On the morning she died, Ashleigh Anderson researched her symptoms.
“I think I am having a heart attack,” the 41-year-old texted her longtime boyfriend from the CVS store in Seymour, Indiana, where she had just begun her shift as the sole pharmacist on duty.
It was Sept. 10, 2021. Retail pharmacy was reeling from the pressures of the pandemic, and frontline workers like Anderson were dangerously burned out. For months, they had been filling prescriptions and vaccinating patients without bathroom breaks or a bite to eat.
Anderson’s phone buzzed.
“I hope not!” replied her boyfriend, Joe Bowman, who suggested the symptoms could just as easily be indigestion, stress or something with her lungs.
Anderson was a smoker, and her job induced plenty of stress. But she had just been to the doctor two weeks earlier and, according to her family, received a clean bill of health.
“Can you take a long lunch and decompress?” Bowman asked.
“I can’t,” she texted back.
The CVS in Seymour was a 24-hour store whose pharmacy counter never closed, not even for lunch. Patients came at all hours to pick up medications, ask questions and get shots. It was a relentless grind made worse by the recent departure of two staff pharmacists and the pharmacy manager. In their absence, the remaining crew struggled to fill the hundreds of prescriptions coming in each day and had soon fallen behind by more than 1,000.