On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.


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World Diabetes Day: A Day to Give Thanks

Today is World Diabetes Day. Despite the alarming prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, I am not writing a PSA. I’m not going to lecture about the importance or regular exercise or the necessity of eating a balanced, low-fat diet. Nope. Today I want to recognize Dr. Frederick Banting.

Today is the 123rd anniversary of Dr. Banting’s birthday. If you don’t recognize his name, he shared the Nobel Prize in 1923 for the discovery of insulin. Dr. Banting is one of the reasons that S is alive today, and it seems appropriate to celebrate his contributions to medicine and society during the month of November.

4 years old and wearing her first insulin pump. My brave girl!

4 years old and wearing her first insulin pump. My brave girl!

You see, contrary to popular understanding, insulin is not a cure for diabetes. Specifically, insulin is what keeps S and every other Type 1 diabetic alive. S takes approximately 22 units of Novolog, a fast-acting insulin, each day in tiny increments administered around the clock by her Animas Ping insulin pump. We test her blood sugar through finger sticks up to 10 times a day, and recently we’ve started to monitor her blood sugar through a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor (CGM).

S was the only ballerina who accessorized with a pink insulin pump.

S was the only ballerina who accessorized with a pink insulin pump.

Still the fact remains that S’s pancreas is purely for decorative purposes–or at least that’s how we tease her. And that’s probably the funniest thing I can think to say about diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the cells in the pancreas responsible for manufacturing insulin. Without insulin, the body cannot use carbohydrates for energy or remove glucose from the blood stream. While there are many theories, there is still not a definitive cause for this disease.

Ready to swim and still wearing her pump at age 9.

Ready to swim and still wearing her pump at age 9.

The need remains for a real cure. We are unspeakably grateful for S’s insulin pump and CGM, and we eagerly anticipate the day that the Artificial Pancreas Project delivers an FDA-approved device in the United States. In fact, none of these medical advances would be possible without Dr. Banting and his colleagues Dr. J.J.R. Macleod and Dr. Charles Best. And so on World Diabetes Day 2014, I would like to wish Dr. Banting a very belated but very sincere happy birthday.

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Can’t Trust That Day

It started on Sunday night at the dinner table. On days before we have special events which require extra coordination, I like to run through a dress rehearsal with the girls. In theory, I do this for them so that they will be ready to leave the house on time. In reality, I like to say things out loud in front of Ryan so that there will be proof later on when the girls say, “But you never told us we had to go to the doctor!”

We needed to leave the house at exactly 9 AM so that we could drive to Georgetown for S’s regular diabetes check-up. We talked about dressing appropriately (no shorts), being polite to the endocrinologist (or suffering negative consequences), and packing lunches (one of my least favorite jobs). We negotiated school work and decided to visit the zoo instead of an art museum. Everyone went to bed, and that was exactly the last minute that Monday went according to plan.

If we owned an anteater, of course it would let the girls ride on its back.

If we owned an anteater, of course it would let the girls ride on its back.

“Mom, there are 2 ambulances on the street! They’re backing up to Mr. Ted’s house!”

This is what G yelled moments after I started my shower. I jumped out of the shower and into some clothes to discover that there were indeed paramedics next door. I checked on my elderly neighbor and answered a few questions. After he left via ambulance, I assured his housekeeper that I would walk Piper, Ted’s spunky little Scottie, and ask another neighbor to keep an eye on him while we were in DC.

That’s when we discovered that Silvia had given Piper the wrong pill. Piper didn’t realize that he was happily swallowing a beta blocker meant for his owner. We quickly decided we would call Piper’s vet and drop him off for observation.

Still, the girls and I were on track, and I knew Ted would be in good hands. Silvia headed to the ER, I headed home to find shoes and a jacket, and I asked S and H to walk Piper around the front yard. G was missing shoes so her job was to find some and then load up the car with lunch and school books.

Within 5 minutes, I was ready to go and feeling confident that we would still beat traffic and reach our destination on time. That’s when I realized that all 3 girls and Piper were G-O-N-E. Lunch and school books were still on the counter, too. Five minutes later I found the errant girls and loaded them into the car. There was no longer time to stop at the vet, so I handed Piper over to Clair, a neighbor who appeared magically at just the right time and volunteered to help. Clair rushed Piper to the vet, and I’m sure the girls wished they were going with her.

