When Diabetes Gets on Your Nerves –

How a simple ingrown toenail led to disaster-

 My mother, Jeanette, was always so resilient. She never let anything stop her. She had a liver transplant in 2001 and bounced back from that like it was nothing. She went on to travel and enjoy life with my stepfather, Chess. When she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, she didn’t let that bother her, either. After all, she’d raised a son who’d been a type 1 diabetic since 1974 and thought it was no big deal. 
By 2009, the immunosuppressant drugs that she took for her liver did serious damage to her kidneys. She had to start dialysis. Even then, she did not let this stop her. Mom drove herself to dialysis every morning until November 2020. She continued to travel, attending her granddaughter’s wedding in 2014 — making the trip from St. Louis to Michigan. And she made several trips to visit Beth and me in California … while on dialysis. For one of these visits, she brought along my sister. They expanded their vacation by driving all the way up to San Francisco, camping along the way.
It took some prearranging for her dialysis treatments in various towns and cities, but she managed to make it work. Our fearless and fun-loving mother went zip-lining, parasailing, and traveling to Hawaii with my sister’s family over the years … regardless of her kidney failure. Several years ago, she ended up in the ER because she lost her balance at home and fell. And still, she bounced back from that injury like it was nothing. My sister who is a St. Louis FD paramedic often said that Mom was going to outlive both of us. My daughter once said of her grandmother, “She’s a fighter and a force to be reckoned with!”

It took a surprisingly small thing to destroy the life she had built.
Mom never went to a podiatrist because she believed it was not covered by her health insurance. For a person with diabetes, that decision was terribly risky. Worse yet, we later learned that it would have been covered. In November 2020, she developed an ingrown toenail — something that a non-diabetic could have considered minor. But with her diabetes, it was dangerous. My sister and I were unaware she was developing an infection on her toe. By mid-December when she finally told us about this problem, the infection had done irreparable damage. Her toe had to be removed. But more than losing a toe, Mom lost her independence.
 She went to live with my sister’s family. And because she’d allowed the infection to take root in her system, it spread despite the amputation. In February 2021, she had to have her leg amputated below the knee. While in a rehab center to learn how to walk, Mom developed bed sores on the other leg. That leg came down with a new infection. Eventually the decision was made to remove the other leg. While in surgery to remove the second leg, she went into cardiac arrest. Two days later,on May 21, 2021, our mother was gone.
Diabetes is the top causes of lower limb amputation. Diabetic neuropathy contributes to this. Diabetic neuropathy occurs when high blood sugar does damage to the nerves in our hands and feet. This neuropathy can be painful. I have neuropathy in my hands, but my feet are healthy. One way I know my feet are healthy is that I can still feel pain. I can feel discomfort from walking across some rocks, and I know when I stub my toe on furniture. My nerves are working in my feet. 
With diabetic neuropathy, the feet can become numb. You are unable to feel any pain. A diabetic won’t notice a small, innocent cut on the foot. But then, if they don’t feel it, they may fail to treat it to prevent infection. That’s why it’s critical for diabetics to examine their feet regularly, and to visit a podiatrist as often as needed.
The American Diabetes Association recommends these regular practices:
  • Wash your feet thoroughly everyday
  • Dry them thoroughly, and don’t forget to dry between your toes
  • Moisturize your feet, but avoid moisturizing between your toes 
  • Keep your toenails trim, and use an emery board to file down sharp edges
  • Check your feet for sores, cuts, blisters, corns, or redness daily. Let your doctor know if you find any of these. 
  • Wear moisture wicking socks 
  • Before putting your shoes on, check for sharp objects (i.e. small rocks) 
  • Wear shoes that fit well and don’t rub your feet
While you’re at it, avoid these:
  • Don’t walk around barefoot
  • Don’t soak your feet
  • Don’t smoke
To learn more about taking care of your feet, visit the American Diabetes Association website at this link.