If you have diabetes and don’t properly manage your blood sugar levels, you might develop a type of nerve damage called diabetic peripheral neuropathy. And if this condition gets severe, you might lose so much sensation in your limbs that you could step on a sewing needle and not even know that it’s embedded in your flesh.
Yep, this troubling event actually happened, quite recently, to the grandmother of a Reddit user with the screen name kaylalorene, according to a post in the r/WTF channel. Accompanying a picture of the elderly woman’s shocking foot X-ray, kaylalorene wrote:
“My grandma had no idea she had a sewing needle in her foot. No telling how long it’s been in there. Skin was healed. It finally started rejecting yesterday and she had emergency surgery.”
When responding to the deluge of questions and comments garnered by their truly WTF post, the user confirmed that their grandma does have diabetes and that she only became aware of the needle when she observed visual signs of an infection in her middle toe and went to a doctor.
Though the needle was safely removed – and will be put into a frame as a gag gift by her family members – kaylalorene’s grandmother was diagnosed with a hard-to-treat strain of Staphylococcus bacteria.
“She has staph and [is] still in the hospital. Lots of antibiotics,” the user shared.
In a comment summing up what all medically minded Redditors are thinking, a user named MommaChickens wrote: “This is an awesome X-ray for teaching the effects of diabetes. I hope your grandma recovers without a hitch: Just remember, the same condition that protected her from the pain will make it difficult to heal from the surgery.”
Peripheral neuropathy is thought to occur because diabetes induces abnormalities in the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to neurons in the peripheral nervous system. The exact mechanisms are unknown, but scientists hypothesize that the vessels become narrowed and/or damaged by the activity of certain molecules that accumulate in the bloodstream of diabetics (sorbitol and glycated cellular lipids and proteins).
Nerves in the fingers and toes are typically the first to be affected because they have the longest axons stretching out from the spinal cord, so there are more of them to get damaged.
The impaired sensation characteristic of this condition is frequently accompanied by impaired wound healing. This happens because, in addition to inadequately providing for neurons, dysfunctional blood vessels can’t efficiently transport cellular repair signaling molecules and immune cells to injuries in peripheral tissue.
Thanks to this double whammy of neuropathy, cases like that of kaylalorene’s grandma are not uncommon. According to podiatrist Dr Leon Reber, complications from undetected foot wounds in diabetics are the leading cause of non-traumatic amputation.
“About 85 percent of non-traumatic amputations begin with a diabetic foot ulcer. Many of those amputations could have been prevented with proper foot care,” he told USA Today. “[Feeling] pain is a gift when it comes to feet.”