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Sometimes Pain Is Telling You Something


A few weeks ago I missed my plane to Vermont. I arrived at the airport an hour and a half before my flight, but it took me 45 minutes to check my bag (though I already had a boarding pass) and another 45 at security. In spite of the fact that I told the security folks that I was going to miss my flight, they insisted on taking me aside and testing my insulin pump for explosive residue. I ended up racing down the terminal in a pair of flimsy sandals definitely not designed for running, and I missed the flight anyway.

I’ve had some serious foot pain since, and I found out a couple of weeks ago that this stems from an inflammation in my foot caused by the beginning stages of arthritis exacerbated by my dash down the terminal. The doc showed me the X-rays, and the joints in my middle toe of my right foot no longer line up. I am in the process of buying a lot of new well-padded shoes, and I’ll probably have to accommodate this condition for the rest of my life.

Bummer. I was pretty annoyed with the airline and TSA for putting me in this predicament, but then I realized that at least the pain they caused me got me to the podiatrist before I ignored this condition any further.

I thought back to last fall when I was teaching my 100-student course one night a week and would end up being on my feet for a good, solid four or more hours every Thursday evening, usually after an already long day of crisscrossing campus to other classes and going up and down four flights of bare concrete stairs to my office. I would often be in terrific pain when I got home, but didn’t pay much attention. Too much else to think about.

I’m grateful for another even more important aspect of this pain in my feet, and that is… well, that I feel pain. You see, diabetics often lose feeling in their feet because of nerve damage caused by the disease. The good news is that I don’t have neuropathy; I can still feel my feet and pain in my feet. Otherwise, I might develop a truly horrible condition common to diabetics. (And let me warn you, don’t check out the links unless you have a strong stomach and won’t hate me for inflicting this on you.) This condition, Charcot joint, might start with small orthopedic changes like the ones I have, but many diabetics end up with severely degraded and fragmented joints and even wounds from the rubbing of their malformed bones in their shoes. They may not feel anything happening in their feet until it is too late to do much about it. This is one of the causes of diabetes-related foot amputations. I have lived almost my entire life with some dread of this kind of thing.

So, while I’m certainly not happy to have this arthritis diagnosis, I am also grateful to my body for its functional nerves, and I’m glad I found out in time to stabilize my feet and treat them better. This is just one example of how we should pay attention to our pain rather than dismissing or ignoring it. Whether emotional or physical, it is often trying to tell us something we need very much to know.

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