I know it’s been over a week, but I have a legitimate reason. And I’m not going to place the blame on work this time. I’ve actually been working on something the entire time. It’s about twenty pages double spaced and I just finished today. I don’t remember where I got the idea from. I must have seen something on the subway that inspired me, or maybe the recent ebola outbreak. Being the freak that I am, I wanted to make light of a serious issue, where the reader feels bad for laughing throughout the story.
I was thinking about possibly using this as a writing sample for potential grad schools, but I decided instead to post it here. Who knows, though. If you guys like it enough, maybe I’ll work on it more and submit it. Plus, the stuff I’ve been posting has been very short, so I figured I would switch things up for you guys.
*I copied and pasted this from Word, so indentations are going to be all messed up. Try your best to ignore them.
Side Effects Can Include Death
“I’ve had a cough for the past couple of days.”
“How many days?”
“Well, it’s only been bad for about a week. I think I have strep.”
“But before it got bad?”
“How long I’ve had a cough?”
“Before it got bad?”
“Does it matter? It wasn’t bothering me then. It’s bothering me now. That’s why I’m here.”
“I wouldn’t ask if it didn’t.”
“Well, maybe two or three days. Does it sound like strep?”
“You don’t have a fever, so I don’t know. I’ll get the nurse to swab the inside of your mouth.”
“You don’t have to do that, doctor. It can’t be that bad.”
“So why are you here?”
“I thought it was strep.”
“If you don’t have a fever, which you don’t, you don’t have strep, but if you’d like to find out, we have to test. I can’t just tell you blindly that you have strep.”
“But do you have to swab the inside of my mouth? The nurses pay no attention to what they’re doing. They go all the way back and make me gag and when I gag I always jerk forward—it’s a habit that’s stuck around since I was little—and jab the back of my throat. One time, when I was little, a nurse wasn’t ready for me to jerk forward and she got nervous and let go of the swab and it went half way down my throat. Can’t you just tell by looking at my throat? What do they pay you for if you can’t see something as common as strep?”
My doctor—he’s a great doctor, don’t get me wrong—has to constantly do things his way. I sit in the reception patiently and he always comes out to greet me with this huge, genuine smile before bringing me in. He’ll act like he’s there to help me, but as soon as I manage to maneuver myself onto the table, without destroying too much of the paper they laid out across it, he has a million questions, none of which have anything to do with anything. Again, he’s a great man, he cares deeply about all his patients, but he needs to relax. I’ve been around for fifty-five years, I tell him, and that I know what strep is, but he wants none of it. He wants to find out on his own because it’s his job; it’s what he gets paid to do. I understand where he’s coming from, but I’m just trying to make his job a little easier. Does that make me a bad human being?
He gave me these pills and they’re already working. Each time I pop one, I can sometimes feel the medicine in my stomach breaking down into tiny particles and entering the cells all over my body. The doctor said after I called him to inform him of this revelation, that the tingling sensation is one of the side effects and that it should get better as my body gets used to the medicine. I thank him and ask about the feeling in my stomach. He asks if there’s a strong urge to have a bowel movement and I tell him sometimes and he asks if I have any trouble with them or if I see any blood and I tell him no so he tells me not to worry when I ask if I should be worried.
After a few days, when the bottle is half empty, the stomach pains worsen and I start to feel lightheaded. I was at my son’s house when I first noticed the pain. We were having such a good time, which really bothered me because I constantly had to excuse myself from the table to use the bathroom. My wife is a lovely lady who could hold her own, but she’s not Italian, so she naturally tends to feel a little overwhelmed when the whole family’s together, laughing and yelling, hands flying in all directions, questioning each other’s political views, and not-so-subtly judging one another—all out of love, of course—raise her anxiety levels through the roof, and even make her question her own life choices. I usually give her my hand at the table to squeeze the life out of when she’s feeling anxious, but I wasn’t there because I was constantly in the bathroom.
“Where were you the whole night?” my wife asks on the car ride home.
