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Consult Your Doctor if Symptoms Persist by Amanda McLeod


We love reading experimental flash fiction here at CRAFT and are excited to share with you Amanda McLeod’s hermit crab piece “Consult Your Doctor if Symptoms Persist.” One of the most challenging tasks experimental flash writers face is pushing against the boundaries the chosen form itself creates. Formatted as a series of pharmaceutical prescriptions, “Consult Your Doctor if Symptoms Persist” explores the oft-unrecognized relationship between pharmacists and the patients they serve. Where do their lives intersect? What wisdom might a pharmacist dispense, say, on matters of love and loss? A cheating husband? The judgment of others? As McLeod suggests in her author’s note, this story is all about contrast, juxtaposing the clinical versus the emotional in an effort to build not only familiarity, but also lasting resonance with the reader. We feel the balance in this inventive flash is just right, and hope you agree.  —CRAFT


 

Dr E. Foster
General Practitioner

4/16/2017

Patient:
Mrs Zoe Smith
5/162 South Street
Civic

Prescription:
LEVONORGESTREL 150mcg / ETHINYLOESTRADIOL 30mcg (generic for Nordette-28) tablet

Take one (1) tablet by mouth at the same time each day. Oral contraceptive.

QTY: 28 x 4. 5 x rpts.

Consult your doctor if symptoms persist.

Symptoms may include ambivalence about parenthood, an impulsive desire to have sex on the couch in the middle of the day, and a lingering sense of uncertainty about your new husband. These symptoms often go unrecognised until a catalytic event heightens their effect.

 


Dr H. Webster
Obstetrician/Gynecologist

10/18/2017

Patient:
Mrs Zoe Smith
5/162 South Street
Civic

Prescription:
PROMETHAZINE (generic for Avomine) 25mg tablet

Take one (1) tablet by mouth four (4) times a day as needed. For the prevention of pregnancy-related nausea.

QTY: 28. 5 rpts.

Consult your doctor if symptoms persist.

Symptoms may include shock, confusion, sleepless nights, and possible denial. These symptoms have been known to evolve into a sense of joy, but this is not always the case. Side effects may include a reduced libido, watching Audrey Hepburn movies by yourself until three in the morning, a need to spend more time with your mother.

 


Dr H. Webster
Obstetrician/Gynecologist

10/25/2017

Patient:
Mrs Zoe Smith
5/162 South Street
Civic

Prescriptions:
AZITHROMYCIN (generic for Zithromax) 1g tablet
CEPHTRIAXONE (generic for Rocephin) 250mg intramuscular injection

Take one (1) azithromycin tablet by mouth as a single dose. Patient to return to clinic for cephtriaxone injection administration. For the treatment of gonorrhoea.

QTY: 1 tablet azithromycin; 1 vial cephtriaxone. 0 rpts.

Consult your doctor if symptoms persist.

Symptoms may include an unused condom in the bottom of the washing machine, seafood restaurant suggestions appearing in your Google feed even though you are allergic, and a husband with a sudden interest in art. Risks include miscarriage, life threatening infections, and the realisation that it will take more than a Band-Aid over the arterial bleed of your relationship to save it. Side effects include alienation, resentment, screaming matches, and the discovery the straying occurred well before you ever said, “I do.”

 


Dr F. Wildman
Obstetrician/Gynecologist

11/6/2017

Patient:
Ms Zoe Edwards
6/7 Loranda Street
South End

Prescriptions:
MIFEPRISTONE (generic for RU486) 200mg tablet
MISOPROSTOL (generic for Cytotec) 800mcg tablet

Take one (1) mifepristone tablet by mouth immediately. Take one (1) misoprostol tablet by mouth 36 hours later, and one (1) misoprostol tablet by mouth when a further 12 hours have passed. Follow-up appointment with your doctor is required in 7–10 days to confirm complete termination and expulsion.

QTY: 1 tablet mifepristone; 2 tablets misoprostol. 0 rpts.

Consult your doctor if symptoms persist.

Symptoms may include rage, frustration, sadness, disappointment, bitterness, and fear. Many of these symptoms can be mitigated by finding an obstetrician who supports your choice, and a bottle of red wine split with a close girlfriend when it’s all over. A good divorce lawyer can provide long-term relief. Side effects will ease with the passage of time but may never fully resolve, and may include a sense of isolation, a resolve to avoid future relationships, and unanswered questions about whether she (because you could only have been expecting a girl) might have had your eyes or your smile.

 


Dr R. Bowsmith
Clinical Psychiatrist

5/4/2018

Patient:
Ms Zoe Edwards
6/7 Loranda Street
South End

Prescription:
FLUOXETINE (generic for Prozac) 20mg tablet

Take one half (0.5) tablet by mouth for the first 7 days, increasing to one (1) tablet by mouth after 7 days. For the treatment of clinical depression.

