AmputeeOscar Pistorius of South Africa is an outstanding Olympian – so much more!

Though he had both legs amputated when only 11 months old, he is strong and swift – unlike many of the amputees locally.

Why? A high percentage of amputations result from Diabetes. A world wide epidemic is raging. Dominica ranks 4th in the region for obesity – way too high. The Diabetes rate closely mirrors the obesity rate. So, excluding other causes such as trauma, the more Diabetes increases, the more the amputations. Diabetes is no respecter of persons. Rich or poor, town or country, educated or not, everyone should take note, especially if a close blood relative suffers from the condition.

Three top reasons for seeking medical attention:

  1. Blood
  2. Pain
  3. It looks bad

At first, Diabetes does none of these. Relatives and friends could be diabetic for years and you’d never know, unless they told you. Patients tend to have an alarminglycavalier attitude toward their blood sugar, checking it only once in a while. That is despite accessible clinics and numerous free health fairs at a location near you. Indeed, you can bring water to the horse, but you cannot make it drink. Many Dominicans boast two phones: a Lime and a Digi. Yet they don’t own a glucometer, a cheaper blood-checker that helps lives.


Too sweet

The supreme irony is that in everyday language, sugar is something so appealing. We describe nice, gentle people as having sweet personalities. We sing, ‘It’s so sweet to trust in Jesus.’ In the Southern United States, for instance, “Gimme some sugar” can mean different things. In fact, sugar in western culture is now being regarded as a toxin. To admit helplessly having a ‘sweet tooth’ may not be so funny after all. Out-of-control sugar silently wreaks havoc on human flesh. Elevated glucose attacks the nerves and damages blood vessels. It targets the eyes (blindness) and kidney (failure leading to dialysis). This makes Diabetes a very expensive and debilitating disease over the long run, both for families and for the country.

Once it leaps out of the barn, it takes off  like wildfire. It might look like an ordinary ‘bow-bow’ one day. Before you know it, the infection does not heal and it is down to the bone. Next thing, they are talking gangrene and amputation of a toe, foot or part of a leg. Like moving beyond only extractions in basic dentistry, Princess Margaret Hospital should utilize the capacity for surgical procedures to restore circulation (bypass) instead of automatic amputation.

In Dominica, amputees’ quality of  life plummets. They often end up dependent and incessant beggars – the bane of visitors, shoppers and vendors alike. Growing up, I knew a handful of amputees. Today, it seems as prevalent as in any of those strife-torn, hacking off, blowing up, God-forsaken countries we routinely see about on the World News. We have a problem. If you are close to a large hospital centre which may have artificial limbs not being used, let’s arrange to get some of these here to help restore mobility to our people.


Let’s turn things around

We place children at real risk bringing them up on over-sweetened juices, soft-drinks and sugary snacks.  This one thing is clear. We have to take diabetes management up a notch. The Dominica Diabetes Association and the Health Promotion Unit is doing a terrific job fostering a healthy diet, regular exercise and blood sugar monitoring. They provide important medical advice regarding taking of pills or insulin. No disrespect, but okra, cinnamon, coconut water and bush tea is not enough. Go by the numbers. Listen to those who have dedicated years of formal training to caring for this condition.

7 important reminders:

  1. Avoid the Cinderella Sister Complex.While growing up, some males feel bashful about having big feet. As working adults, they discover that is not such a bad thing after all. The price of  beauty: high-heeled females have a tougher time avoiding tight or narrow shoes. Confirmed diabetics should shop carefully or even special-order shoes that better cushion feet, support the arch and distribute weight evenly.
  2. Trim your nails carefully. Get help if you get cut. Check your feet once a day for blisters, cuts, cracks, sores, redness, tenderness or swelling. Any foot sore which that doesn’t begin healing within a few days needs medical attention. Ask someone to help if you have trouble reaching your feet, use a hand mirror to see the bottoms of your feet.
  3. Wash your feet everyday. Dry them gently, especially between the toes. Sprinkle powder or cornstarch between your toes. Use coconut oil, Vaseline or lotion on the tops and bottoms of your feet to keep the skin soft.
  4. Don’t remove calluses or other foot lesions yourself. To avoid injury to your skin, don’t use a nail file, nail clipper or scissors on calluses, corns, bunions or warts. Don’t use chemical wart removers. See your medical professional for removal of any of these lesions.
  5. Don’t go barefoot. To prevent injury to your feet, don’t go barefoot, even around the house. Wear clean, dry socks.  Avoid socks with tight elastic bands that reduce circulation, as well as thick socks that often fit poorly and irritate your skin.
  6. Smoking is not an option. Some people will cork their ears and that’s their right. It’s their body. However, the evidence shows conclusively that any kind of smoking harms the circulation. It reduces delivery of  life-giving oxygen in the blood. The result: more severe wounds and poor healing. Your doctor can help you quit even if you just thinking about doing so.
  7. Schedule annual foot exams. Your visit cannot be the usual ‘brap, brap…next!’ Diabetics should make sure their nurse practitioner or doctor takes the time to inspect their feet properly – at least once a year. This should involve checking the pulses and use a bristle to evaluate changes in sensation.

Oscar Pistorius is not diabetic so expect to hear much more about his exploits. Amputation can happen to anyone, but certain medical conditions render us in the bulls-eye. Eat a more plant-based diet, exercise regularly and stay on top your blood sugar. Diabetic complications are designed to be avoided. People are not like crabs that can just drop a leg and carry on. The polls overwhelmingly show that all of you, and all of me, do better in one piece.

Dr. Sam Christian is a general surgeon who manages the Urgent Care at 137 Bath Road. It is a facility for general medical care, surgery and acupuncture at short notice. He is author of the faith and fitness book, ‘Mannafast Miracle’ and a former Major and Battalion Surgeon in the US Army Reserves. He serves as Medical Officer of the Dominica Cadet Corps and Medical Advisor of the Dominica Cancer Society. He can be reached anytime at 440-9314 / 613-8345 or