18 Questions with Dr. Ebonie Vincent of TLC’s ‘My Feet Are Killing Me’
TLC is once again pulling back the examination curtain and letting viewers take a look at the charts of a new crop of patients on the medical transformation series My Feet Are Killing Me.
Similar to Dr. Pimple Popper, My Feet Are Killing Me focuses on two expert podiatrists and surgeons, Dr. Ebonie Vincent, DPM and Dr. Brad Schaeffer, DPM, as they treat all sorts of eye-popping and gag-worthy yet fascinating maladies that affect the feet. Think wart clusters, funky fungus, toe amputations, foot reconstructions, and more. These doctors work diligently to restore their patients’ confidence while also helping to alleviate pain.
“It was clear, following the debut of Dr. Pimple Popper, that our audience was craving even more powerful and heartwarming stories of medical transformation,” said Howard Lee, president and general manager of TLC, in press materials. “With My Feet Are Killing Me, we’re beyond excited for viewers to fall in love with Dr. Ebonie and Dr. Brad, who are tops in their field, as well as exceedingly compassionate caregivers to their desperate patients. As with all series in TLC’s popular medical genre, we bring viewers along on emotional roller coaster journeys through to their uplifting conclusions.”
Anyone who has experienced foot pain knows that the title of the hour-long, nine-part series isn’t hyperbole. In the premiere episode, Dr. Schaeffer treats a patient with the worst case of foot fungus the doctor said he’d ever seen. To make matters even more complicated, the patient is a hemophiliac and one nick from Dr. Schaeffer’s instrument could cause a life-threatening bleed. Similarly, Dr. Vincent’s patient during the same episode has been suffering through a cluster of a situation that included scar tissue, a keloid, an infection, and resistance to antibiotics for years.
UPTOWN recently spoke with Dr. Vincent at JW Marriott Essex House New York about a gamut of podiatry and career-related topics including diabetes and amputation in the Black community, the latest treatments for foot and ankle ailments, mentorship and representation, diseases the feet can reveal, how to get the safest pedicure, and, of course, the best ways to alleviate the pain that comes with wearing high heels.
With so many specialties within the field of medicine, why podiatry? It’s not really the sexiest of specialties, but it’s necessary.
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: I picked podiatry because I like being the type of doctor who can fix things that you see. Like a lot of times you’re looking for a blood sugar, you’re looking for a blood pressure, you’re kind of pumping people with medications to kind of normalize them. In the field of podiatry, a lot of times, you’re treating things you can see. I can see a hammer toe, a wart, a bunion, a broken bone. Depending on what type of learner you are, that’s kind of a good thing for me, I get satisfaction from seeing something broken and fixing it. So it doesn’t come without its … hardships. So you know some of the not so pretty stuff, you have to have the stomach for it. You know, overall, the profession is a good fit for me.
Thinking of the UPTOWN readers, and when you think of podiatry, you also think of diabetes and amputation. Are you seeing disparities in the way Black patients are treated for diabetes and being recommended for amputations?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: So I think that we don’t approach the diagnosis of diabetes specifically towards African Americans. I think that it’s hard to have our African-American population be the people with so much of the diabetic issues. The way we approach it isn’t tailored towards us. So I say that to say, you go to the doctor and you get your diagnosis and instead of people adhering to the lifestyle changes, because culturally it’s not really ingrain. You know it’s kind of like, “Well, don’t eat soul food.” So we definitely need to tailor our treatment processes to incorporate more of a cultural [understanding] to it.
Do you think you being an African-American woman helps you better relate to these patients?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: Yeah, I’m definitely more cognizant of it so I feel like I can make suggestions that people can actually follow, as opposed to, “Just do this,” and they do none of it. Maybe they’ll do, hopefully, 50 percent of what I say and that will help them to get a little bit better.
And I am not the type of doctor [who] wants to jump right to amputation. And I think oftentimes, that’s what’s presented, and every time you amputate something, your lifespan goes down five years. So it’s kind of like you want to save as much as you can, but you also want to treat the problem at the same time.
Are there any other diseases that the feet can reveal? Are there signs we should be looking for?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: You can also determine whether you have peripheral vascular disease, or any type of vascular problem based off the swelling that you have in your legs. A lot of times, people who have swollen legs, they don’t realize that that can be an underlying heart condition. You have cardiac heart failure and that’s why your legs are swollen. Or you can have a problem with your veins with the valve not able to push the blood through, and that can be a problem. So there are a lot of diagnosable things in the lower extremity that will affect your overall health.