This was how my children view me while they're captive to a lecture.

This is how my children view me while they’re captive to a lecture: dangerous with sharp teeth.

We arrived at the endocrinologist’s office without missing any turns and with three extra minutes to spare; Piper enjoyed his day at the vet’s office without any ill effects; and we salvaged the day by spending two hours at the National Zoo. We were finally able to see Bao Bao, the panda cub, without waiting in line; G found two horses to admire; and rodent-loving S thoroughly enjoyed the small mammal house. When asked what her favorite animal was, H told me it was the little chipmunks running in and out of the exhibits. (Go figure.)

Finally the day was coming to an end. I answered all sorts of texts and made a few phone calls. I dropped off Piper’s food and medication–canine meds, I double-checked–at the kennel, and I headed to Bible study to recharge my worn-out soul.

I think this is Tian Tian, Bao Bao's father.

I think this is Tian Tian, Bao Bao’s father.

It turns out that the day wasn’t quite over. After I returned from Bible study, G informed me that she had just swallowed the wrong pill. Instead of the melatonin that she takes to help her fall asleep at night, she had mistakenly taken her morning medication: an 8-hour extended-release stimulant that wakes her brain up and helps her focus on school work.

Sing with me, readers:

Monday, Monday
Can’t trust that day
Monday, Monday
It just turns out that way
Oh, Monday, Monday


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It’s Shoebox Time Again

This is my second annual Operation Christmas Child post. If you take nothing else away from my writing, remember this: Anyone can pack a shoebox full of gifts for a child who needs to know that Jesus loves him or her. It’s true. To prove this, here are the 13 boxes that 9 girls packed this afternoon at our house.

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Hidden behind the two front boxes is evidence of my love for Saucony running shoes.

It took them somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes to fill these boxes with soap, toothpaste, wash cloths, stuffed toys, coloring books, markers, crayons, Play Doh, playing cards, stickers, temporary tattoos, and various Hello Kitty products. In the process, they turned my dining and school rooms upside down and littered the tables and floor with bits of Christmas wrapping paper, Scotch tape, and scraps of paper.

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One of the boxes we packed for a little girl. There’s a lot of pink in there!

But the well-ordered melee wasn’t the result of a spoiled child opening too many birthday presents. (Oh, come on. All of us have been to those kind of birthday parties.) Instead, the girls were sharing Christmas with children they will most likely never meet in countries they will most likely never visit. And not a single child cried or yelled, “It’s not fair!” I did not hear the refrain of, “That’s mine, not yours!” And I did not witness a single act of fighting. For 45 minutes. And yes, there were three sets of sisters involved.

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We managed to scrounge up just enough non-pink items to fill a box for one boy.

No, the event did not go off without several glitches. I seem to have lost my voice this week thanks to a well-timed case of pharyngitis; a few guests canceled at the last minute for legitimate reasons (Don’t tell my friend Stephanie that you’re going to clean your room and hope that she forgets about it.); and almost a third of our guest list never RSVP’d.

But in the end, it was perfect. We’re donating the leftovers from this afternoon–including a green and purple inflatable dinosaur–to the mean mom who grounded her children for not cleaning their bedroom. (Just kidding. She isn’t the meanest mom in the world; that’s a title my children have bestowed on me.) And next month 16 children somewhere around the world will discover the joy of Christmas.

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All that was left after the lids were on the boxes. See the inflatable dinosaur in the background? Who wouldn’t want one for Christmas?!

Before I close–and I’m already 20 minutes past my deadline–I need to thank my next-door neighbor Timea. Earlier this year I wrote about H’s favorite friend Sofia and her brave battle against brain cancer. While Sofia was in the hospital, friends from all over the country showered her with countless toys, art supplies, and gifts–to help brighten her hospital stay and to let her know how much she was loved. After Sofia passed away in June, I volunteered to help Timea find a home for 10 boxes of books and toys. With Timea’s permission, we saved two boxes for this afternoon’s shoebox packing party.

Even after her passing, Sofie’s life continues to make a difference. Thank you, Timea, for blessing the lives of others. Before I get too teary to write, I’m going to leave you with a video from Samaritan’s Purse, the organization that sponsors Operation Christmas Child. If you still haven’t figured out how or why to pack a shoebox, watch this video or just read the instructions I wrote for the girls.

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