View of the Week: Gout and Literature

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 … 

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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38 Responses to View of the Week: Gout and Literature

  1. Baydreamer says:

    I’m in the “never had it” group, but I have heard of it. And it sounds very painful. I’ve dealt with pain in other ways so can relate indirectly. I hope you’re feeling better!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That sounds horrible, and utterly agonizing. I hope your gouty joints give you some mercy soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave says:

    My two sons have gout, as do many members of my wife’s family. I’d like to think we’re experts on the affliction but in the end, we’re not coming up with much more than attention to diet and careful use of prescription meds. At least Ben’s experience confirms this is no modern-day malady. Love the last line of the post. Maybe my sons will start writing too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In all the years I’ve had it the docs haven’t come up with much new other than different meds. At least we have those – poor old Ben didn’t. And you never know, maybe they’ll start that great novel with their next flare up …

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So I’ve never had gout (thank goodness, fingers crossed), but I remember hearing my grandmother talk about it and her remedy was to drink cherry juice. ????

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Flojo says:

    My husband gets it occasionally. Does not help with writing. Drinking might; some brilliant writers were alcoholics. I’m wondering how this affects your woodworking.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. dorannrule says:

    I am in the never had group but can relate since Bill had his first attack while we were on vacation. Modern medicine may have all the answers but noone diagnosed it until we got home. That episode began in his ankle. The second one hit years later in his wrist.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ouch Andrew! Gout runs in my family, fortunately I’ve never had it. Be better soon 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for the details and description as a friend of ours is a sufferer. Good luck with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have RA but I suspect your gout is worse than my rheumatoid. Yuck!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Fascinating, Andrew… Hope your gouty attack is easing. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great writing under painful circumstances. May the pain subside quickly and then stay away.
    Interesting that you noticed your joints aching the day after your second Covid shot. Mine too – particularly joints that have ever had an inkling of pain for other reasons. Sort of wondered if I was imagining it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard it said that you have to suffer for your art – but they didn’t say it would be this much. 😉

      I had an appointment last with my sleep doctor’s nurse practitioner last week and the subject of inflammation came up. I mentioned my gout and while she said she’d been hearing from patients about having Covid shot causing inflammation events. I looked it up and it seems that many vaccines can cause short term inflammation issues like joint pain.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I ‘liked’ the prose, but not the circumstances. I feel for you, Andrew. A former beau of mine had gout attacks and it was quite debilitating. I am so sorry. I hope it clears soon and you feel better soon.
    Take care. . .

    Liked by 1 person

  13. jfwknifton says:

    I’m sorry you’ve had a chronic illness like that for so long. I’ve had problems for seven years and I’ve learnt to live with it to a certain extent, but it is so limiting.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. slpsharon says:

    My mother had gout. She went through H. Wish I could wish you healing . But to my knowledge there isn’t any. God bless and comfort you.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Lakshmi Bhat says:

    My husband cousin, has gout. He suffers a lot.
    Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pied Type says:

    I had one acute attack and that had me at the doctor’s throat, figuratively speaking. Daily allopurinol has kept me safe since then, but I panic if I miss a dose or if I feel the remotest twinge in my toe. I do NOT want to repeat that experience! My condolences to you. And don’t let that prescription lapse again.

    Liked by 1 person

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