The Pharmacy In A Christmas Classic

The Pharmacy In A Christmas Classic

The Pharmaceutical trade isn’t typically presented in the best light in Hollywood, and for a truly human and beautiful moment in it you really do need to go back rather far. And oddly, the scene doesn’t focus on a pharmacist saving the day, but nearly causing a tragedy. It is the pharmacists’ assistant that instead saves the day through being observant and checking the work, thinking of the patient first and taking a risk to save a life. The movie is of course: It’s A Wonderful Life.

The scene in Frank Capra’s 1946 classic finds us looking in on Mr. Gower’s pharmacy to find the aging druggist portrayed by H.B. Warner despondent and possibly intoxicated when George Bailey played by Bobbie Anderson arrives for his shift. Mr. Gower is initially displeased with Bailey’s whistling as he serves ice cream from the counter. After this moment of foreshadowing Bailey notices a telegram on the till that says Mr. Gower’s son has died from influenza, explaining his distraught state.

George then moves behind the pharmacy counter where he finds Mr. Gower speaking to a patient on the phone. Gower clumsily fills an unknown prescription for diphtheria in capsule form, clearly compromised and inattentive, dropping several capsules. George can see that something is wrong and glances at the bottle Gower was filling the capsules from but hesitates to speak. Mr. Gower then orders George to hurry to his delivery.

“Take these capsules over to Mrs. Blaine’s. She’s waiting for them,” he says.

George is uncertain how to handle the situation and runs to ask his father for guidance after seeing a advertisement that suggests “Ask Dad, He Knows.” After a famous confrontation between the Baileys and Mr. Potter, the villain of the story, George seems to steel himself for what’s to come.

The young Bailey returns to Mr. Gower finding him on the phone with his Mrs. Blaine, he’s now clearly drunk, apologizing for the delay in delivery and promising the capsules in five minutes as George enters the room.

“Why, that medicine should have been there an hour ago. It’ll be over in five minutes, Mrs. Blaine.” Mr. Gower said hanging up the phone.

In moment that’s difficult to watch, an angry, drunken Gower batters and be rates George as he explains through tears that something is terribly wrong with the capsules… they contain poison.

“ Mr. Gower, you don’t know what you’re doing. You put something wrong in those capsules. I know you’re unhappy. You got that telegram, and you’re upset. You put something bad in those capsules. It wasn’t your fault, Mr. Gower…Just look and see what you did. Look at the bottle you took the powder from. It’s poison! I tell you, it’s poison! I know you feel bad… “

Gower checks them and is horrified at his error and embraces Bailey crying with him, grateful to the boy for saving him from making a tragic mistake that would have cost his patient’s life and destroyed his.

This is later confirmed in the film when we see an alternate timeline where George wasn’t there to stop him, and Gower’s error killed his customer and led to his imprisonment.

Surely, Mr. Gower’s example is not the one that anyone in the Pharmaceutical industry should look to, his is the story of a human being on one of his worst possible days and a testament to the fact that bereavement leave exists for a reason. No, the example the industry should look to is the 12-year-old George Bailey, who decides courageously, likely anticipating Gower’s violent reaction, that he had to act to save the life of a patient.

No matter what the consequences many be, in the pharmaceutical industry the type of care and commitment to the health and safety of the patient shown by 12-year-old George Bailey is exactly what should be aspired to. Later in the film as an older man, Gower is described in script notes as “a different man now – sober, shaven and good-humored. He is behind the counter when George comes in. Gower’s face lights up when he sees George.”

Here is a good man, who had a terrible day and made a catastrophic mistake that was narrowly averted by a trusted employee’s dedication and went on to have a long successful career, all because of George’s quality as an employee and as a person.

Check out the scene on Youtube. And Happy Holidays.

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