“That fucking bathroom. Those pills that doctor gave me are no good.”
“What do you mean no good?”
“They’re good. They got rid of my cough, but my stomach. I can’t stop going to the bathroom. As soon as we get home, by the way, I’m going to be in there, so unless it’s an emergency, use the downstairs bathroom. I’m going to go to bed right after so I don’t want to have to put my things away, go downstairs, walk back up, brush my teeth in our bathroom, take the normal barrage of pills, and get to bed. I want to just do my thing all in one shot.”
“You’re going to go to bed? It’s Sunday. It’s only six. The sun’s still out.”
“I’m tired, Elly. I want to go to bed. I should call the doctor, but I’m going to put it off until tomorrow. A good night’s sleep might be just the thing I need to get past this cold.”
“Maybe you have something else. There’s always some sort of sickness going around this time of year. You might be better off going in to see him again. He’ll have something better for you to take.”
“There’s always something better, but better means more expensive.”
“We have insurance.”
“What if whatever he gives me isn’t on it? I’m not paying those ridiculous prices. I’ve made it fifty-five years so far. I’ve seen it all.”
“Back again, Anthony?”
“You remembered my name!”
“You won’t leave me alone!”
“Because those pills you gave me are no good.”
“Your throat still hurts?”
“So they worked.”
“Yes, but now my stomach hurts.”
“The pills do that.”
“I know, but now I can’t stop going to the bathroom.”
“Maybe you got a bug. There’s a stomach bug going around.”
“Those fucking grandkids. I love them, but my son lets them run around like a bunch of wild animals. They’re always down with something. I had to watch them the other day. Coughing and sneezing all over the place, and not once did they cover their mouths.”
“I’ll grab the nurse to draw some blood, if that’s okay.”
“Anthony, it’s 2014. Blindly diagnosing patients is more dangerous than doing nothing at all.”
“You’re not blind, though, Doctor. You can see what’s wrong and I’m telling you what’s wrong.”
“Why can’t you draw blood, out of curiosity?”
“Anthony, get your shoes on. I need your help getting on the roof.”
“Because I asked you to.”
I run back inside and grab my shoes. I hear my father yell to get a jacket and gloves, so I grab my jacket and I go to grab the gloves, but my mother moved everything around.
“Mom!” I yell from the hallway closet. “Where are the gloves?”
“They’re not there!”
“They should be!”
“Did you move them?”
“Where are you!”
I run to the stairs, but she’s not there.
“Mom!” I yell, growing more impatient.
She comes to the stairs yelling with a broom in hand, ready to swat me if I don’t keep my distance.
“I was doing the laundry! What do you want? What’s so important?”
“They’re in the hallway closet.”
“No they’re not,” I repeat. The anger within me is about to erupt.
“What gloves are you looking for?”
“The ones to do work around the house.”
“The leather ones? The one your father’s using?” she asks.
“They’re in the hallway closet. Did you look?”
“Of course I looked.”
I run back up and look again. Nothing.
“Mom!” I yell from upstairs. I can hear my dad yelling from outside to get out and help.
“Come up and get them for me. I can’t find them.”
She runs up the stairs fuming and smacks me. She tells me I’m being punished and how I won’t have TV for a week, which was a big deal in those days. She goes in the closet and looks for the gloves, but she can’t find them either.
“I told you,” I say.
“Shut up. Ask your father.”
“If I go out without gloves, he’s going to ask why and if I tell him I can’t find them, he’s going to be upset and hit me too.”
“He’s not going to hit you.”
“Can you ask him?”
“No. I have laundry to do. If I don’t do it now, it’ll never get done.”
That was her excuse for everything.
I sneak outside and go into the garage and they were sitting right on top of the garbage pail. I put them on and realize I have to get my shoes on, so I attempt to go back in, but my father sees me shoeless.
“Where are your shoes?”
“Inside. I couldn’t find the gloves so—”
“You need shoes, Ant. We’re going on the roof!”
