The skin on her legs is dark and shiny. She has no pulses in her feet. She cannot walk more than a block without developing severe pain in her legs. And she has a non-healing wound on her left foot and a red streak running up her leg.
Catherine began smoking at 16 and has never quit. It's not for lack of trying; she's tried every method there is. But today after two bypass surgeries in her right leg and one in her left, she's at a crossroads. The infection in her foot is about to cost her her leg.
Most everyone today knows that smoking has been linked to a long list of severe health problems--problems such as cancer of the lung, mouth and esophagus, emphysema, heart heart attacks and stroke. But most people are surprised to learn that some of the earliest and most profound damage from smoking occurs in the feet and legs.
Why is this so? Well, your blood vessels are little tubes that start out large near the heart, then get smaller and smaller as they pass through the body. Any changes in circulation tend to occur in the smallest arteries furthest from the heart. And that means the feet are exquisitely sensitive to changes in circulation caused from smoking.
While many people suffer some circulation damage over their lives simply from aging, smoking speeds up the damage immensely. In fact, each puff on a cigarette, cigar, pipe increases the rate of artery damage many times, to the point where pulses in the feet may be impossible to find, hair growth disappears, the colour of the skin may be dark--even black, and walking becomes tiring and painful.
Medications and bypass surgery are common treatments for poor circulation as a result of smoking, but the effects are variable. Medication alone doesn't reverse damage to a significant degree, and surgery is only useful for large vessels. And when these treatments are helpful, they are usually temporary. As the patient continues to smoke, the damage recurs quickly, and the patient all too frequently goes on to require an amputation. In fact, smoking is by far and away the most common cause of preventable amputation there is.
While Catherine may never be one of those smokers who develops cancer or suffers a heart attack, living the last 25 year of her life in a wheel chair makes her a casualty of smoking just the same.