Besides the obvious of keeping your feet clean and dry, what are some other ways we should care for our feet?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: So if you tend to walk a lot, I suggest to everyone, you should at least try an over-the-counter orthotic, and don’t go straight to the softer kinds. You want to go for something that is more rigid that’s going to help your posture and your arches. A lot of times, people don’t realize that having a flat foot does actually hurts your tendons and your ligaments. And over time with the over-use of the way you’re walking, can really affect everything else. You know, if you walk funny or off-balance with your feet, it affects your knees, your hips, your shoulders. It just all starts at the base. So I would suggest at very least an over-the-counter orthotic.
If you tend to be on the more active side, preventing ankle sprains by using ankle braces when you’re exercising or working out is always a good idea. And just overall being aware of the types of shoes you’re wearing.
Wet or dry pedicure? Because I’ve heard having the feet wet isn’t necessary for a pedicure, but soaking is part of the relaxation.
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: It depends of the foot type, to be honest with you. If you’re a more “at-risk” type of foot, meaning you’ve had open sores before or you’re a diabetic and you can’t feel your nerves and don’t know if the water is hot or cold, definitely dry, and definitely bring your own materials, your own things if you’re going to go to a pedicure spa. For everyone else, I think you can kind of test the waters to see what happens.
What are the signs a client should look for in a pedicure spa before allowing the technician to do the service?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: Right now if you walk into a spa and they’re not lining the basin for your feet, you should probably walk out. You don’t know if they bleached those things before sticking the next person’s foot in there, so that’s one thing. Another thing is they should be auto-claving all of their instruments or having disposable instruments that they use. There is a way to tell if they’re opening a brand-new packet that was sealed coming from the auto-clave. If they’re just randomly taking out a file, then you know it’s been used by someone else.
If someone want to bring their own utensils, how can you make sure you’re keeping them clean at home?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: So [rubbing] alcohol is a really good solution to just kind of soak them in. You can definitely do that. There are disposable nail kits too that are pretty affordable. So every time you want to go to the pedicure spot, you can just grab one and have them use that.
We were talking a little about footwear and using an orthotic, what about people who can’t give up their high heels? I love heels but I also don’t want to cause any irreparable damage. Are there any tricks or tips for the high-heel wearers out there?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: Yeah, you can’t get around the fashion, I get that. As a woman, I wear heels all the time too, but you have to take them off when it’s not necessary [to have them on]. So what I suggest to women is, if you’re going to be in a heel all day, it’s no more than three inches, it has a wider heel base. You can’t get around the fact that the ball of your foot is going to be taking the brunt of things, so you can get a metatarsal pad to kind of help pad that area. But otherwise, if you can, take a pair of shoes with you, a pair of tennis shoes, and just throw those on and walk to where you’ve got to go to and put the heels back on.
Now, having worn heels a lot, I find that my heels hurt when I wear flats now, because they’re not used to getting all that pressure.
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: Well there are heel pads too. You can wear heel pads with your flats. The thing is you have to redistribute the pressure points at some point because if you don’t then the fat pads either the ball of your foot or the heel is going to atrophy or get thinner and then you’ll be like bone on street, and that’s not good.
I asked some of my friends for questions, and one has a daughter who was diagnosed with an ingrown toenail. She’s had two surgeries and has been dealing with this for years. Are there things they can do at home to alleviate the pain besides soaking?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: So soaking in Epsom salt and warm water is a good idea to help get the swelling out and to kind of soothe it, but in order to actual cure the ingrown toenail, you have to get it removed. It sounds like your friend’s daughter has gotten it removed a couple of times, but if she hasn’t had a chemical placed inside to kill the root of it, it’s going to keep coming back. Even with the chemical, it can sometimes come back, depending on if you put the chemical in there when it was infected, or the nerve root is really resilient.
