“It might hurt, but it’s nothing like childbirth,” my wife Jody corrected me after I howled in pain when my big toe barely brushed lightly against the sheets. I didn’t know what was happening to me, or rather, what was happening to my right foot’s big toe that was red and swollen and soon to resemble too much sausage squeezed into an undersized casing. The only laugh I got was when Jody said it looked like that lady we had spotted at Costco recently … “too much woman and not enough dress.”
The past couple of days I’ve been confined to sitting most of the time with my foot in an ice-water bath and popping Ibuprofen to help reduce the inflammation that causes the pain of gout. Gout!!! Never thought the great ailment of old men would ever come with blow torches and devil’s forks in search of me. In my mind’s eye, I can easily see Jiggs, the old boy in the Bringing Up Father Sunday cartoon pages of years ago who was fond of corned beef and cabbage. The cartoon shows him looking miserable and sitting in his chair with his painful big toe raised up on a stool. One too many plates of corned beef and cabbage had been his downfall and now he was paying the price.
Since I am not one who is comfortable with just sitting around, I have discovered that the gout has a definite way of taming the Type A personality. So as I sit here trying to think why me and how it could possibly be any worse–perhaps even worse than a three-day labor–I remain stumped. And I don’t even like, let alone eat, corned beef and cabbage. These have been some of the most painful days of my life.
Although I read as much as possible about gout, the doctor yesterday gave me a pretty good image of what was happening inside my toe joint. Forget about all the technical explanations about how the crystals that form from an excess of uric acid in the system find their way into certain joints, especially the big toe. Just concentrate on medieval theories of eternal damnation at the hands of devils, or rather the red hot prongs of their pitchforks freshly taken out of sulphuric blacksmith fires. Only today, instead of just poking and jabbing you, they’re modern demons with mechanized jack hammers that glow with heat and are sharpened to flay into your joints.
I don’t take any pain easily. A paper cut sends me into a tizzy. Out of commiseration, I once even let the pups run loose for a day after I was not careful and accidentally got “zapped” while holding their invisible fence collars too close to the underground line of damnation.
It all started late last week when I pulled back when putting my boots on. I thought maybe I had stubbed my toe or perhaps Abbie, our aging combination Golden Retriever/Hippo who doesn’t always step lightly, had tromped on me. But how could I have taken such a blow without remembering it? Before I knew it, the toe took on a new shape, a shape that was getting uglier and uglier.
I spent the past couple of days realizing that old geezerhood had finally descended on me. And in the form of gout, of all things! Suddenly, I felt camaraderie with old Jiggs. Here I was enjoying a combination belated birthday/Labor Day lawn party under one of our ancient Oaks when the slightly annoying tingle I had felt a few days earlier started to rumble like Mt. Etna in 79 CE. We had delayed celebrating my 71st birthday for a week so more people could come join us in what we expected to be a “fun” afternoon. And it was fun, until the lava started to flow. Before I could blow out my candles, the tingle went to explosion at ludicrous speed as though I had been cleft in two with a broad ax.
As I winced in pain, and still in denial, I searched the air for some of those damn yellow jacket kamikaze pilots that lurk in the ground and swarm out like demons from hell when disturbed. Maybe one had gotten through my air defense and hit my prize battleship. But no, no buzzing or whirling about for a secondary run at the fleet. Even with no yellow jackets to blame, I felt as though Wagner’s Götterdämmerung had at last come true. This was indeed the twilight of the gods, a catastrophic explosion in my big toe. Even Siegfried in The Ring of the Nibelung could not have sung out with such passion. My Valhalla was in flames and I was yelling in pain. It was a picture of such agony that I wished for Brünnhilde to rescue me magically from this my birthday immolation scene.
Today, gratefully, is another day with a better beginning. My doctor has brought the benefits of modern medicine to me once again. This time he gave me some real magic in the form of a prescription version of Ibuprofen on steroids called Indomethacin. He also repeated the child birth pain comparison and commiserated with my great discomfort.
I felt so much better this morning that I was able to get my socks on without wincing and even got both feet into my otherwise comfy boots without wailing in order to take the pups for their morning walkie. As I now sit here now almost in a reverie, I am enjoying a wave of gratitude almost impossible to describe. I know things could have been worse. I could have been Trump’s hair dresser, Coulter’s rhetoric coach, or even Walker’s union “negotiator.” As bad as these options are, however, they don’t rival my imagination seeing me as a very pregnant momma-to-be en route to a lengthy birth … of her second child.
Perish the thought. This is when I wake up screaming, since I don’t want to ever go through the gout or its equivalent—a prolonged labor—a second time. To force the comparison, the prospect is enough to force a boy to consider celibacy. That option just shows you how critical the issue is.