Good Life

People Centre’d on Diabetes: Thankful for feeling pain

I don’t like pain. It hurts. But I am glad I can feel it. I am thankful for what pain I have.

I know, sounds weird, doesn’t it? Being thankful for pain.

Pain is God’s idiot light on the dashboard of life telling you something is wrong and needs immediate attention, be it physical, emotional, mental or spiritual.

People who have diabetes often deal with a complication called “peripheral neuropathy.” That’s damage to the nerves farthest away from the body’s core — typically the toes and feet, but it can also affect fingers and hands. The damage often means that feeling is wacky or lost. By wacky, I mean the signal sometimes gets shorted out or misrouted, like an electric or electronic device that got some water in it. There may be an electrical signal in there, but it’s not going where it should or it’s getting misinterpreted.

What does wacky feel like? You can get almost any kind of “faulty” sensation that is not really there. The feet can burn, tingle, feel hot or cold, you can get shooting pains — people often describe a feeling like walking on rolled up socks or pebbles — but worst of all, you can get false pain, and that can be pretty bad.

Pain, especially chronic pain, is tiring and stressful. Americans are generally sleep deprived anyway and we don’t need what sleep we do get to be poor quality; unfortunately nerve damage pain is often worst at night. Most of us also know that constant stress isn’t healthy.

When talking about pain, it is good to have a consistent frame of reference. I use Jack Harich’s Comparative Pain Scale.

Without an outside guideline, it can be easy to misjudge your pain level. Inaccurate reporting does not help your health care providers — they give you their best advice based on what you tell them. Fortunately, many medications are available to help with neuropathic pain.

So why I am glad I can feel pain? Here, I am talking about feeling pain from something actually going on, maybe a blister or a broken bone — pain that should be felt. If feeling is completely lost due to neuropathy, then, obviously, there is no pain when the foot is injured and often such injury is not properly treated. This is how dry, cracked skin or untreated blisters get infected, sometimes resulting in lengthy hospitalizations and amputations.

Also, problems not felt in the lower foot will stress the upper foot/ankle and other parts of the body like the knees, hips or back, as we unconsciously alter the way we walk to compensate for what’s happening. To get an idea of how bad painless broken feet can get and still not need to be amputated, try searching “diabetic rocker bottom foot” or “Charcot foot.” Be warned: It can be gross.

Unfortunately it is possible to have lots of troubling false pain, yet not be able to feel the pain of an injury; your doctor should check every year to see whether you have what is called “loss of protective sensation.”

Fortunately, I still feel pain, mostly, but because it’s only “mostly,” I generally check my feet twice a day to look for injuries I may not feel.

I am my own best health advocate. I do my homework. I take it one step at a time. The whole point of living a healthy lifestyle to manage diabetes is not simply to live longer, but to enjoy the trip.