Toe-ing The Line


I’m thrilled to have another post from Aileen O’Reilly, Travel journalist often found in the pages of the Irish Examiner. Aileen was diagnosed with diabetes over 37 years ago at age 10 years. In June, Aileen wrote a piece on how had to cancel a holiday to take care of some diabetes “crap” and her positive attitude in spite of it causes me to have huge admiration for her. You can read that post here. However, she’s had another set back and here’s an update on how she’s doing.

Toe-ing The Line

By Aileen C. O'Reilly

Two months ago Thriveabetes published a piece I wrote about swapping the sun-drenched beaches of Thailand for the iodine-soaked operating theatre in Tallaght Hospital due to an infected toe which wouldn't heal. 

It's no secret that type 1 diabetes and bone infections in toes generally lead to amputations. I knew this only too well as it was my third time at that particular rodeo. 

It was an upbeat piece as I was glad to have the surgery taken care of so speedily - I wanted to get back to my job as a travel writer, so I wasn't going to cry my eyes out over the loss of a 1.5 inch piece of skin and bone which was essentially compromising the health of my foot. . 

The wound was healed in 9 days and normal life was resumed. All was good. 

… until the beginning of this month when I was suddenly stopped in my tracks yet again… 

I know I can come across as being exceedingly glib about these surgeries - in actual fact I am far from it. 

What I am is pragmatic. 

For me the removal of each infected toe has meant the safeguarding of several things which I hold far more precious - my feet and my ability to continue to walk and run, jump in puddles on rainy days and dance whenever the mood takes me. 

All the trouble I have had with my feet cannot be attributed to my diabetes though no doubt the condition has not exactly helped. 

At the tender age of three I was already being taken to see a Dr. Sugars (the irony is not lost on me) who informed my parents that I suffered from bad architecture in my feet - I threw them the wrong way and would always need to wear shoes with laces to counteract this unfortunate imbalance… 

I still remember the mud brown contraptions I was given to wear 44 years ago. 

Oddly enough I spend 95% of my time in boots and trainers now - the other 5% being devoted to divinely cute kitten heels which I stare at adoringly before hopping in a taxi. 

After having my third toe (second smallest toe on my hitherto perfect left foot) amputated in June I was told that things might quickly go wrong with the baby toe as it now had nothing to lean against. There was already a pressure sore at the side of that foot but it was anticipated that with some TLC it would fix itself in time. 

It didn't. 

Within a month of still not healing my podiatrist extracted several bone fragments from it with a perplexed look on her face. I had turned up unannounced to see her as I was suddenly in a lot of pain. The fact that I have rather extensive neuropathy in both feet made this very worrying indeed. 

I was soon to discover that the baby toe had dislocated itself and the toe joint was diseased and splintering leaving bone fragments embedded and setting off a deep infection in my foot. 

That would explain the pain then… 

Surgery was scheduled to take place ASAP while my chief concern was that I would be able to go cruising in September. 

Prior to this latest amputation I asked my surgeon to give me back the offending toe afterwards. It was on my bedside locker when I awoke - a snow white obscenity, floating lifelessly in formalin. I knew from previous experience what to expect but what shocked me this time was the shard of blackened bone that protruded beneath the toe. How long it had been like this I have no idea as it didn't show up on X-rays.

I looked down at my densely wrapped foot and wriggled my three remaining toes with a sigh of great relief and a silent vow not to lose any more. 

As far as I was concerned the malignant force threatening to work its way up my foot was now removed and safely encased in a jar. 

If only things were that simple… 

Two days post surgery my bandages were removed to reveal a neat wound any Hollywood cosmetic surgeon would be inordinately proud of… and there, 5 inches away, midway between my ankle and toes was a livid red mark snaking from the top around to the sole of my foot. When I tried to walk it bealed. 

This time it was my surgeon's turn to look perplexed. It looked and felt like a concealed abscess but there had been no sign of it prior to or during surgery.

My preventative intravenous antibiotics which I had been on from the moment I was admitted were increased. The clamp-like red mark was watched closely but despite the plentiful supply of antibiotics it persisted as did the pain when I tried to walk. 

Losing toes was one thing, being in pain and having a limp was quite another… 

I had to face the fact that this could already be a bone infection and that rather more extensive surgery might be deemed necessary to fix it.  I looked down at my foot, wriggled my toes, gritted my feet and felt far from glib. 

After seeing that things still weren't improving after 24 hours my surgeon was swift to take action - she reassured me that she had removed all the diseased bone but suggested a procedure where she would slice open the side of the foot to see if there was some localised pocket of infection causing the red, swollen area. 

After pumping the side of my foot with local anaesthetic I looked on fascinated as she got to work with her scalpel and I waited on a gorefest of pus to emerge.. 

Nothing happened. 

It bled bright healthy blood and nothing else. 

This time we both looked perplexed. 

We were even more so the next morning as the redness had visibly receded along with the pain. 

Five days later after a two week stay in hospital I was released - minimal dressing, pain free, walking normally and free to resume my normal levels of walking. 

… I'm already dancing and waiting on having my first post surgical pedicure (with a 40% discount obviously!) as I'll be running AND jumping into the great big swimming pool on the cruise ship very, very soon. 


Thank you so much for sharing Aileen! It is so important to talk about living with the complications of diabetes which are not a measure on how well or not you have managed your diabetes. Thriveabetes 2019 speaker, Chris Aldred, also known as The Grumpy Pumper and creator of the hashtag #TalkAboutComplications, will share his journey with his recent foot issues.