"I cried and screamed, begging people to let me get through," Ali recalls, CNN reported.
Eventually, he skipped the line and returned with the medicine in time for his one-year-old daughter, Dory, to recover.
The incident happened just as Iran's landmark nuclear deal with six world powers was being signed in 2015. It was a moment when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had promised Iranians an easier life, free of medicinal and food shortages, and where desperate scenes such as Ali's outside the pharmacy would become a thing of the past.
Iran was putting limits on its nuclear program in exchange for international sanctions relief.
But dreams of a new reality for Iran screeched to a halt in May 2018 when President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal. Despite repeated certifications that Iran was sticking to its end of the bargain, Trump unleashed several rounds of sanctions on the country.
Officially, the sanctions exempt humanitarian goods, such as food, medicine and medicinal instruments. But in reality, shortages in essential goods have affected households across the country.
Ali now gets the medicines to treat his daughter's rare genetic disease, from friends living abroad. Her medical bill has more than doubled, forcing him to sell his car, work two jobs, and accumulate loans. He says that his entire salary from his day job as a waiter goes toward Dory's treatment.
"I am a wedding singer at night. I try to stay cheery and keep a smile on my face, but on the inside all I can think about is my daughter," says Ali.
Because of sanctions, Iran's health sector is struggling to keep up with soaring prices of medications and medical instruments, doctors tell CNN.
European banks, fearing secondary US penalties, are reluctant to do business with Iranian companies even those not blacklisted by the US. Medical companies have had to resort to paying intermediaries exorbitant sums to secure needed supplies, including imported medicines and medical instruments which have more than tripled in value during Iran's rapidly dropping currency, health professionals explain.
"Sanctions is the first problem in our country and in our system. We can't transfer the money and make the preparations for surgery. It's a big problem for us," says Dr. Mohammad Hassan Bani Asad, managing director of the Gandhi Hotel Hospital. "We have the procedures, but we don't have the instruments. It is very difficult for patients and maybe leads to death of some patients."
Though most of Iran's medicines are domestically manufactured, much of the primary materials, many of them imported, are in short supply. And while the state provides universal healthcare, some of the treatment needed for critical cases cannot be covered by state insurance.