“Girt by Side Effects,” by John Domenichini

Aug 20th, 2016 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

It started three months ago. I was getting ready for work when I noticed my feet didn’t feel right. I looked at my shoes and realized I had them on the wrong feet. It was kind of funny, but how does a sober adult put his shoes on the wrong feet?

I switched my shoes and went to work. I told my wife about it that night and we had a good laugh.

The next day as I was getting ready for work again, I inadvertently put my left shoe on my right foot. At least I caught it before I put the other shoe on the wrong foot, too, but it kind of worried me. What could cause one to suddenly put one’s shoes on the wrong feet? More disturbing to me was the fact that throughout the day I had a strange urge to take my shoes off and put them on the wrong feet again.

I wondered what might be influencing my behavior in this way and the only thing I could come up with was the cholesterol-lowering medication I had started taking. When my doctor, Dr. Egal, had suggested that I take the medication, I didn’t question it. I’ve rarely taken prescribed medication in my life, but I’ve always been pro-medication. If I had a headache, I popped an over-the-counter pill. Stomach ache? Pill. Allergies? Pill. Whatever. If there was medication for an ailment I was experiencing, I was willing to take that medication.

By the way, I never paid much attention to the media frenzy around the “miracle” inactive ingredient, Ingoglyoxine. I’d heard about it as it was being developed, but I didn’t take prescribed medication often enough at that time to be interested. Of course, I couldn’t help but hear some of the details, such as the fact that pharmaceutical companies were adding Ingoglyoxine to almost every prescribed medication known to mankind and that it successfully eliminated a whole bevy of serious drug side effects.

When Dr. Egal suggested that I take cholesterol-lowering medication, he went on and on about how safe it was because it had Ingoglyoxine in it. According to him, I had nothing to worry about. Actually, I hadn’t been worried and I remained worry-free until I felt compelled to put my shoes on the wrong feet.

From work that morning, I called Dr. Egal’s office. Three hours later, Dr. Egal returned my call.

“Does the drug you prescribed for me sometimes cause disorientation?” I asked.

“Not that I’ve heard of,” he said. “What are you experiencing, exactly?”

“I put my shoes on the wrong feet two days in a row and all day I have a strong desire to put them back on the wrong feet,” I said.

“Oh that. Yeah, that’s a known side effect.”

“What is?”

“The inclination to put your shoes on the wrong feet. It’s something about how Ingoglyoxine interacts with the active ingredients in the drug.”

“But that’s a really specific side effect,” I said.

“Yes, but it’s not serious and it affects less than 1% of patients. I’ll prescribe a different drug for you that also contains Ingoglyoxine. I have one in mind; you’re very unlikely to experience a side effect again. That’s been my observation, anyway.”

“Okay,” I said, “but what are the known side effects?”

“Well,” he said, sounding somewhat excited, “surprisingly, some patients have found themselves inadvertently humming the Australian national anthem. That’s the main side effect. Again, less than 1% of patients experience any kind of side effect at all, so chances are it won’t affect you.”

“I don’t even know the Australian national anthem,” I said.

He laughed. “That’s the interesting part. Most patients who show the symptom don’t know the song, but they find themselves humming it anyway, of course, they have no idea what they’re humming.”

Since Dr. Egal doubted that I would experience a side effect from the new drug, I decided to try it.

I took it that night before bed and went to sleep. My wife shook me awake in the middle of the night.

“What?” I asked as I sat up. Then I started moving my arms involuntarily. It took a great deal of effort to stop it. I felt the urge to move other parts of my body, too, but I controlled myself.

My wife gave me a confused look. “You were singing in your sleep,” she said

“Singing? Or humming?” I asked.

“No, singing. And loud. Some song I’ve never heard. Strange lyrics. Something like ‘Our home is girt by sea.’ That’s what it sounded like, anyway.”

I pulled out my phone to look up that string of words and sure enough “Our home is girt by sea” are lyrics from the Australian national anthem.

For the rest of the night, my wife kept shaking me awake because every time I fell asleep, I started singing the Australian national anthem again. And every time I woke up I had that same strange desire to move my arms and other parts of my body.

Neither of us got much sleep. The good news is I learned that the word “girt” means surrounded, so at least I expanded my vocabulary.

In the morning, I went directly to Dr. Egal’s office and demanded that he see me right away. He did. He even seemed interested. Not in me so much as in my reaction to the drug.

I gave him a summary of what had happened the night before.

He rubbed his chin and listened intently as I spoke. When I finished, he asked me to be more explicit about the involuntary movements I had experienced.

“Well,” I said, “first, I put my right hand in.”

Dr. Egal started taking notes by tapping a stylus on a tablet computer he held in his hand. “Then?”

“Well, then, I took my right hand out.”

Dr. Egal nodded. “I see. Did you put your right hand in again?”

“Yes, I did,” I said.

“Then did you shake it all about?”

“Yes,” I said. “Why? Is it a known side effect?”

He shook his head. “No, it’s the hokey pokey, though.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said confidently. “That’s what’s it’s all about.”

I pondered this for a moment. I was sure I had never done the hokey pokey in my life, not even as a child. “Dr. Egal,” I said, “the hokey pokey might be kind of fun done voluntarily, but feeling compelled to do it when I don’t really want to is rather frightening.”

“Oh, I understand,” he said. “And singing the Australian national anthem in your sleep is an interesting, but perhaps, troubling twist, as well. Okay, let me prescribe something else for you that contains Ingoglyoxine.”

“Hold on doc. Let’s talk about the known side effects first.”

“Well, the drug I have in mind this time, on very rare occasions, causes patients to sneeze in a higher pitch than usual.”

“But doc,” I said. “I can’t be sneezing a lot. That might interfere with my job.”

Dr. Egal smiled and assured me that very few patients experienced this side effect, and those who did didn’t sneeze more often than usual. It was just that when they did sneeze, it was in a higher pitch than was normal for them. That was all.

I rarely sneeze, so I figured it would be all right.

I took the new medicine and didn’t notice a thing for three days because I didn’t sneeze once in that time.

I finally sneezed when my wife and I were out having dinner, and the pitch of my sneeze was higher than usual. Much higher. So much higher that it shattered four wine glasses: my wine glass, my wife’s wine glass, and the two wine glasses of the couple sitting at the table next to us.

The two tables were girt by broken glass and spilled wine. Luckily, my wife and I had been drinking white wine. The other couple wasn’t so lucky. It was a miracle that nobody was hurt; my wife and I thought that was quite a consolation. Unfortunately, nobody else saw it that way. We can’t go back to that restaurant any time soon, I can tell that.

Monday morning I was back at Dr. Egal’s office. I told him the whole story.

“Your reaction to Ingoglyoxine has been very educational for me,” he said patting me on the shoulder. “Well, let me try prescribing yet another drug for you.”

“No,” I said. “Can’t I try a low-cholesterol diet instead?”

“Well, I don’t think things are that dire,” he said.

“Doc, if this continues, I’m going to end up being charged with manslaughter.”

An expression of concern spread over his face. “Okay, if you want to try something unorthodox, like restricting your diet, that’s up to you. I won’t try to stop you.”

Well, I’ve been on a low-cholesterol diet ever since and it’s working. My cholesterol level is way down. I don’t enjoy being so careful about what I eat, but desperate times call for desperate measures.


Defenestration-John DomenichiniJohn Domenichini has been known to exaggerate. In fact, he exaggerates all the time, even when he’s sleeping. Reader beware.

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