“I know, but the gloves—”
“Go in and get your shoes. I don’t understand why this is so difficult for you.”
I run back in, grab my shoes, put them on, grab my jacket and get back outside. Finally.
“Your gloves, Anthony!”
I left the gloves inside. Everything’s spiraling out of control, so I break down and cry in front of my father, which only made him angrier.
Back in, I go, grab the gloves, and make sure everything is good before going back out. I finally make it out and my father is half way up the ladder. We live in a two-story house, so he yells from about twenty feet up that I’m punished. I yell back that I’m already punished and he yells at me for yelling and adds on another day.
I hold the ladder like he asked as he climbs up the rest of the way. He tells me it’s my turn, so I hesitantly climb the ladder all the way to the top. I look down, and I feel the rush one gets in their stomach when they’re up real high and there’s a very good chance of falling. He grabs me by the arm when I’m not ready and I instinctively jump. Luckily, he has a good grip on me and pulls me up, but not without smacking me for doing something so stupid.
“What are we doing up here?” I ask, trying to stop myself from crying.
“We need to clean the gutters. They’re filled with leaves and they’ll clog everything up when the snow comes.”
“Won’t the rain just wash them down?”
Another smack against the back of my head.
“Why would we be up here if the rain did it for us?”
“I don’t know.”
He tells me to slowly go up to the gutters and scoop out all the junk and throw it on the lawn. Everything is finally going smoothly, and I finally stopped crying when I heard a loud scream underneath me. Again, I jump, but my father wasn’t around to catch me when I fell. Our house was set up on a hill. My father put me on the side where drop is much smaller, which is also right by our back porch, where my mother was sweeping. She sees me falling and tries to catch me, but I’m too heavy and crush her.
I ask if she’s okay, but immediately realize something is wrong. Her eyes are bloodshot and she’s unable to speak. As I’m going to get off her, she spits blood all over my jacket. Some gets on my face as well, but I don’t notice at the time.
“Mom!” I scream. “Dad! Mom’s hurt!” He rushes over and climbs down. He pushes me out of the way and tries to pick up my mother. She screams in pain and says she can’t breathe. He tells me to call 911, so I run inside and do so. I yell from inside that an ambulance is on the way.
My Father yells back, “Go in the bathroom and get a washcloth. There’s blood all over her face.”
I run to the bathroom and grab a washcloth. Out of the corner of my eye, I see blood all over my face in the mirror. I panic, wondering if it’s mine or my mother’s. If it’s mine, why am I not in pain? If it’s my mothers, I wonder if I’m going to get sick. I start to feel uneasy and call for my father.
Next thing I know, I wake up on the couch and watch my mother get taken away on a stretcher. The doctor taking care of me says she broke a rib and it punctured her lung, which was why she coughed up blood. She also told me I’m okay and that I had a panic attack and hit my head on the counter when I saw the blood all over me. It was like war paint, she said. I asked where my father was and they said he was cleaning the bathroom. At that moment, I felt a huge gash on my head and the throbbing began. My blood, this time, was all over the floor, making the bathroom look like the scene of a murder.
“Anthony, you had a panic attack. Do you know where you are?”
“You had a panic attack.”
“Where am I?”
“A panic attack?”
“We were drawing blood for tests. You’re here because of some stomach issues.”
“What stomach issues?”
“That doesn’t matter right now. You fainted and started mumbling all sorts of gibberish.”
My head is pounding right now, like it’s ready to split in two. I’m extremely dizzy and seeing double of everything.
“Doctor, what’s going on?”
“You had a panic attack.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Do you have a psychiatrist?”
“You seem to have some kind of phobia where the sight of blood causes you to black out. Have you had a bad experience with blood before?”
“Are you sure? You’re a veteran, right? Were you involved in any kind of fighting?”
“Sure, I was involved in plenty of fighting.”
“Were you injured?”
“Did you see anyone injured?”
“Sure. It was a normal thing.”
