Trademark is Duane Reade (Daily Prompt). Glow of the store (Photo Challenge).

45 thoughts on “When The Restroom Is Not For Customers

  1. The drama!! I especially like your follow up at the end. Was this in NYC? If so, how come it is so hard to find a restroom there? I recently took a group of 18 high school students to Columbia University for a journalism conference and finding pit stops was not an easy thing!

    • Thanks for your time. Much appreciated. This was in Newport, Jersey City. But restroom in most pharmacies is not for customers. In NYC, there are public restrooms at some locations: 33rd St/Greeley Sq/Herald Sq, 42nd St/Bryant Park, etc. You may also find portable restroom trailers in some places: you may need a smartphone to locate these. And there’s always the option of Starbucks, but when you are in a group that’s quite an expense 🙂

  2. I think if you run a business where people come in and buy things from you, you should have a public washroom. It’s called customer relations and shows that you care about those you claim to care for. End of Story.

      • And seriously, even if she didn’t, she might become a future one. I know that I’ve had to use a restroom on road trips and when they let me, they have also gained a customer because I make a point to buy something each time I’m back their way.

      • True. I see people walk into Burger King here in Newport to use restroom; they won’t buy a thing and BK doesn’t have a problem; leaves a good impression? Perhaps 5 out of 10 people may return to not only use the restroom but order something 🙂

  3. I’m a pharmacist so I’m going to weigh in on this. I’m pretty sure everyone probably overreacted in this scenario, but maybe not.

    In my twenty plus years as a pharmacist I have seen several cases where customers access bathrooms to later robbed the pharmacy. In one instance, a female pharmacist was brutally assaulted.

    I actually worked for an independent pharmacy one summer when a customer who was allowed to use the private bathroom, accessed the ceiling tiles, made it up to the roof and used that same route later that night to rob the pharmacy after closing. All the narcotics were stolen.

    These rules are placed in pharmacies to protect the people working there. In many cases it is more risky to work in a pharmacy than a bank. When you make exceptions many people with ill intentions will often use them to their advantage.

    The pharmacist was probably thinking that if something DID go awry he did not want to be responsible, thus his decision to call the store manager.

    I have many diabetic customers and nearly 99 percent are very vigilant about what they need, precautions to take and avoid leaving themselves “out there.” Was there not another restroom nearby she could use in the time it took to resolve the issue?

    Just wanted to give you possible insight as to why that may have played out the way it did. Lilka

    • Thanks Lilka for your thoughts.

      Your experience as a pharmacist gives us a different perspective here. If you see, I wasn’t upset with the pharmacist or store manager. Apparently all of them have their share of responsibilities. Your take on pharmacy in general helps me understand why this pharmacist behaved the way he did.

      There is a restroom 10 minutes away in Morton Williams. Perhaps she was new to the area and waited to hear from the manager.

      My empathy for the lady arose because I felt she was speaking the truth; she appeared to be in some pain too. Though she was screaming she sounded more logical in attack and defense. The manager merely stood there; the pharmacist perhaps struggled to put his “policy point” across.

      • Thanks for a great post! I’m sure all of that was quite a sight!

        Unfortunately, many store managers and pharmacists are often at odds due to competing interest in the same company. Crazy but common.

        Public restrooms must be a bit more common down here in the south. There’s one in every gas station practically on every block. Peace!

      • It was quite a sight 🙂 A lot of customers like me wanted to be around. I remained at the edge of the aisle, some stood nearby, but one man stood among the protagonists as though he was party to it.

  4. Even if it was store policy to not grant access to their non-public restroom, the woman could have brought up the fact that she was diabetic and insulin dependent when she asked to use it.

    Since she waited until after the fact to tell them, had she actually passed out and needed to go to the hospital prior to them finding out, they probably would not be held liable.

    I feel that the employee did nothing wrong and was just following store policy. The woman, rather than becoming irate, could have been grateful that the store manager allowed her access.

    • That’s an interesting way of looking at it. The lady based her argument on the premise that Duane Reade is a pharmacy and must treat its customers humanely. She didn’t want to know anything else, was expecting a fair treatment. Thanks for your time 🙂

  5. Great post, Mahesh. Nothing, in my opinion, robs people of their humanity more than the corporate mentality. That, and the trend toward being “politically correct.” Your last paragraph says it all for me and I couldn’t agree more.

