Fifties B.C. ( Before Computers)


It was amazing! The networks called the election of 1952 the same day people went to the polls. In 1948 and previously, we had to wait until the next morning to get the results. 1952 was the first television election. It was the first time we listened to the candidates while watching them on a screen. It was also the first time we were told of a new invention that could predict the outcome of the election before all the ballots were counted. We were shown a building that contained a machine that occupied one floor. It was called Univac and described as a device made up of wires and vacuum tubes. Univac, the name given to the machine known as a computer, predicted Eisenhower would win. I didn't think much of it at the time because I thought he would win too. The computer processed thousands of cards with holes in them (dangling chads and all) This election was kind of like our introduction into the world of computers. No more would we wait outside newspaper buildings for the posting of bulletins to let us know how the candidates were doing with the Electoral College. Even in the election of 2000 we had the same type cards. One difference, another machine punched out the chads, not a voter with a stylus.


Like today, we had a savings account and a checking account in a local bank. We would get in line at the bank on payday and make a deposit in each. The teller would accept our paycheck and thumb through the checking account box for our card. The box was similar to a shoebox and the cards in the box were about 6 inches by 10 inches. The amount to be deposited would be entered with a pencil (easier to make corrections that way), and an adding machine helped with the math for the new total. If a deposit was to be made in the savings account, a new card would be retrieved from another similar box and the same routine followed for the bookkeeping.
Those who had mortgages or loans had cards in other boxes. If you returned to the bank to claim a mistake was made in your account, the bank looked on that with disdain because they thought they never made mistakes. After all, the system they used with the latest high-tech adding machines could not be wrong.


Or, as most people called it. the Drug Store. The record keeping for prescriptions in the fifties was done on the reverse side of the original prescription. Duplicate numbers were stamped on the face of the prescription and the label that would be applied to the container. The prescription would then be inserted in a box or book-file for storage. Those prescriptions that were regulated by the Bureau of Narcotics (pre- DEA) were kept in a separate file. Refilling a prescription required matching the number on the container with the number on the prescription. The date of the refill would be recorded on the reverse side of the original. Very few prescriptions were written that did not allow unlimited refills.
Amphetamines, barbiturates and other potentially abused drugs were limited to five refills. When the five were used, the pharmacist could get an OK to continue with another five when he received a phone call from the doctor. A Warning Label would be applied to the container with the message:" WARNING: This Medication May Be Habit-Forming." A time would come when the doctor realized what he was doing and he would stop all refills. After a person has been using Seconal or Dexedrine daily for three years, it becomes somewhat of a challenge when the user has to be told. No more. Those who took the news calmly probably had prescriptions in other stores under other doctors’ orders. " What do you mean 'habit-forming'? I've been using this for 3 years and I don't think it's habit-forming."
It was sort of amusing to refill a prescription for Dexedrine (which was originally intended as a diet aid) and then go to the soda fountain and fill an order for a Large Hot Fudge Sundae. I don't know how the incidence of pharmacy mistakes prior to computers compares with the present.
Computers provide many checks that were not available when pharmacists relied on stamps, pencils and book-files. But there is one troublesome aspect of today's pharmacy that those of us in the fifties didn't have. Today, a pharmacist works a 12-hour day and may have to fill 240 prescriptions in that time. That allows 3 minutes for each prescription to be recorded on the computer, tablets counted, label affixed, and final check made. Today there are many potent drugs that require close examination for possible inter-actions with other drugs. Some require very precise instructions for administration and awareness of possible deleterious side effects. Doctors leave this aspect of their prescribing up to the pharmacist. In fact, Massachusetts law requires that every prescription be presented to the patient by the pharmacist and that he or she explain all the possible ramifications of taking that drug.

In the fifties we relied heavily on a balance (scale) that could weigh to within a centigram for accuracy. It was common to fill a prescription that would require compounding with much less than that amount. A little math would provide an answer to the amount to be weighed and dissolved or mixed in a pre-calculated mixture, and the amount of the mixture to provide the prescribed quantity of drug. The customer would be told to come back in an hour or two hours because the pharmacist wanted to make sure everything was done right. Many a pharmacist has let a prescription leave the store and wonder if he made a mistake in decimal point. Some have been known to get out of bed in the early hours of the morning, drive miles, open the store, go to the trash, retrieve the paper with the calculation and check again. Every day prescriptions are filled with the wrong medication.
When refilling a prescription, it is a good idea to save the last two tablets in the vial. Leave one tablet in the vial so the pharmacist can have an extra check when adding the new tablets. Leave the other tablet at home to check your refilled prescription. Most tablets and capsules have identifying marks. With a new prescription, don't rush the pharmacist. Be patient, even though you think all he has to do is get the bulk bottle from the shelf and count the tablets. Know the name and spelling of your medication before you have it filled. Check the name on the vial with the name you read from the prescription. Understand the directions for taking the medication before having the prescription filled. Check your understanding with the instructions on the label. These cautions are especially important when filling a prescription for a child or infant. Computers in the pharmacy are essential in today's society just as they are in most aspects of our lives, but with computers come new problems. They make it possible to have access to many new drugs but a computer cannot get the prescribed drug from the shelf.