“I know a guy that could help you. He’s a psychiatrist. He can help you, if you like.”
“I don’t need help.”
“Think of him as someone to talk to. The first session is free. Tell him I sent you. And before you leave, you should know that those stomach issues were caused by indigestion. I put in a prescription for you, so you could pick it up on the way to the Dr. Rosenfeld’s.”
“I’ve always dreaded getting old. My father constantly complained about it when I was growing up. He was always so angry, too. I worked a lot in those days, so I wasn’t able to stick around the house like I used to, but when I was home, my father always found something to complain about. I always told myself I would never be like him. When I think about that, I find it odd: not wanting to be like my father. When we’re all growing up, when we’re still very little, and someone older—your teacher, your aunt and uncle, your grandmother—asks you what you want to be, you always say whatever your father does. It’s just natural, not knowing what you want to do, so you say you want to be like your father because he’s the one man you can look up to knowing that if he made it this far, you can too. I didn’t feel like that, though. He was always occupied with something. He loved me and my mother to death. You would think this is a good thing, but—
“He just had high standards that were attainable only in his head. He never took life into account, and how it never goes as planned.
“I learned this when I married my wife. She never was the girl of my dreams. I don’t think I’m her Prince Charming, either. We just happened to meet one day and everything felt right, which is different from actually being right. My father, to delve a little deeper into the thought, was in love with the idea of what family is, and I believe I’m the same way.”
“Do you have children?”
“I do, they’re all grown and married with children of their own.”
“Do you love them?”
“Do they love you back?”
“They tell me they do, and I’m sure they’d tell you they love me, but they don’t call. I always call, to make sure they’re fine and all.
“It’s just as hard to talk to them now as it was when they were teenagers. I ask how they’re doing and almost instantly, they’re on the defensive. I ask what’s wrong and they tell me nothing. I tell them to talk about their jobs, their wives, kids, sports, but I get nothing out of them.
“They’ve always been like this, and it always makes me feel like I did something wrong. I mean, I know I’m not perfect. I was a hardass the same way my father was, but my kids are all successful. Because I pushed them. Because I believed in them. It took a little while for them to believe in themselves, but when you’re on their side, they know they’re not alone, which makes it easier.
“Now, I feel the tables have turned. I’m getting older. Every day, there’s something new to worry about, whether it’s my health, or if we’re going to go to war with China, or if it’s something small like making sure the grandkids are being raised right.”
I tried to convince him I’m not depressed, that I’m just going through a midlife crisis, but he doesn’t want to hear it. What is it with doctors nowadays that believe they know everything? One session and he claims to know everything about me, while having no idea who I am, or what I went through. His answer, though? Take more pills. If you want to know what getting older means, it means taking pills. And yes, there’s a pill for everything, in all different shapes and sizes and colors. The list just keeps piling up. I have to write down what I take, what time I take it, what day I take it, and how many I take, so I don’t forget. That’s another thing about getting old: forgetting. Forgetting to take your pills, forgetting to get out, go to the bathroom, wipe, eat… I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but that doesn’t matter. You get the point.
New pills, though. And these are a true killer. Far tougher than anything I ever experienced in Vietnam. I never felt depressed until I started taking the antidepressants. They make everything feel fuzzy. The sensation of time no longer exists. I’m in the moment. I look at my watch and the numbers are meaningless. Day and night don’t help either. I can sleep all day, be up all night; sleep all night, wake up all day; sleep all day and night, waking up only to relieve myself. I have plenty of time to think about my kids: what I could have done differently, maybe being a little easier on them, which was what I always wished for from my father. Emotions no longer play the same role in my life as they used to.
I remember being an optimist for the most part (my wife might tell you otherwise), but the only thing I find humor in is the sick shit going on in the world. The Arabs blowing themselves up, beggars in the streets, the government and their usual bullshit. It all used to bother me, and I always wanted to do something about it, fix all the problems we face, give everyone a chance, but now, I find it humorous how all this stuff can exist and everyone just goes on like it’s the status quo. I know now that there’s nothing I could do to change our world, and I don’t want to do anything about it.
