Side Effects

Posted on 2017 May 7


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The best laid plans of mice and men / Gang aft agley. — Robert Burns

You never know what’ll happen. You start one thing and that sets off something else you didn’t expect, and pretty soon you’re in a whole different situation.

For instance, not long ago I had oral surgery and ended up with … paper cuts. It all started because I waited too long to get a tooth fixed, and by the time I stumbled into the dentist’s office — my jaw in agony — the tooth had to be removed. They shot me up with anesthetics, started me on a seven-day course of antibiotics, and forbade solid food. So I went to the store and bought smoothies, pureed soups, and puddings. The puddings came in individual serving cups with peel-off foil tops, but these were really hard to open, and the plastic cup edges were sharp. Soon I had nice, thin, irritating slices on my fingers.

That wasn’t the only side effect. I also got Shingles. Shingles is, itself, a side effect of the common childhood disease Chicken Pox. (Remember? Fever, rash of raised red dots that finally crust over, aspirin, bedrest and missed school.) Often a small platoon of the virus manages to hide out in a nerve bundle, where it waits quietly for decades until the local immune system, weakened by middle age, suffers stress. (Believe me, I was stressed.) At that point the tiny virus commandos make a run for it, traveling down the nerves to the skin, where they stage a literal breakout in the form of one last painful rash. (Cleverly, the rash itself is contagious, so Gramps might accidentally pass the virus to the grandkids and keep the cycle going. Isn’t life great?)

About half of us will get Shingles. And we never expect it. It hits us by surprise.

The thing about side effects is that our efforts to fix them can cause more side effects. Our ancestors used horses for transport in the cities. Pretty soon they had to cope with mountains of horse poop. Then they invented cars, and the horses were retired. Except the cars pumped out smog. The poop was now in the air.

At the end of World War I the warring sides teetered on the brink of an armistice when the U.S. stepped in and pushed one side to victory. The winners, as guilty of starting the war as the losers, nonetheless wrote up a treaty that severely punished Germany, which for the next fifteen years suffered numerous economic and social crises, which led to the rise of the Nazis, World War II, and the Holocaust. (As humorist Tom Lehrer put it, “We taught them a lesson in 1918; they’ve hardly bothered us since then.”)

The Democrats won the White House in 2008 and again in 2012. They figured they could thus change America. Their laws controlling healthcare, the environment, and business caused ripples across working-class voters. Thus Donald Trump became president, and the Democrat’s efforts began to unravel.

Ah, side effects. They happen at all levels.

So anyway, don’t expect your schemes to work out exactly as planned. But do prepare to adapt. Life can happen pretty fast. Get ready to jump.

And please take care of your teeth.