    This is a well written and interesting post with lots to think about.

  6. Irrespective of her health condition the lady should have been granted the access by that Gentleman. One way it is good that he followed the rules word to word. But, in situations like this he should have the basic courtesy to think otherwise! I think the people who formulated such non-sense rules are the ones to be blamed.

  7. I still din’t understand why she din’t inform the pharmacist initially about her diabetes and wasted her time.
    Maybe things would’ve been different then.People should keep things simple,rather than complicating it. I feel life will be.much more simpler then without wasting too much time on unnecessary things.

    • Good point. What I have seen here is people don’t talk about their illness unless “required.” She probably thought she’d be given access without a question being asked. Thanks for reading 🙂

  8. all I can say is, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the oil’. A quieter and shyer person with the same diabetic problem may not have gained access.

    Maybe creating a ruckus in a public place has its advantages, nobody wants a scene on their work-place.

  9. It is the BOUNDEN Duty of the Administration (previously known as the government), to provide Restrooms and such. On top of that, if there is a Rest room, even at a Corporate, if it is Visible, then People Should be allowed to Use it. Altogether, Administrations and Corporates should be given a Healthy Kick on their Backsides.

  10. A well written post! I’m not sure who was right or wrong, but I just wanted to add that the restrooms are something I really appreciate when I go to the States. You have them everywhere (and they are generally available to everyone!) whereas here in France they are nonexistent!
    Thanks for following, I appreciate it!

  11. That’s funny & thought provoking at the same time. In above case, all three characters were right & justified at their place, only that they were in a wrong situation 🙂
    Restrooms are big issue here in Delhi as well, in fact situation is worse for ladies than gentleman as they have sone workarounds in the form or a wall, tree, burse/fence etc.. Hope you getting what i mean 😉
    Something should be done, not sure who should take the responsibility 🙂

    • 🙂 You’re right. By the way we moved to the US in 2008. Usse pahle hum bhi dilli waale the aur rahenge 🙂 In the west, you may hardly see men exploit the freedom of nature. There are some hefty fines in place.

      • Good to know your Delhi connection 🙂 and i know how things are there.. Was at Seattle for some time. When I was new there, it was very strange to see Indian colleagues drinking very less water when going out, as firstly water was expensive & secondly one cant go in open as the flexibility here back home.. You must know thia typical mentality of saving& converting every expense in rupees to compare 😉 😛

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  13. I believe it is law here where I live that there has to be a bathroom available to the public. I know for sure every restaurant here has to have a publish restroom. Interesting topic, Mahesh!

  14. Wow Mahesh – you sure generated some interesting input on this one! (and love your graphic btw). I was all for opening the restroom to the public until I saw the note from the pharmacist – hadn’t thought about druggies using the room to gain access to the drugs. YIKES. I’d have to say that that is probably the exception to the rule (or at least I’d hope so). I guess there is expense and housekeeping to think about but I still say rest rooms for customers should be the standard IMHO

    • I totally agree that “there is expense and housekeeping to think about” – and yes, if druggies use the room and something happens to them the pharmacy may be held responsible.

      Thanks a lot, Tina, for your comment. Much appreciated 🙂

  15. Sometimes some of the best material can come from day to day life. It is a bit of a dilemma. Most of my career having worked in the medical field I would think that the store would need to come up with some kind of facility for customers. i mean really a lot of those who are coming for prescriptions are not going to be the older and those with illnesses. A fascinating read.

  16. I came back to this post Mahesh, for I got called away just after I read it and did not reply. So difficult given as one of your commenters said someone who had gained access to the restroom had used it to force an illegal entry and steal.
    I think perhaps had the woman given her reasons secretly in the first instance allowances may have been made. But rules are put in place for a reason, and one would at least think the woman should have planned her day and found where one was available for her use.
    But an interesting scenario for all concerned 🙂

    Wishing you a pleasant week Mahesh.

    • “I think perhaps had the woman given her reasons SECRETLY in the first instance allowances may have been made” – I like this, Sue. Makes perfect sense. Wishing you a great week 🙂

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