I told my wife all of this at the dinner table, as she just looked on with a sense of horror. All she said was that I should call Dr. Rosenfeld and schedule another meeting, and to write all of this down, so I don’t forget.
“Well, it doesn’t have to be a pill. We have powders that you could snort—”
“There’s a pill that’s fairly new with very few side effects. And you only take one once a week.”
“Really? That’s definitely worth mentioning first, Doctor.”
“It’s a pretty big pill.”
“You should’ve seen what the Army used to give us.”
“Let me grab one for you.”
Doctor Rosenfeld brings back a pill no human could ever swallow with one glass of water. It was almost as wide as a quarter and an inch long.
“What the fuck do I do with that?”
“You swallow it.”
He said there were no side effects, like all doctors, but those antidepressants I was taking before left my mind foggy for a couple days afterwards. I’m eating with my wife and toss a pill on the table. You should have seen the look on her face. She examined it like an archaeologist does with fossils, tapped it on the table, listening to the loud dud it made, testing to see how hard you could hit it until it breaks.
I attempt to swallow the behemoth, when Eleanor kindly suggests I break the pill up before swallowing it, startling me. The pill got lodged in my throat. I struggle to speak and Elly just sat there laughing, thinking I was kidding around. She realized I wasn’t when my face turned blue and I slapped the table hard to get her attention. She began to panic, but quickly calmed herself down enough to hit my back so I could spit the pill up. It took only one good, hard whack. I slowly regain my composure, thanking her, and decide to go to bed. I don’t even attempt to try again. The pill won. If I’m depressed, I’m going to get over it the old fashioned way: by bottling it up and putting the thoughts in the deepest part of my mind, forget about it, and then one day slowly bubble up like magma in a volcano and eventually erupt, destroying everything in its path.
The next morning, I woke up with a tremendous amount of back pain. Eleanor went out and bought a foam roller (against my wishes) and insisted it would help. It got the knots out of my back, which worked as advertised, to my surprise. Since there was no more pain in my back, I decided to try to get under the sink and actually fix the sink, unlike the plumber, who tells me it’s fixed, but somehow manages to find his way back into my wallet each year.
I grab my wrench and get to work. There’s a stripped nut in the way back that refuses to come off. I try to use my fingers, but years of hard work have essentially made them useless. Aggravated, I get out from underneath the sink, go into the garage, bring out three or four that may or may not fit, and get back under. Naturally, they’re all the wrong size so I get out from under the sink, go back into the garage, find the wrench I need—now that I know which one will do the job—and go back to the kitchen. I find Eleanor in the kitchen chopping vegetables to put in a soup.
“Honey, I’m working right now. Can that wait?” I ask her.
“If I don’t do it now, it won’t get done,” she replies.
“I need to get under the sink. Can you at least move to the side?”
“There’s no room, though.”
“You can’t work on the kitchen table?”
“I don’t want to get it dirty. Go watch some TV or something.”
“There’s nothing on; it’s Tuesday. Nothing’s ever on on Tuesday.”
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you, Ant. It’ll only take a second.”
“A second for you is more like an hour for the average person.”
“Don’t start,” she says, turning her back to me.
To calm her down, I get on the floor and crawl between her legs and get under the sink. She lets out a laugh, the same laugh that broke out on our wedding night, where I slipped carrying her in my arms through the door of our bedroom; or when we first started dating, we went sledding together, and I went down the hill by myself and she followed up, sweeping my legs out from under me when I wasn’t looking.
I stopped paying attention to what I was doing and dropped the wrench all the way in the back corner.
“Fuck!” I yell, causing her drop the knife.
“Watch out!” she yells back.
Not knowing what’s happening, I lunge forward and smack my head hard, opening a gash on my forehead. I yell again and she starts crying she’s so scared. When I pulled myself out, she looked at me and instantly became hysterical. At that moment, I taste the blood on my lips and try to hold her to calm her down. My blood on her shirt is the last thing I see before apparently blacking out.
