I lie in my bed, three in the morning, eyes open.
I want to cut my foot off.
Anything to provide an escape from the unrelenting pain. Or at least to exchange one kind of pain for another, to forgo the all-too-familiar agony for something new in the way of agony.
In the foot and ankle.
The pain is such that I am not going to sleep, so I begin to ask myself questions.
As in, Why me?
I figure there are two, far-too-obvious answers.
The first: this is a result of my notoriously careless diet — all the protein, the alcohol, things like that (anyone for more pate?). There is, however, a major stumbling block standing in the way of accepting this answer, which I will get to in a moment.
Answer two: I am paying the price for things I did in the past. Instead of being visited by plague and locusts, I get gout. The problem with this answer: it is scary. If I am paying for things I did in the past, I am only up to age fifteen. And I did things just yesterday I will have to pay for. That’s a lot of ground to cover. And the plan is going to pack a huge number of payments into a very short period of time. I’m old, you know.
Unfortunately, this is probably the cause of my affliction.
What, you might ask, is the problem with the clear and simple clinical explanation — dietary excess? It is here we get to the stumbling block I noted above.
Consider this: Over the course of the last ten years or so, I have suffered occasional attacks of gout — a form of arthritis that occurs when uric acid is not properly disposed of by the body and crystals collect in joints — in my case usually the foot or ankle, although I once had it in a knee. The body’s immune system goes to Defcon 5 and attacks the joint, causing enormous grief — as in heated and extreme swelling, and pain that is indescribable, unremitting, that grows worse when pressure of any kind is put on the affected area.
There are medications to deal with the problem—— some to prevent it, others to remediate it after an attack occurs.
The attacks are caused, depending on the person, by a variety of factors, most of them related to specific foods, some related to inadequate hydration, etc.
So, why do I believe I am the object of divinely inspired agony instead of stupid food- and drink-oriented mistakes?
In consultations prior to my recent cancer surgery, I was told I could not take the medication that alleviates an attack of gout—— colchicine, a nasty but effective substance. According to my physician and my surgeon, the drug inhibits healing. Nor could I take an anti-inflammatory that aids in the treatment of pain. A blood thinner, you know, and unadvisable prior to and right after surgery. Wouldn’t want to leak.
So, bright guy that I am, I decide to clean up my act before I head to the hospital. Totally clean up my act. A week and a half prior to the surgery, I cease eating or drinking anything that can lead to an attack of gout. Anything!
My culinary life empties, goes from bright hues to gray in a nanosecond. I forgo everything I enjoy (which, not surprisingly, is everything that causes gout). I am like a monk, a penitent squatting in a cave, rejecting anything in Foodville that can bring him the slightest bit of pleasure.
I make one of the most sincere and complete efforts imaginable.
And five days later, I suffer the worst attack of gout I have ever experienced. My left foot swells up like a red-hot melon. I can’t walk, I can’t drive. There is nothing I can do about it.
Well, nothing but whimper and use a pair of crutches to lurch clumsily from curb to office after Kathy drives me to town.
The attack continues until I enter the hospital. I am in pre-op when the surgeon asks me if I am concerned about anything.
“Yes,” I say. “Do whatever you have to do to me; slice me, dice me, but under no circumstances are you to touch my foot.”
I wake in the recovery room. I am heavily medicated; I don’t feel anything in my abdomen, which now bears a 10-inch incision.
I do, however, feel pain in my foot.
The attack of gout subsides the day I come home from the hospital. I am bedridden and pretty darned blissful behind a big load of pain medication. I sip juice, and eat a bit of yogurt. I drink plenty of water.
The next day, I get gout in my other foot. I am gobbling down painkillers like party snacks, yet the foot is killing me. I am supposed to get up and shuffle around the first floor of the house to ward off blood clots. I can’t even shuffle. I need a shuffle assistant.
I won’t bore you with a detailed record, but I go on to suffer one attack after another, despite the ultra clean diet, the super hydration.
