My Pharmacy Killed Me – What I Learned

We all have our stressful days at work, but owning a pharmacy can put the stress in a whole new ballpark. It wasn’t until Beezwax Business Solutions founder, Pasquale DeMaria ended up in hospital, that he decided to change the course of his life.

It was 3pm, May 28, 2016, when Pasquale DeMaria died.

The 34-year-old father of two had just walked into his house after a session at the gym. It had been a stressful six-months for the pharmacist, having recently relocated his entire pharmacy to a new shop front in Melbourne. The last thing he remembers was reaching down to play with his three-year-old daughter. The next time he opened his eyes was in Melbourne’s Austin Hospital in the Intensive Care Unit. “My heart stopped for 13-minutes,” Pasquale says. “My wife thought I was joking when I collapsed. When she realised I wasn’t, she called an ambulance and proceeded to give me CPR.” His wife’s quick actions saved his life – releasing a small blockage that is thought to have caused the attack.

Pasquale was put into a coma for three days, and woke up to his wife murmuring in his ear. “She said, ‘Pasquale, you’ve had a heart attack’. I replied, ‘No, I haven’t’. When I opened my eyes and saw where I was, the first thing I asked was, ‘Who’s looking after the shop?’.” This question proved to be the perspective shake up he needed. “I had just had a heart attack, nearly died, and that was the first thing that came to mind,” he says. “Not, what happened. Not, where are the kids. Pardon my French, but that’s pretty fucked up.” Had the heart attack happened mere minutes later when he was home alone, the outcome could have been very different. “It has changed the course of all of our lives,” he says. “I can’t say that I’m upset that it happened, but I’m very lucky to be here.”

Qualifying as a pharmacist in 2001, Pasquale went on to locum around Australia, before managing a pharmacy in Melbourne. He bought his own business in 2008 after the birth of his first child. While there were many things he enjoyed about the job, in hindsight he had let his health go. “I wasn’t as active and healthy as I should have been leading up to the relocation of the shop. I’d let things go because you just don’t have time,” he says. “When you’re working 8am till 8pm and you want to come home and see your kids for half an hour before they go to bed. There’s not much time. You don’t eat lunch because you’re so busy and then you’re so hungry that you eat crap food. You don’t really move much, except for walking around a dispensary.”

While medical staff say stress wasn’t connected to his heart attack, Pasquale decided it was time for a change. After six-successful years owning his own business, he decided he wanted more time with his young family – and a way to share everything he had learnt on the job. “The pharmacy took just under a year to sell,” he says. “I was out pretty cleanly and while I was sorry to say goodbye to my wonderful customers and terrific staff, I was excited for the next chapter.” During the selling process, the seed of the idea for Beezwax Business Solutions started to germinate. Pasquale realised just how much of a need there was for an industry specific bookkeeper who could provide efficiency solutions. “I know how much I wished there was someone to help me in the early years when I was getting going. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I was a decent pharmacist. I knew there would be others who would want to learn from my experience,” he says. “I decided to combine my love of pharmacy with my obsession with efficiency and business solutions.” Pasquale decided to get qualified, taking 12-months to complete his Certificate 4 in bookkeeping and becoming a BAS agent. “I started working from home and it has grown organically into what it is today,” he says. Three years later, he now has 60 clients on the books and travels around the country helping pharmacists create businesses which give them more time, money and freedom. “The way I look back on that whole period of my life as a massive learning curve to what I’m doing now. It has stood me in good stead for me to be able to help others,” Pasquale says. “I was able to do the job well and it’s really rewarding to help others get their operation running as smoothly as possible. I can go into a pharmacy and pick up on potential inefficiencies that often fall by the wayside. It’s fantastic to see the difference it can make.”

Looking back, Pasquale says the pharmacy industry needs a wellness revolution – this time for the staff, rather than the customers. “In hindsight, I should have been more diligent in taking time for me, even though it costs money and you’ve got to get someone to cover you,” he says. “It’s just so important to take some time for yourself – even if it’s just a lunch break.”

Pasquale’s top tips for staying healthy in pharmacy

Move your body

It seems like simple, common knowledge but when pharmacists are so busy, they often don’t get the time to get to the gym. However, science is now saying it doesn’t have to take hours. “Some form of exercise is imperative and it can be done from home in less than half an hour,” Pasquale says. “There’s a lot of information about high intensity interval training (HIIT) which you can get away with 15 to 20 minutes daily. Some research suggests this actually raises your metabolism for longer than a 10-kilometre run.”

Take a lunch break

As regulations stipulate a pharmacy can’t stay open without a pharmacist behind the doors, many workers don’t take a lunch break. “I was talking to one guy who had sold his pharmacy and started a job with another company,” Pasquale says. “He was having lunch with the team and was wolfing his food down. They said to him, ‘Why are you eating so fast?’. He realised he was so used to eating incredibly quickly to get back to work, and he hadn’t even realised. Set time aside for lunch, even if it’s just 10-minutes. I think most customers are happy to wait 10-minutes, just so you can eat a sndwich in a dignified way.”

Manage your stress

Managing stress looks different for everyone – whether it’s downloading the headspace app for a 10-minute meditation, taking a yoga class, booking a massage, finding a talk therapist or catching up with mates. “This is so critical and I think we let it slip. Anyone can squeeze in five-minutes somewhere in their day for some sort of mindfulness,” Pasquale says. “Even noticing you’re stressed is a good start, taking some deep breaths and then working how to manage it best. I don’t drink coffee, but the amount of coffee I see other pharmacists drink is pretty huge. I feel it’s a cup of anxiety every time they drink it. Staying within a healthy caffeine range is a great start.”

While Pasquale’s heart attack wasn’t an ideal situation, he says it was the sign he needed to change things up. “We were headed down a path that wasn’t what we wanted for our lives, where I was an absent father and husband,” he says. “Now, I can help others change their systems and processes to make sure their pharmacy doesn’t kill them. Time is money and you don’t want to bring work home with you. Beezwax Business Solutions come in with the automations and the key tips which can help you get back hours in your week to look after yourself and the ones you love.”