“One that’s sick o’ th’ gout, had rather / Groan so in perplexity than be cur’d / By th’ sure physician death.”
Gout is one of those medical conditions that often inspires not sympathy but self-righteousness. It’s the patrician disease, punishment for being wealthy and self-indulgent – too much red meat and red wine. Clean livers, those whose diets are sanctified, don’t get gout. Disease, after all, is physical punishment for morals lapses. I’ve witnessed satisfaction on the faces of those who learn a cancer sufferer has been a smoker.
Twenty-five years ago I woke to an explosion of pain in the big toe on my right foot. I’ve had burns that hurt less. I seldom eat red meat and never drink wine. I hadn’t injured my foot. I was baffled. The doctor wasn’t: gout. He prescribed some pills, the pain stopped within a day and has never returned. I respect those little crystals of uric acid.
I called my brother Saturday morning for our customary weekly chat. On Friday he had been hospitalized with gout in both feet, in so much pain he could barely walk. A friend drove him to the ER. Meds are easing the pain and reducing the swelling, and today he undergoes an IV treatment intended to “flush out,” as he put it, those little crystals. He expects to be home tonight or Monday.
Ken is in good company. Among writerly gout sufferers are Milton, Gibbon, Smollett, Dickens, Tennyson, Browning, Conrad and possibly Dr. Johnson. “Possibly,” because the word gout was used in the past to describe many conditions. In his Dictionary, Johnson defines gout as “the arthritis; a periodical disease attended with great pain.” The lines at the top are spoken by Posthumus in Act V, Scene 4 of Cymbeline.