I woke up with gout in my shin last night so I thought I had better alert the media.
I know gout the way Bill Simmons knows basketball; the way Joe Biden knows tangents. I know gout (literally) right down to my bones, and if you don't have gout, or if you don't know someone with gout, then you probably haven't got time for my pain.
I've had "the disease of kings" since I was 8 years old -- and according to my math I've limped around with it for over 50 years. That might mean I've had gout longer than anybody you will ever know. Most everybody gets it in their 50's, which means they would have to live to be 100 to get where I am today, with my shin hurting so badly I can barely bend my leg at the knee.
Let's talk about pain. On the pain scale, gout is a killer: anywhere from eight to 10 in unbearability. Let's just stipulate that it hurts like a bastard.
Gout arrives in "attacks" and never has a medical term been so apt. Most people, mostly middle-aged men, get it in their toes -- their big toes usually. That's where I'm different: I get gout all over my body: toes, ankles, knees, shoulders, elbows, forearms, fingers -- and now my shin -- though last night it hurt so bad I was sure it was my knee. I get attacks in any damaged joint, like an app that reminds me of my stupidity.
The disease, caused by excess uric acid, is generally associated with high living, fatty foods, and copious doses of port. (I got lots of not-funny jokes when I was eight about my heavy drinking.) Even though I haven't had a drink in 25 years, I still get gout. I just might be the goutiest son of a bitch who ever walked the planet.
About that 8-year-old gout thing: I used to wake up with gout somewhere in my feet and be unable to walk, let alone make it to school. My doctor, an ancient specimen who once walked the canyons of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, dispensed his worthless remedy: soaking my gouty feet in tepid water.
Meanwhile, my mom took matters into her own hands: a specialist deep in the heart of Brooklyn. He came out laughing after the exam and looking at the labs.
"His father has gout," he said. "His aunt on his father's side has gout. I think he has gout."
I would have immediately alerted The Enquirer --"Silk Stocking Child Found With Bizarre Disease!" -- but the doc insisted every intern at the hospital should have a gander first at yours truly. Even though I was goutless at that moment, the doctors and the interns poked me like a goat.
Then came the drugs.
After the specialist I discovered butazolidin. As a kid, I would wake up with gout so bad I couldn't walk, take two butazolidin, and bam -- two hours later the gout would evaporate.
Bute was way too good to be true. In the 1968 Kentucky Derby, Dancer's Image was disqualified for bute in the system. They gave it to horses but decided it was too good for humans. From there I entered into a dozen years of multiple pill popping every day to keep the gout at bay. It worked: the only time I seemed to get gout was when I was injured.
Then my world of gout shifted like a tectonic plate. At 21, I stopped taking the pills when I had to pay for them but I also stopped getting gout -- nothing for 30 years. It got so I started to believe I never had gout in the first place.
In my 50's gout made the long trip back with the goutiest period of my life, right on schedule for white males with a genetic predisposition. I'm one of the lucky ones because I can take colchichine when I get an attack (like now) and one, two or three pills later it's gone. (I've taken two as of this moment.)
I'm the lucky one because colchichine makes some people horribly sick to their stomach. I know an ace SEO consultant, Robert Wright, who puked like a frat boy when he took it so now he won't. Our conversation on the topic went like this:
Me: "So you got sick when you took colchichine?"
Me: "You puked."
Him: "Many times."
Me: "But the gout went away after you puked, right?"
Him: "That's true."
Me: "My advice is to just take the colchichine and puke your guts out. It's worth it to get rid of the gout."
There's a twist to this story. Somehow the drug company behind colchichine has managed to make it un-generic again. By my reckoning the cost has gone from $4 a bottle to $10 a pill.
Serves you right to suffer, baby.
A final word on cherries. People who find out I have gout feel compelled to tell me to eat cherries. One of my high school friends with gout, Steve Adams, tells me that cherries always do the trick for him.
I'm here to tell you that the next person who tells me cherries will cure my gout will have to swallow my pits. Guess what? Gout is bigger than cherries and not caused by port.
Gout as metaphor: sometimes inexplicably painful but it does respond to medication. Just like life.