There Are Always Side Effects

Added on 28 June 2011

It's eight weeks since I ran the marathon, and my leg still hurts. I had it x-rayed to make sure my tibia wasn't cloven in two, which it occasionally feels like, but apparently it's fine. I said, 'No really, it hurts A LOT. It must be at the very least fractured a bit.' The doctor smiled benignly, patted me on the head and gave me a lollipop.

The GP who sent me for the x-ray mentioned a sports therapist and an MRI if the x-ray turned out negative; however, since the doctors at our local practice only seem to work one day every now and again, inevitably I saw someone different when I returned, and this second GP - a doctor from the Smiling Assassin school of general practitioning - said something along the lines of, 'Well, you could go for an MRI, but who exactly do you think you are? You're not Rafa Nadal, for crying out loud, so frankly, you just need to suck it up, stop feeling sorry for yourself and don't be such a girl. Rest up and you'll be fine in a year. Now bugger off. Oh, and here's a lollipop.'

Since then my main diet has been one of ibuprofen. It goes nicely with chips and mayonnaise, or in a sandwich with cold meat, tomato and some tapenade. Weirdly, culinary advice is one of the few things not mentioned on the label that comes in the small box that brings you your pain killer. Nevertheless, the warning label for ibuprofen does manage to fit quite a lot on to two sides of a small piece of neatly folded paper.

The highlight is, naturally, the potential side effects. With all things that you take in life, it's best not to read the side effects. No one reads the side effects. If you read the side effects you wouldn't take anything in life ever. You wouldn't have any medicine, you wouldn't eat, you wouldn't cross the door, you wouldn't watch television. There are always side effects.

Generally, the only time you're ever going to read the side effects is when you've taken the ibuprofen and suddenly your scrotum explodes and you think, 'Hmm, that was a bit sore, I wonder if that's because I took that ibuprofen for my headache.' And then you read the list of side effects, and you discover, in small print, in the middle of a very long list, possible scrotum inflation with bursting potential, and you think, 'aw shit, I should have known, I can't sue 'em.'

The list of potential side effects I have before me now - from a supermarket's own brand of ibuprofen, it being the usual supermarket who aren't just Good with Food - plays to its British audience by going straight into those items of scatological necessity, at the top of a list of brutal potential ailments. So, you should panic, check your will and call an ambulance if you:

  • pass blood in your faeces
  • pass black tarry stools
  • vomit any blood or black particles that look like coffee grounds
  • develop a stiff neck, headache, nausea, vomiting, fever and disorientation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Asthma, shortness of breath, skin rash, itching, swelling of the face or tongue
  • Fever, sore throat, mouth ulcers, flu-like symptoms, severe exhaustion, unexplained bleeding or bruising

You probably got bored reading that list, but really, doesn't that include virtually every reason that you would take ibuprofen in the first place? How, in the name of all fuck, are you supposed to know?

Thereafter, we come to a fabulous list that is headed "Other side effects that some patients have had with ibuprofen." It's a damn long list.

This is very exciting. Does it mean that if you call them up and tell them that you got such and such a reaction to the medicine, that they'll automatically call their lawyers, panic and then include it the next time they have to print the label? How much fun could you have? You could tell them that you took ibuprofen and that one of the following happened:

  • your penis grew an extra three inches
  • your face melted
  • you started talking in a Russian accent
  • your brain exploded
  • you grew an extra pair of testicles on your eyes.

Endless possibilities. It's the kind of fun thing to add to a bucket list. Try to get something really stupid added to the warning list for a medical product.

I shan't write this whole list out. It includes, I do believe, every single illness or medical symptom known to man. It starts off with the mundane stomach discomfort and ends with heart attack or stroke, along the way name-checking the possibility of meningitis if you already have lupus, and the fact that if you have Crohn's disease this'll just make it worse. You can see why the writers of House use the ibuprofen warning label as their main reference text.

Like all the crap you find on labels and marketing in the world, the blame does not lie with the Muppets who write the label, the blame lies with society. Something bad happens to Muppet A, so Muppet A gets represented by Muppet B and together they sue Muppet C, and before you know it there are warning lists the length of your abnormally long penis.


Soon enough western society will collapse, and we can all go back to worrying about where we're going to get clean drinking water and what's for dinner.