My view this week has been clouded by gout. Normally I don’t like to talk about it as it brings up painful memories, but this week is a little different.
Normally when I think of that oh so fun condition known as gout, my first thought is the writings of Benjamin Franklin. You know that guy who started Poor Richard’s Almanac, went to France get money for the American Revolution, and generally made tons of money while suffering from gouty attacks. You can read more about poor Ben and his gout here: https://worldhistory.us/american-history/benjamin-franklin-and-his-battle-with-gout.php
Okay, first, there are two kinds of people: Those who’ve had gout, and those who haven’t. There are also those who’ve heard of it and those who haven’t. If you’ve had it, you don’t need to read any further – you get it. Take your pills, drink plenty of water, and sorry no steak and beer for you. You can join me with your lemon water over at the salad bar (easy on the oil and vinegar) while we let the rest of the non-gouty persons read on.
Gout is a kind of arthritis. Bad arthritis – okay, there’s no good arthritis, but gout has its own special level of fun. By fun, I mean pain. Imagine putting your big toe in a vice, tightening down hard and leaving it there for a week. Imagine ground glass in the joints of your foot. Imagine wishing you’d broken your leg instead, and you’ll get some idea.
I’d like to stay I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.
Gout is when your body has too much uric acid in your blood and then it crystalizes and settles in your lower extremities – the big toe is the most common target, but knees, ankles, hands and other joints sometimes get it. Once the crystals are there, they cause inflammation. Industrial strength inflammation as in swelling, pain, heat, painful swelling where even the weight of a sheet can cause agony.
Mr. Franklin was a major sufferer of this horrible condition. In his later years he was often debilitated by acute gouty attacks. Sadly for him, he didn’t have medications like colchicine, naproxen sodium, or indocin and had to suffer through without the aid of medication. Likely he had some wine or distilled sprits to ease the pain and likely that just helped prolong the agony.
Now, it wasn’t all bad for Ben – Since I was diagnosed with gout, I figure we have something in common, so I just call him Ben. I’m sure he’d say, “Dude, you too?” and would pour a glass of wine for both of us.
You see, even though there were few medical treatments at the time, Ben did know some of the key factors that caused a gouty flare (as the docs call it) and when he had an attack he would realize that’d he eaten too much red meat, drunk a little too much wine and had not been exercising enough. In fact he wrote about this – yes this is where I get back to literature into this post.
Among Ben’s writings is this little gem, Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout. Click the link to read the whole thing. For those who don’t want to read, here are the first two lines of the dialogue which will give you the flavor of the piece:
FRANKLIN: Eh! Oh! eh! What have I done to merit these cruel sufferings?
GOUT: Many things; you have ate and drank too freely, and too much indulged those legs of yours in the indolence.
FRANKLIN: Who is that accuses me?
GOUT: It is I, even I, the Gout.
Ben both pokes fun at himself and shows how his behavior has caused his gouty attack. During the dialogue Ben implies that gout is doctor and tormentor. On one hand Ben knows that gout is simply trying to get him to take better care of his health and on the other argues with gout, pleading for mercy and some few indulgences. At point Ben pleads, “As much instructions as you please, Madam Gout, and as many reproaches; but pray Madam, a truce with your corrections!”
The whole text assumes that Ben alone is at fault for his gout and Ben skillfully argues his case. In the end Ben promises to follow gout’s teachings and to “live temperately.” Gout knows him better and replies, “I know you too well,” telling Ben that Gout knows that Ben will relapse in a few months and Gout “… visiting you again at a proper time and place …”
I imagine Ben was laid up in bed with an acute gouty attack when he wrote this.
My guess comes from my own experience with gout. I was diagnosed with gout in my twenties and I’ve been on medication for it since then. I’ve had my share of acute attacks and when I read this dialogue I can feel some connection between Franklin’s writing and my own experience.
One of the things I like to argue against is the notion that a gouty attack is the fault of the sufferer. It is natural to think, “What did I do,” when we get ill or sick or injured. Often we do things that do affect our health – we don’t exercise, we eat junk food, or take risks, but just as often it’s none of those things.
Still, this last week I had a gouty attack and the first thing that came into my mind was this text by Franklin that I read many years ago in an English class. It’s a clever bit of writing and of special interest to me as I have the same thing. I also have an advantage over Mr. Franklin because modern medicine understands the condition much better -causes, cures and preventions.
It’s been a long time since I had an attack, years – so long that I’d let my prescriptions laps and didn’t have the medication on hand so had to message my doctor to get meds sent to the drug store. Honestly I can’t think of anything I’ve done to trigger an attack. Only one thing, and this one seems weird to me, is that two weeks ago I had my second covid vaccine. I noticed my joints aching a bit the day after, but a full attack seems too far fetched as a trigger.
Stranger things have been true and I’ll be asking my doctor about that.
I’ve also noticed that I’ve written a far longer post than I normally do. Makes me wonder if the great prolific authors had gout that forced them to spend long hours in a chair with nothing to do but think and write.
Hum, maybe gout causes literature …