Before I left for college, my dad turned to me and said, “Always remember, you can learn something from anybody.” He didn’t want me going off and getting a degree with an attitude that no one else can help teach me a lesson, especially if they are not formally educated. Dad knew that knowledge is what’s in our head, but wisdom is what’s in our hands and feet. Life experiences and hard work can be great teachers.
As a young boy, my dad worked to help support the family. He quit school at an early age and choose to do various types of jobs, each one equipping him with a new skill. Then came a lifetime of sailing around the world as a merchant marine, where he gained a wealth of experience that taught him that there is always something new to learn in life. Those who knew him can tell you that he was always ready to “teach you a lesson” whether you wanted to hear it or not. Dad would be proud to know that the following lessons from his diabetic foot care will go on to help others live a lifetime on their feet.
WEAR THE RIGHT SHOES
Dad was always proud of his fine leather shoes. He would polish and buff those things with military precision. The problem with the shoes was that they were too pointy for his feet. Because feet get larger and wider as they age, his little toe started to push upward and was developing a hammertoe deformity. By that time, I became a podiatrist and had the honor of fitting him with his very first pair of diabetic shoes. Therapeutic shoes for diabetes are called “extra-depth” shoes because they provide more room around the toes. This prevents shoe pressure on the toes which can cause an ulcer (open sore) that can get infected and lead to an amputation. After wearing his diabetic shoes for some time, he noticed his toes felt and look much better. He told me, “You see this, my little toe used to look like a popcorn.” That still makes me laugh.
ALWAYS WEAR SOCKS
Let me tell you. My dad had some pretty feet. Why? He always wore socks, even with his house slippers around the house. When we did get a chance to see his feet bare, my mom and I would look at them with amazement. You would think they would be in rough shape from years of being on his feet. But, he guarded his soles with quality socks. It is very important to wear the right socks that keep your feet dry and reduce the chance of blistering. For diabetic feet with neuropathy (loss of feeling), wearing white socks can also be helpful in detecting blood or drainage from a sore.
LISTEN TO YOUR DOCTORS
Going to see his doctors was a top priority for dad. Often times, he would show up an hour early (I’m not exaggerating). It wasn’t until I was in my own practice that I could really explain WHY it is better to keep your exact appoint time. There is an order and method in healthcare that patients sometimes don’t understand. There are many factors that go into diagnosing and treating a medical condition. It is important to be an informed patient who is part of a team approach toward better health. Medicine is also a practice in relationship. Without good communication and commitment, healing is a challenge.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR DIABETES
My dad was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during middle age. I still remember us sitting at the kitchen table learning how to use his new glucometer. For the most part, he was able to keep his blood sugar well controlled. Because of this, he was able to avoid a serious diabetes amputation risk which is loss of feeling in the feet (neuropathy). Studies show that tight control of blood glucose (sugar) levels delays the start and slows the progression of neuropathy.
One thing that put my dad’s feet and legs at risk was his years of smoking. Even though he eventually quit cold turkey, after I argued that I would start if he didn’t stop, the damage to his arteries had been done. Quitting smoking did help prevent the nerves in his feet from losing feeling. But, the blood vessels became hardened and he developed blockages in his legs. The best thing a person can do in this situation is to stay active by walking and exercising the feet and legs. By doing so, you can help the body’s circulation and even develop new blood vessels that can deliver blood around a blockage. My dad was always on his feet doing work around the house and for the community.
The challenge with diabetes is that it affects so many systems in the body. One small event can quickly develop into a serious situation. For my dad, it was a minor car accident that caused him to brake hard with his right leg. He went from a swollen leg to a loss of life in a matter of months. There are some things in life that happen without our control. But there are many things that are under our control that we can do to live a healthier life.
Yes, my dad really did love to make sure his words were heard. So, make sure you understand and follow the foot care advice I just shared. He would be happy to know he can still “teach people a lesson”…using his feet.
For more details on how to care for diabetic feet, please read Diabetic Foot Care Guide: Making Feet Last a Lifetime