The disease that can make every step a battle
Every step is a battle. Every bent knee is painful. Even the most gentlest of touches is an excruciating ordeal. Life has never been the same for 72-year-old Reginald Walkine since he was diagnosed with what he calls an annoyance of a disease — gout.
Gout, known medically as podagra, is an acute and recurring form of arthritis which affects the big toe. It is a disease that many people find much more painful than they can bear.
Walkine, a heavy machinery mechanic, finds himself struggling to work on the days when he has an episode, as the feeling that comes over him is debilitatingly painful. He often has to use crutches, as the swelling and pain not only affects his toes but also his knees and hip sockets.
“It is a terrible thing to have to live with. I have had to go through this the last 15 years and it has not gotten any easier,” says Walkine. “It started all of a sudden for me. I went to bed fine one night and the next morning my big toe was swollen and painful. I went to see a doctor; after some tests, it was found to be gout. Since then I have seen numerous physicians to help me get through the pain. I haven’t found something that works for me to get rid of the pain entirely but in time I hope to overcome all of this,” he says.
For him, it isn’t the health implications or the likelihood of developing other illnesses related to his condition that scares him, but the potential of having to retire from his work due to the grating pain that scares him the most.
Many gout diagnosed patients like Walkine may only see their ailment as a painful inconvenience according to Dr. Marcus Bethel, internal medicine specialist at Lucayan Medical Centre in Freeport, Grand Bahama, but he says the disease is a lot more than that.
The ailment is often the result of a combination of elements which include a genetic predisposition for the disease, poor dietary habits such as eating excess red meat and acidic foods, and it has some connection to other pre-existing medical conditions and/or the taking of medications such as diuretics.
“Gout is a medical condition caused by elevated uric acid in the human body and the deposition of uric acid crystals in the joints resulting periodically in inflammation, pain and swelling in various joints, also referred to as gouty arthritis. The most commonly affected joints are the toes, ankles and elbows,” says Dr. Marcus Bethel.
Once signs of the ailment materialize, the doctor says they should not be taken lightly, because a build-up of uric acid can lead to other medical problems.
“Long term deposits particularly around the elbows produce soft tissue thickening around the joint known as tophi,” he says. “Uric acid crystals may also form in the kidneys resulting in uric acid kidney stones.”
Males are more commonly affected by gout, although many females can get the disease as well.
While the condition is not considered fatal, Dr. Bethel says people should be aware that the disease can be physically disabling during an attack. And while not curable, the conditions can be managed by dietary changes and medication to lower and control the uric acid levels in the body.
Dietary adjustments patients will have to make include the reduction of meat and alcohol ingestion. The recommended treatment, according to the doctor, includes Allopurinol or other uric acid lowering medications, and anti-inflammatory medication such as Colchicine or other similar brands when advised by a physician.
The doctor says the pain caused by gout is an individual experience that occurs on a different schedule depending on the person, but it is common to expect that an episode can last for a few hours for some, to all day for others. He says what is almost universal to all persons is the night time pain that is a result of the body temperature lowering.
In hopes of overcoming his debilitating illness which recently immobilized him for three weeks, Walkine has said adieu to former pleasures like after work happy hours and heavy meat consumption. He is now a regular fan of water, and healthier food options. He makes an effort to be more physically active when his gout is not as painful, and even does his best to keep moving through his worst bouts with the ailment.
He says he feels fully to blame for his condition as he used to heavily consume red meat and sodas, which he ate and drank in great amounts for many years. And he says in a way he is thankful he developed gout because he has now overhauled and improved his dietary habits. Although he is not among the many who have found long-term relief from the debilitating ailment, he says he persists in maintaining his health.
“The pain of gout is terrible but I have to give thanks that I am in good health otherwise, even at my age. I have yet to find a routine that works for me and since I am not too keen on taking the medication I have been prescribed, I will have to do what I can until something better comes along. I really wish there was something out there for me to try because I am afraid that continuing to take pills will only make me sicker in another way, but my greatest fear of all is that it will get so bad that I will have to retire from construction which I have enjoyed doing most of my life. [Gout] is truly nothing to mess with and if you can prevent it or treat it early you really should. The pain is not something anyone should have to live it if they don’t have to,” said Walkine.