Airline Employee Suffers from Peripheral Neuropathy

20 years ago, airline employee Don Ricker would wake up with the tips of his toes completely numb. He went to the doctor where he discovered his blood glucose level was 265 and was subsequently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Don recalls that early on in his diagnosis, he did not manage his diabetes as well as he could have. The muscles in his legs atrophied and he eventually developed foot-drop from peroneal nerve damage caused by diabetes. He also had a spinal tap to rule out chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, which is treatable versus diabetic nerve damage, which is not.

He doesn’t feel any pain; rather, what Don experiences is foot and ankle numbness, a sensation that occurs throughout the day. The feeling in his Achilles tendon is minimal. “It feels like I’m wearing socks.” An ankle orthotic assists in holding his foot up.

“My gait is not great. When I stop, I feel unsteady. I need to put my hand on something to steady myself. I have to bend my knees like I’m going to fall over.” He recently got leg braces which have greatly improved his mobility and eliminated his need for the cane he started using last year.

“This happened over a period of years,” Don says of his neuropathy. “I didn’t have a ‘Holy crap, this is getting worse!’ moment.” The gradual worsening of his neuropathy became evident when he couldn’t walk without feeling exhausted. Two years ago while on vacation in Washington, DC—and despite bad sciatic pain in his back—Don was able to walk 5-7 miles. Last year, while visiting San Diego, he was not able to walk a couple of blocks without feeling completely depleted.

Although it is more pronounced on his right leg, there is a slight neuropathy in Don’s left leg. He hasn’t had any trouble sleeping nor does he experience neuropathy in any other part of his body.

Don expresses that these days, he takes better care of himself and manages his diabetes. Weekly physical therapy sessions weren’t enough to reduce the numbness in his feet and legs so Don joined a gym for weight-training and strength-building. When he’s not traveling for work, he attends a neuropathy support group.

His efforts appear to help maintain his mobility and strength. Don continues to travel for work and play and is back to walking more than just a couple of blocks. “I have a 12-year-old whom I take on trips for her birthday. This last summer, we went to Portugal where at one point, I walked 7 miles.”