Toe pain doesn’t mean you’re rich

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

It’s been called the “disease of kings” or a “rich man’s disease” so I’ve long wondered how I managed to get gout.

I write this week’s column after a restless night in which I got two hours sleep because of an intense gout attack in my right big toe. On a really good attack like this one, you finally give up trying to sleep and hobble into the living room to see what’s on TV at 3:30 in the morning. Cannonball Run II didn’t offer enough humor to change my grouchy mood, and my wife woke up to an old bear growling at her from the recliner.

Even though gout is supposed to be most prevalent in men between the ages of 40 and 50, I was lucky enough to experience it first in my early 30s. I thought I had stubbed or sprained my toe somehow and after hobbling around for a week it began to get better. The next time it happened I suspected gout.

Most gout attacks come on suddenly, often at night, and the pain is excruciating. Try taking a 16-ounce claw hammer to the joint of your big toe and you’ll have a good idea what it feels like, except you will recover quicker from a blow to your toe by a hammer.

I broke a little toe once, stubbed it on a foot stool crossing a dark living room. Actually the doctor described it as “shattered, smashed to smithereens.” The pain from it was not as great as a good gout attack. I actually played softball on the broken toe. The whole team laughed at me, but I did get on base.

I knew one group of in-laws to my dad’s side of the family who had gout in their family. The father had gotten so bad with it he had to use a cane, the son just got real grumpy and toughed the attacks out. He suggested eating cherries and drinking pure cherry juice as a home remedy. So I tried that through several attacks with little affect.

Finally, after going through several attacks over the period of a couple of years following my self-diagnosis, I actually went to the doctor. The doctor prescribed Indomethacin which, I thought was a miracle drug. I call them my toe pills and I don’t travel without them. Sometimes a prescription will last a year or two, depending on how often I have attacks. If I get a little advance warning from sore joints or the shiny red inflammation that accompanies them, I can start the toe medicine right away and almost avoid an attack.

Over the years I’ve usually gone on to work during a gout attack, but you can’t do it without drawing lots of notice from your co-workers. They want to know why you have one of your shoes off. They also notice the way you hobble around and quickly nickname you “Chester” or “Grandpa McCoy.” If those same people would just hold still long enough, I’d give them a good dose of my 16-ounce claw hammer.

I’ve had gout in both big toes and my left knee over the years but I’ve learned to deal with it. I’ve learned that I’m more vulnerable to attacks when I’m overweight. I also figured out a long time ago that alcohol could set one off. These days I am pretty much a teetotaler.

They say foods high in purines will set gout off, though it’s not really that simple. The actual cause is a buildup of uric acid in the blood that deposits itself in the joints where it forms into the crystals that cause the pain.

I’ve never actually been able to tie my attacks to imbibing in any particular food. Different doctors have suggested cutting back or giving up red meat completely over the years, but that’s where I draw the line. I’ll reduce or eliminate the red meat with a scab on it (chicken fried) but I’m not going to completely give up a juicy grilled steak. I’m a meat-eater and it wouldn’t be right, even if just thinking about it today makes my toe throb.

Karl Terry is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481 ext. 33 or e-mail: