Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Toe Jam

wholetransOne of the many health problems that people with diabetes face is neuropathy pain. It's one of the reasons why everyone today should pay attention to what your body is telling you. Everything I'm going to say here about my past is still very present today, and in some cases, more so.

For several years before I was diagnosed with type 2, I had very sensitive skin from my abdomen down to the tips of my toes. Occasionally, I'd get this piercing, throbbing and burning pain in my toes, too. There's no real way to describe it unless you have felt it yourself because all three of those words are mild compared to the real thing.

I tired much easier. My eyes felt like they were hit by a dust storm but nothing was there. I was constantly hungry, including after eating a big meal. I was thirsty more often and I peed more, too. My weight dropped for no reason as my body munched out on fat to feed itself for energy since my metabolism took a permanent vacation from utilizing sugar to help keep my body active. Meanwhile, I was oblivious to it all because I attributed everything to the aches and pains of growing older. While my family and friends watched me lose 40 pounds in a matter of 6 months, I enjoyed the new svelte me while they worried. No problem, I told everyone, my metabolism is changing for the better.
Meanwhile, I was damaging my organs with each passing day, and nothing in the end was for the better.

My skin was so sensitive, I had to be very careful in the shower. The direct flow of water on my mesodermal tissue was painful. The tops of my feet were off-limits because of the excruciating agony from water pressure. I won't even describe the intensity when it hit my you know whats. Direct contact there became an international threat to my manhood.

Meanwhile, like I said, silently, my body was destroying itself from within. Don't get me wrong. I'm not on my deathbed or anything, but there's something I'd like to share with you about a recent experience and it's all about diabetic neuropathy.

To this day, I still feel a constant tingling in my skin. Some days it's more pronounced than others, but it never goes away and most days, I don't pay attention to it anymore. According to the federal government's NIDDK Web site, nerve problems can occur in every organ system, including the digestive tract, heart, and sex organs. Whoopee! Lucky me. Nerves contain a network of cells that carry signals and impulses to the spinal cord and the brain. These are called afferent neurons. They also carry signals away from the central nervous system (CNS), these are called efferent neurons. Enough medical jargon. I just wanted to let you know that along with actually suffering from it, I know a lot about it, too.

Early one afternoon, a couple of months ago, I needed to go out for a while. I shaved, showered and did my best to make myself presentable to the public. One thing I learned a long time ago was to keep the area between my toes dry so athlete's foot doesn't develop. I have a regular routine where I take my socks and run one of them between my toes in an up and down motion, sort of like buffing the area dry, and that has kept it at bay for years. Then, I carefully take one sock at a time and gingerly place it over my toes and begin the journey up my foot until it rests comfortably and snugly on my ankle. To show you how smart I am, I do the same thing with my other foot with no help from anyone. I even learned how to tie both shoe laces at a very early age and I can still do that, too.

As a creature of habit and being left-handed, I always start with my left foot. Safely, my sock was up and it was time to go to town on my right one. As I placed the sock over my toes and began sliding it up my foot toward the ankle, I felt a little pain in one of my toenails. Bear in mind that diabetics should go to a podiatrist to have their toenails cut, but for $75 a visit, I can do that myself, thank you, and I am very careful to never let my nails grow too long. Yes, I am very careful when I clip them. I stopped, let go of my sock, and rubbed my toe. The pain was brief, I felt nothing askew and I continued the sock's journey on the path to its final destination. The pain was gone. No big deal and I shrugged it off.

I must tell you that I also have PAD in my calves and ankles, so I have to be careful about what types of socks I wear. At the same time it, it reminds you of one of the many other problems associated with diabetes.

I don't remember what I did that day. I probably had errands to run and sometimes, I catch up with old friends at Spatz, the neighborhood bar in Winter Park, where I sip on water while they drink. Watching people drink booze and smoke cigarettes doesn't bother me in the least. Smoking was extremely detrimental to my health and I will never do it again. This month marks 2 years away from the cancer sticks. I only wish I could have patted myself on my back a lot earlier.

Anyway, I got home, went about my business and at bedtime, I sat on the bed, kicked off the shoes and began to unroll my socks; one at a time, starting with my left foot. I told you I am a creature of habit. As I peeled off the right sock, I noticed something immediately. That toe I felt pain in earlier was now coated with dried blood. Hmm. What's this? Upon closer examination, I saw that the toenail was split down the middle up to the root and the right half was completely torn off. Gonesville. I rubbed my toe. How did that happen? How did I not know it?

As you cringe in horror over what I had done to myself, here's the clincher. I didn't even know it. I felt no pain. How's that for diabetic neuropathy? How's that for dying nerves?

You see, it's very important that we take care of ourselves when we are young. Sure, I never thought I'd be in this shape when I should be relatively healthy and carefree at 57, but it does happen. There were signs coming my way I never paid any attention to, like what I described earlier. I was aware that my nails were becoming more and more brittle over time, especially the ones on my toes, but I was stupid or naive or both. My mother has lived with the disease for over 25 years now. Does it run in your family? Think about that food you're eating. Think about my toe.  In 2006, nearly 21 million Americans had diabetes. The number grows by leaps and bounds daily. Do you want to be one of them?