Chacun a
Son gout

Part I
When I first began to suffer occasional attacks of gout, about 10 years ago, I fancied myself in very distinguished company indeed. I pictured myself dressed in a velvet smoking jacket, sipping brandy and smoking a calabash before the fireplace, with my foot wrapped in soft cloth and propped up on the head of a devoted Golden Retriever.

Following this program proved more difficult than I anticipated, especially now that the gout has gotten more serious. For one thing, I don't even know what a calabash is, let alone how to smoke one. I did try to smoke a cantaloupe instead, but that just didn't work out.

As for the smoking jacket, the closest simulacrum I could manage was my souvenir sweatshirt that bears the label "University of Alaska, Fairbanks" in Hebrew characters.

Finally, the neighbor's tigerish cat I recruited to prop up my foot kept racing off and dropping it to the floor, which defeated the whole purpose. In fact, the cat has been getting steadily more erratic and unreliable ever since my housemate began plying it with catnip treats. The creature has turned into a classic addict, obviously in need of intervention, treatment, and a lifetime of 12-paw meetings.

In the end, I settled for just propping my foot on the canteloupe and chewing on a toothpick all the while listening intently to all the people creeping about outside my house. No, I'm not imagining this. They are often out there, salesmen, bill collectors, Jehovah's Witnesses, or canvassers from one Peace group or another. They circle endlessly because I have placed on each of the five doors a sign which reads "Please Use Other Door." They never find the right door of course, and sometimes scratch feebly at one door or another before they collapse into the shrubbery and are dragged off by the neighbor's cat or other wild animals. Listening to this helps to remind me of the transience of all things.

Speaking of which, during intervals between acute attacks, I have been attending a course in "Living Well with Chronic Illness." We all sit around a large table and conduct ourselves in much the manner of a 12-step group. "I'm Max, and I have diabetes," one of them will venture, and then launch into a sickologue. "I'm Edna, and I have arthritis," continues the next one. One of the congregants is an aging hippie who claims that his illness is "chronic poverty." My favorite member is my son Aaron, who has diabetes as well as Down syndrome, and who values the class mostly as a prelude to lunch.

As for me, I tell them I sometimes need crutches in order to hobble around, but am not in good enough shape to be able to use them properly. But if I were in good shape, the question naturally arises, what would I be doing on crutches? After turning over metaphysical questions like this for a while, we all get down to tearing apart each other's "health action plans," and then Aaron inquires how much longer it will be until lunch.

As another reminder of the transience of all things, our class has been getting steadily smaller. One class member is already housebound, another is in hospital, two have simply disappeared, and last time Max went into hypoglycemic shock during class and had to be wheeled out. It is fortunate, or perhaps just good planning, that the class takes place in a hospital.

--- Jon Gallant

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