Reverse Flowers for Algernon

Gout is a condition where eating certain amount of certain types of foods within a certain period of time will cause crystals to form in joints. Most of the time this joint is the big toe joint, and the crystals break through all human tissue. The pain from this is incapacitating, to the point where when laying in bed the weight of the thinnest blanket on the toe/joint causes mind-numbing pain. For major attacks, maintaining the foot at a height equal to the heart is still painful enough to keep one awake until exhaustion. Any situation where the foot is below the heart is essentially out of the question.

From Saturday April 5th through April 12th I had my second major gout attack, and this time in both feet. From April 12th through today, minor symptoms continue.

The first time I had gout was before this blog, and in very different circumstances. I had just taken a trip to Hong Kong and there was three or so weeks before college started again, and I was living at home. Any amount of ice or water I wanted, I could have, and when my parents saw that it wasn’t something that they could otherwise really understand they called up the doctor and I got to see him without too much trouble. While at home, before or after the doctor, I had no particular responsibilities of any kind. I was missing going to the gym, and perhaps this and its recovery period pulled me away from the habit, but largely the problem could expand and cause no other trouble except my loss of ease, peace of mind, and some free time.

This time it was different.

First there was the food. There was no mom around to bring me food at the normal times, so I had to go and make something. My fridge happened to be empty as the attack started, but even if it wasn’t, I wasn’t about to stand there for half an hour preparing things for a meal. Save for two dinners which people helped me with that week, all ~20 meals were instant noodles. I don’t know if the college kid stereotype is supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find it very funny.

Second, there was the way to get to the doctor. I don’t have a car, but then again I wouldn’t be able to drive it in such a condition. My main form of transportation is bike, obviously that wouldn’t work either. Walking and bussing would potentially work at the cost of a lot of my sanity, as I didn’t have crutches at the time. My housemate was busy or didn’t want to commit to doing it the night before because it would inconvenience him or something, so I was lucky that I happened to hit up a friend who had graduated but was still around and had a car.

These and a couple of other things highlighted more of the difference between my life at home and my expectations of the world, to what it apparently is. If I had offended him in some severe way then I would understand, but my housemate and I are on fairly good terms, and he had read up on what gout was, but still was unwilling to say “Yes I’ll take you to the doctor’s at 10 tomorrow” or something along those lines. Obviously it’s not up to me what he chooses to do or not to do with his schedule, but his stated reason was that he wasn’t sure he could wake up in time. Another notable thing was when I asked him to help me do my laundry. There are no laundry machines inside our apartment and the gout attack started on the day I normally do laundry, so a week later I had essentially run out of clean clothes. He said that he didn’t really feel comfortable doing that because that’s apparently on-par with asking someone to wipe your ass; “Only someone who loves you, like your girlfriend or your mom or your family, would do that”. Thankfully that day I had seen the doctor a second time, courtesy of that second friend again, and had gotten a different medicine which did do enough work for me to limp over to the laundry room without too much pain.

I don’t know if I’m the one making odd requests or he’s the one making odd replies, I don’t have much experience being in this sort of experience and hope to have as few of them as possible anyways, but this seems like a very odd standard to hold. My housemate was saying things like if he was doing such a thing I would basically be in his debt or something about honor or being seen as equals or something. I can see vaguely what he is saying but this seems like a pretty out-of-place standard to be holding. If someone actually needs something done, it doesn’t really matter what it costs to do it. “Beggars can’t be choosers”. Obviously there are always tradeoffs; in our conversation he said if he was in my situation he’d find some other way to do it, like wear dirty clothes or call his parents up from two hundred miles away to drive over. But he also said once that if he was at a party and someone was puking everywhere he wouldn’t mind cleaning up afterwards for them? Apparently three trips to the laundry room is significantly less trouble in the honor sense or something? Then there’s his response with driving me to the doctor’s. Obviously again I can’t be telling him what his schedule should be, but that would not be my response to a housemate under significant persistent pain. All in all my takeaway from this is “This is truly the society that sends its parents to “senior homes” in the middle of nowhere where they’re taken care of by complete strangers who have no incentive to get to know them”. When I told this to him he started trying to justify that too, how America has to work more or something some third-world or developing country or something. Which I guess was to be expected at that point.

The big one though was my mind.

Perhaps I should’ve forced myself to write every day, just a little something, anything, so I could have a record of what was going on. I’m starting to believe this again a bit; I started disliking it because too much recording could lead to too much reflection – i.e. if you reflect on more material you will only really care about the large changes, whereas day-to-day you might focus too much on the little things. Missing forest for the trees or something. This is easily solved by not taking the day-to-day too seriously. However, these past two weeks were much different in that regard.

