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The gift of pain: A life lesson from my Uber driver

I had an early morning doctor's appointment on the opposite end of Phoenix. Public transportation wasn't a feasible option, so I took an Uber.

My driver picked me up, thanked me for booking, and asked where I was off to that morning. I told him I was going to see an orthopedic specialist. I have high arches and have worn orthodics since my late teens, but my beloved, and worn, Dutch penny loafers were most likely on their way out.

He wished me the best. Then he said part of his foot was missing.

He said it casually, too. To the point that I thought I misheard him. But before I could ask for clarification, he said two toes and part of his foot were amputated a little more than a year ago.

He said he had been driving his car one day when suddenly, he felt like his foot was about to squeeze out of his shoe. He pulled over, and took off his shoe to get a better look. When he began rolling off his sock, the skin on his foot was stuck to the sock, and began peeling off with the sock.

I gasped and asked if he was in an insane amount of pain when this happened. He said no. He felt nothing, despite two toes being black, like rotted tree stumps.

He "freaked" at the sight, he said. The only thing he could think of doing was to call his wife. She told him to get to the hospital. He drove there. Himself.

The doctor told him he was lucky.

It turns out, he had nerve damage resulting from Type 2 diabetes. He most likely stepped on something in the then-near past, but when he didn't feel it, the puncture became infected, and gangrene set in.

He said he would have needed to look at the bottom of his foot to spot the problem.

"But how often do you look at the bottom of your foot?" he asked. "I didn't respect the disease."

I asked what he meant. He said at the time, he wasn't eating right. He underestimated how diabetes earned its moniker "silent killer." The ability to feel pain is a gift. It flags a problem. It demands your attention. It encourages you to question and to make changes. Not being able to feel pain nearly cost him his life.

We drove up to the clinic and he pulled out his phone. He showed me a picture of two smiling children. I told him they were beautiful. He said they were his grandchildren.

"They are the air in my lungs and the beat in my heart," he said, adding that he was glad to be here to enjoy them.

I told him I felt safe presuming they felt the same way.

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