I woke up with a pounding headache and my neighbor (a doctor) standing over me.
“You’re going to need stitches,” he says.
“I’d show you, but you’ll black out again. Your wife says you have some kind of blood phobia?”
“I don’t know why she’d tell you that. That’s not true. On my side of the family, we have the tendency to faint when we get too excited.”
“Either way, Anthony, you need to get that cut fixed up.”
I get the stitches, and I also learn I have a concussion. The doctor was hesitant to give me pain meds after going through the long list of medications I’m already taking, but the throbbing hurt so much, I couldn’t be in a well-lit room for more than a couple of minutes without getting dizzy. I was told to start with just one pill a day, right before I go to bed. It was a nice suggestion, but why would I need them if I’m already asleep? Instead I took them first thing in the morning, so I could get up and move around.
The pain medication made me feel great. I wasn’t able to move around like I planned, but that no longer mattered. I was in a constant state of euphoria. Nothing was wrong in the world. I couldn’t even remember why I was taking them in the first place.
They would last for almost the entire day at first, but after three or four days, the pain was becoming more apparent. I started taking two, but that was too much, so I cut the pill in half the following day. I told my doctor the pain was still there, so he told me to continue taking them for another week, “just to be safe.”
I’m at a point where if I stop taking the pain meds, my body starts to ache and I fall back into depression. The doctor that first prescribed them told me he couldn’t keep filling out prescriptions for me because they would start to question him, so I had to fall back on Dr. Rosenfeld. I told him I need a prescription to help relieve the pain in my head, and my other doctor refuses to help me any more than he already has. Dr. Rosenfeld understood where I was coming from (or saw an opportunity to line his pockets with more of my money) and helped me out.
“Only one time, though,” he told me.
“I don’t think you do, Anthony. Addiction is a very serious issue. It doesn’t matter how old you are.”
“I’ve never had an addictive personality, though,” I try to explain.
“You clearly do. How long have you been taking these pills?”
“Around a month.”
“I’m going to give you something else to control the urges. A month is way too long. You’ll feel a little dazed from these pills, but they’ll help to wean you off the Vicodin.”
“How are more pills supposed to help my supposed addiction to pills? I’m starting to think all you doctors are the ones addicted to pills.”
The doctor wasn’t kidding when he said they’d make me feel dazed. I can’t keep my eyes open. Eleanor is beginning to worry because I don’t have the energy to eat anymore. I no longer trust the doctors when it comes to my health, but Elly honestly believes I need to go to the hospital. She said I felt warm, but I think it’s all in her head. She likes to assume the worst when it comes to these things. But to make her feel better, I admitted myself into the hospital. This time, though, I requested a doctor I haven’t had previously, one that won’t be so quick to give me those pills.
The doctor, Dr. Andrews, a very nice man, looked at me gravely. His voice cracked when he first spoke, and I knew immediately I was in trouble.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, cutting him off.
“It appears you have a significantly advanced case of strep.”
“That’s impossible. I took medication for that months ago.”
“We know that.”
“So what’s the issue?”
“It turns out your pharmacy mixed up your medication with someone else who had the same last name. What you took only masked the symptoms.”
“Well, now that we know it’s strep, how long until I get better?”
“That’s the problem, Anthony. Strep, when it’s left untreated, becomes a serious issue. The bacteria can sometimes take residence in the heart valves, which can be fatal.”
“Wait. You’re saying I’m going to die? Can’t you just give me antibiotics?”
“We tried. The strep seems to be immune.”
“How is that possible!” I yell, scaring Eleanor, who was so bravely sitting next to me through all of this, not making a sound.
“Bacteria mutates easily. It only takes one cell to survive the treatment and form a colony that’s resistant.”
“So now what?” asks Eleanor, jumping in.
“Well, all we could do is give you something to relieve the pain, which will continue to get worse as time goes on.”