I call my physician and my surgeon.
Same responses. “No, you can’t take colchicine, not until you heal.”
“How long till I heal?”
“Oh, six to nine months.”
It’s been three months since I had a cancerous prostate knifed from my body, and I still have an attack of gout every three days or so. I limp constantly — sometimes less, sometimes more. Kathy does her Walter Brennan/Grandpa McCoy imitation in order to amuse me. In fact, the other night, she welded her Grandpa McCoy walk (limp with exaggerated twitch) to her dance creation, The Mandela (a celebration of humanity and the glory of brotherhood), and spent quite a while limping, twitching and gliding, all to a reggae beat. Me, I sat in a chair and suffered.
This is indeed, then, a matter of a higher power requiring my torment. And guess who has a somewhat dark sense of humor? The irony makes this something different from your run-of-the-mill divine fury.
Here’s what I have learned: If a higher power has it in for you, you can live the cleanest possible life and it will do you no good if you are on You-Know-Who’s bad side for some past violation(s).
So, since I have determined my wretched condition is a matter of humor-riddled retribution, and that it really doesn’t matter all that much what I ingest, I intend to fashion my diet accordingly — with a nod to a bit of moderation (my burnt offering) and to the fact I am in for trouble, whatever I do.
First, I am back to drinking wine. It doesn’t dull the pain, but it certainly improves my attitude.
Second, I will split the diff when it comes to kitchen concoctions — half healthy, half gouty. After all, if I get gout when I eat prunes and oatmeal and sip juice, what the hell kind of problem is sausage?
I have come up with my first recipe: savory oatmeal. Kind of like an oat risotto, or an oat pilaf. Oatmeal (please, have mercy) with hot Italian sausage (what does it matter?), a bit of tomato, onion, peppers, garlic, herbs and — of course — cheese.
Oats and veggies: good. Sausage: bad. Cheese … well, cheese has to be neutral, doesn’t it?
I heat a heavy pan over medium high, (not cast iron, there are tomatoes involved). When the pan is hot, in goes some olive oil. When the oil is hot, I throw in a cup of steel cut oats, a handful of diced white onion and a clove or two of finely minced and smashed garlic. I cook the mix for several minutes, making sure the garlic does not brown, allowing the oats to absorb some of the oil and tastes, and to toast a teeny bit.
Next in: a cup of chicken broth. I jack up the heat a touch and bring the broth to a slow boil. I stir until the broth is absorbed and in goes another cup. Stir. Absorb. Another cup. Stir. Absorb.
On another burner, simultaneously, I cook some walnut-size hunks of hot Italian sausage — a half pound at most. When the sausage is browned, I remove it to a paper towel to drain.
I test the oats — they should have a bit of tooth to them. If more broth is needed, so be it. If the oats are al dente and there is a bit of broth left in the mix, that’s OK. In go some herbs — oregano, basil, perhaps a touch of fennel — and the sausage. I also toss in a bunch of grape tomatoes, halved, seeds removed, and some chopped, roasted red peppers. Down goes the heat to low and the pan is covered for a while.
Test. If it needs to steam just a bit more and is dry, a touch of stock will take care of it, the pan recovered and left on the ultra-low heat for a while.
Once the oat dish is cooked, I toss in a knob or two of butter (another neutral substance, as far as I am concerned), incorporate, then sprinkle the mass liberally with shaved Parmesan — with more cheese made available at the table.
A nice salad — greens, olives, cucumber, carrot, a red wine vinegar, mustard, olive oil and herb vinaigrette — and some crusty bread.
Oh, and a glass of a less-than-muscular red — say a bardolino or barbera.
Fiber, flavor, a wisp of risky business.
Who knows, if all goes well and I successfully evade a full blow from the divine hammer, Kathy and I might do the Grandpa McCoy/Mandela in the living room.
She’ll fake the limp.