Is there a case on My Feet Are Killing Me that you are most excited to air? Like the world needs to really know that this happens?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: You know, I think there are a lot of common cases, on our show, that manifest in a bigger way. So I think that I’m excited for all of my patients in a sense because you know that that’s not normal, but it’s WAY NOT normal. So I think the transformations are really, really good, and I think that’s what I want viewers to take away. You know that if you’re embarrassed about your foot condition, someone else has the same thing only worse. So don’t be embarrassed to come in, see a podiatrist, and get your stuff taken care of.
How do you maintain your composure and bedside manner because when you described the odor of foot fungus, I could almost smell it through the TV? How do you keep a straight face and keep patients from feeling judged or self-conscious?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: My mind goes mostly towards the patient. I don’t want them to feel insecure. I don’t want to react in a way that they’re put off by me. So I just kind of suck it up.
This is a little off topic, but when you were going through your medical schooling, did you have any Black female mentors?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: I had one, and we didn’t really see each other very often. I may have seen her one time. I was a part of this group called Tour for Diversity. I actually got hooked up with them through Des Moines University, and Dr. [Richard A.] Salas was the cultural communications person of contact at Des Moines. He was excellent. So he gave me that introduction and the woman that I’m talking about was on that committee. She’s excellent. I think she works out of Las Vegas now. But she was excellent, and she and I had several phone conversations. But there weren’t a lot [of Black women]. It was me in my class, and then there were maybe two in the class below me. But overall we don’t have a lot of representation.
So how did you navigate being the only one in the room?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: With a lot of gumption, I guess! I think that oftentimes because there’s so little representation from us, I had to serve as a teacher for a lot of my classmates when it came to being culturally diverse. And mind you, I did go to school in the Midwest where there’s way more less of us. So I did serve more as like a teacher, so to speak. I had to have a lot of patience with that, and just staying grounded with my family definitely helps. And I have a great group of girlfriends through church, through wherever, so we get together sometimes and they just help you through whatever may be happening.
How did the show come about?
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: So I knew I wanted to go back home to practice. I was in New Jersey, on the East Coast, for the majority of my training, so my goal was I’m going to go back home [to California] come hell or high-water. And so I found one job online with this private practice and I was to be an independent contractor, so basically building the practice from the ground up with my patients. The infrastructure was there but it was like, “Here you go. Make of it what you can.” And so I, in residency, started to create my online presence. And I did so just because I wanted to reach a larger audience with the knowledge that I have and I wanted to have more of a value. In doing so, on my social media, I was like, “Oh, this is a great way to try and build patients as well.” So I continued with that and when I started my job in July kind of just building up the practice, I did a couple of videos, put them on YouTube, kept up with my social media. And then come September, I think, the [My Feet Are Killing Me] production company reached out, “We’re going to do a show about feet, and we think Dr. Vincent would be perfect.” And the [practice] manager was like, “This might be spam, but maybe you should like look into it. If you don’t have to pay anything, maybe it could be good for growth of your practice.” And so after that, I met with them and they were unsure which doctors were going to be on the show, and it turned out to be me and Dr. Brad.
Why do you think people are so into all these medical shows, like yours and Dr. Pimple Popper**? I know part of it is visual, because like you said, you can see the malady**.
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: I think that people are naturally attracted to disasters. Like a train wreck. Like lookie-loos on the highway looking to see what happened. Like, “Who hit who? Is everyone OK?” People are nosy like that so when you open up a window into someone else’s health, someone else’s life, people are bound to look, and we’ve given you an eyeful! And the transformations, I think, are excellent too. I think it not only gives people the satisfaction to look at something that was bad to now it’s good, but there’s also an emotional journey that comes along with it too.
Lastly, how have stem cells helped in your practice because there was that one during the first episode who had that wart, scar tissue, a keloid, an infection. You would think everything had been tried previously to cure her.
Dr. Ebonie Vincent: So in the past, she had tried skin grafts from herself, from her body. There’s other forms of skin grafts, not just stem cells, but for me, I like to keep what God gives us. So I think that the stem cells are a great healing factor, definitely decreases scar tissue, definitely helps with a lot of things. I do stem cell injections on people who don’t want surgery for Achille’s tendon repairs. There are multiple uses for stem cells, and because she had tried so many other things in the past, I figured, “OK, we’re just going to go big or go home.”
It does take time for the healing process for the feet because they’re so far away from the heart. It takes so long to heal because the vessels get smaller and smaller and smaller the further down you get, so it will take a while. But eventually, if you’re patient with yourself, it will get better.