Before the attack started was the first week of school, where I had essentially everything laid out in front of me. Everything was proceeding more or less to plan: everything that wasn’t under my control I couldn’t be caring about too much anyways, and everything that was under my control was ahead of schedule in some way. It was set to be perhaps the easiest quarter I’ve had my entire four years at college, and finally I could devote time and energy to tackling my former beliefs about jobs and actually going to apply to them and learn the theory behind resumes and cover letters.

And then there was pain.

From what was perhaps a point in my life where I had the largest amount of things I understood or at least had established as knowns and expanding through newfound curiosity, lessening fears or dislikes about certain unknowns or former taboos, it all returned to nothing. There was no chance I was thinking ahead more than the next two to three minutes, and no way I was going to be reading a textbook on statistics or a biography about a famous writer. So I read /v/: short posts of one or two straight thoughts often no longer than twenty words, and none over a hundred fifty. I wanted to hold onto every last bit of intelligence, and this was the extent of my cognitive abilities at the time.  This I do from time to time normally, but in that week this was all I did essentially every minute I was awake. It did get a little boring after a while, even though the things I read there are more intelligent than basically anywhere else on the internet. But it was the best that I could be doing, and I needed to do it. I honestly thought I would lose something if I resorted to reading simpler things.

If you told everyone that you spent your spare time “reading” picture books–pictures with captions under them–people would think you were an idiot. So you call it Buzzfeed instead.

– Maddox

Eventually I was able to think up to about an hour or two ahead, and I basically spent all of my time watching Go. I also started trying to read the textbook and biography and responding to more emails, doing at least a little bit at a time now that I could retain things after taking short breaks. For whatever reason neither my friend nor the shitstain had bothered to do anything about anything in senior design the whole week or had any ideas of what to do so I spent a series of several minutes totaling (apparently that’s spelled with one L) up to perhaps an hour trying to think ahead to about a week. In the previous and this time, I was basically thinking about what was right in front of me and what needed to be done to accomplish it. If it didn’t need to be done, it didn’t exist. The important thing overall was to get rid of the pain, and to keep running my sanity at the highest capacity possible.

This time had an alternate mindset in it as well. In this time I was taking something that, while it ended up not really working, it was the first medicine I took for the gout attack, and it made me drowsy and nauseous. Which was totally fine with me since I had been awake for too long due to gout and had trouble stringing together too long a thought. After this medication started taking effect, the world was great. I had no worries whatsoever because I was only able to think about an hour or two ahead, and all my problems – namely: food, sleep, pain – were or could be easily solved.

Then when I was able to think a week or two ahead, I became really depressed. I now saw that I was a week in the hole in a ten-week quarter, the materials for senior design were still not in, nobody was doing any work, my housemate is relying on me for this one class, I know no one in that other class, I haven’t been doing anything, this pain still hasn’t gone away, I haven’t done any of my drills or gone to Go club in two weeks, oh god what the fuck am I supposed to do. Can’t even sleep. Nothing about life feels particularly good and I can’t really feel good about anything. There’s so many things that need to be done that aren’t being done and no one is helping because the doctor doesn’t want to give me more drugs because they’re steroids and my housemate isn’t taking out the garbage or recycling, what the literal fuck this world is so fucked and god damnit. Can I just sleep? I want to sleep. At this time I was probably able to do many things again, though in limited capacity and quality. But it was clear that I was only a couple of steps away from my normal state before the attack. Just that those couple of things weren’t in place, and therefore all these problems were apparent and unsolved.

Then I got to being able to think a couple of months ahead. Problems that could be dealt with would be dealt with, and those which had no apparent immediate solution would be given time now and again to think of ways of approaching them. Suicide was stupid again. Except for a few screws here and there missing or loose, everything was back to normal. Compared to the other mental states, it’s basically perfect. Here I’ve listed them in terms of how far I was able to think ahead, but the shorter that listed time is, the more loony I was in general. From April 9th,

>get cup of apple juice
>notice can of mango juice on my desk
>it’s still half full
>take a shower
>wonder why my fresh clothes are so wet
>turns out i forgot to use the towel

so i’m actually still fucked in the head.
but at least theres no pain!

The timeline as a whole though was like I was rebuilding my mind. Or it was being re-powered a partition or two at a time. I certainly don’t enjoy the pain or the loss of time, especially not during the last quarter in college and I haven’t really applied for any jobs yet. But it was really interesting. Something along these lines must’ve happened as well the first time around, but there was no other constraints in any way so I didn’t feel the need to think about anything. I wish I had written a day-to-day so I could look into each part in more detail.

I think I was supposed to say something bigger. Maybe I’ve already said it? I don’t have anything else to say about this at the moment.


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