QTY: 30. 5 x rpts.

Consult your doctor if symptoms persist.

Symptoms may include hysterical shower crying, unexplained weight loss, and struggling to find a reason to wake up in the morning. Initial treatment options include eating healthier, getting regular exercise, ensuring adequate sleep, and the most common—just GETTING OVER IT, FOR GOD’S SAKE. These options may not always be effective. Further, one can attempt behavioural therapy, however side effects may include the belief there is something wrong with you and getting the occasional side-eye from others who don’t know the full story. If initial treatment options fail, medication is a perfectly acceptable solution. Side effects may include judgmental relatives and being labelled ‘mentally ill’. Ignore them.

 


Dr F. Wildman
Obstetrician/Gynecologist

12/23/2019

Patient:
Mrs Zoe Edwards-Jones
22 Market Street
Sunshine

Prescription:
PROMETHAZINE (generic for Avomine) 25mg tablet

Take one (1) tablet by mouth four (4) times a day as needed. For the prevention of pregnancy-related nausea.

QTY: 28. 5 rpts.

Consult your doctor if symptoms persist.

Symptoms may include a moment of déjà vu, but this will be swept aside by the strong current of adoration and excitement that follows. Symptoms will be nothing like your previous experience, and will include a delighted husband, a sense of relief, and an overwhelming desire to share your news with the world. Side effects may include making lists of names, a fondness for elastic waisted pants, and the knowledge that this time will be different. This time there will be joy.

 


AMANDA MCLEOD is an Australian author and artist, and the managing editor of Animal Heart Press. Her words and pictures can be found in many places both in print and online, and she’s the author of flash fiction collection Animal Behaviour (Chaffinch Press, 2020). A 2020 Pushcart Prize nominee, she’s always got more ideas than she has time for and is slowly learning to say yes to less. See more of her work at amandamcleodwrites.com and peek into her magical everyday on Twitter and Instagram @AmandaMWrites.
 

Featured image by Hal Gatewood courtesy of Unsplash

 

Author’s Note

I have always been intrigued by the experimental form in flash fiction. There have been some stunning stories told in truly unusual ways—who can forget K.B. Carle’s magnificent “Vagabond Mannequin”? I’m fascinated by the idea that anywhere there’s text, a story can emerge; however, many of my previous efforts fell short. I struggled to find the right balance between trusting the reader and overtelling. Many times, my peer readers either missed the underlying story altogether, or felt they weren’t given enough credit as readers. I came up with a new idea in an experimental flash workshop and with the support of the wonderful Marisa Crane I went on to develop it further.

Our lives are littered with tiny scraps of us; I often wonder what others might surmise when they take these puzzle pieces and try to assemble them. This struck me especially about medical information, and particularly prescriptions. Every time I hand a piece of paper to my pharmacist, they have a tiny window into my life. They know what medications I take and can guess at the likely causes. What narrative do they construct, I mused, about the people they see on a regular basis, especially those they’ve assisted over a number of years? Do they judge? Is there an unspoken bond, when they’ve silently known people to be at a low point?

The challenge with this, again, was striking the balance between trusting the reader and giving them too much information. Initially, when the story was just prescriptions, the meaning was lost unless the reader themselves knew what these medications were and what they were for. (At this point, I mused on how this story would speak differently to people who used medication to help manage their depression, used medical contraception, or who’d had a medical termination.) My second draft swung too far the other way. In the end I found what felt like a happy medium and submitted it to CRAFT. I was fortunate; they loved the concept and wanted to work with me on the piece to strengthen it.

This piece is all about contrast. There’s the clinical language of the prescriptions themselves, juxtaposed against the pharmacist’s emotional take and her own life experiences. There’s an underlying relationship between Zoe and the nameless pharmacist, but it’s externally invisible. I don’t often write in such close third-person, but for this piece it felt perfect.

The collaborative editing process between me and the CRAFT team was an absolute delight. The guidance I received pushed me as both a writer and an editor. In the end, this piece ended up a significant departure from my usual work, but has given me the confidence to continue pursuing experimental flash.

 


AMANDA MCLEOD is an Australian author and artist, and the managing editor of Animal Heart Press. Her words and pictures can be found in many places both in print and online, and she’s the author of flash fiction collection Animal Behaviour (Chaffinch Press, 2020). A 2020 Pushcart Prize nominee, she’s always got more ideas than she has time for and is slowly learning to say yes to less. See more of her work at amandamcleodwrites.com and peek into her magical everyday on Twitter and Instagram @AmandaMWrites.