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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With apologies to William Carlos Williams

It’s not supposed to arrive until tomorrow. Still I hold out hope that perhaps a brown UPS truck will pull into our driveway before the end of today with a special delivery from Animas Corporation. Until then, we’re exhausting all sorts of strategies to distract us from the waiting: swim practice, a 4-mile hill workout, chatting on Facebook, a trip to the library with 5 mynah birds young girls, a long email to my soccer team, and–I am not making this up–a neighborhood stake-out with 3 police officers in 3 different uniforms. Since all of that has failed to hasten the delivery of S’s new insulin pump, I thought I’d try a little poetry. Do you remember reading William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheel Barrow” in school? It’s the sort of poem that English teachers (me, included) like to assign because it makes poetry simple and accessible and allows us to gradually transition to scarier poets who use rhyme and 25¢ vocabulary words.

Insulin Pump

so much depends
upon

a thin plastic
tube

running from a silver
box

straight to Sarah’s
belly.


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Important Things

Yesterday we discovered condensation inside the battery compartment and under the screen of S’s insulin pump. Uh oh. For an insulin pump that promises to be waterproof up to 12 feet for 24 hours, condensation means something is wrong. In about an hour’s time, however, I had ordered a loaner pump and replacement pump. Crisis averted, I thought. Not according to S. “Did you order me a pink insulin pump? I’m not wearing another pink pump.” No, I had not. I had completely forgotten to ask about the color. Had I thought to remember, I would have selected green, her favorite color.

Silver seems so grown-up, but I dutifully called Animas today to make sure they were not sending another pink pump. Both customer service reps laughed when I explained that my daughter happily wears her pump with little complaint but is now threatening a boycott if she has to wear something pink any longer. You see, she chose pink when she was 4 years old; in fact, the only reason she agreed to wear a pump at that age was because there was a pink option. Now at the ripe age of 8.5 years, pink is her least favorite color.

But the color is important to S. She knows how a pancreas is supposed to work, and she knows vocabulary words like glucagon, cannula, bolus, and basal. She loves the freedom that wearing an insulin pump brings, but she also longs for some sense of control in her life. Diabetes has taken away much of her independence: she cannot eat whatever she wants, she has to carry a glucometer and juice with her when she visits anyone’s home, and her mom insists on knowing where she is at. all. times. So yes, it is important that she be able to  select a silver pump, and I am happy to oblige her request.

The other day I was chatting with a longtime friend about how we were spending the summer. Ten years ago, we were both Marine wives who taught high school English, coached girls’ soccer, and went home to our husbands and dogs. Life was easier and simpler. Now we have followed our husbands to separate coasts. Neither of us is teaching or coaching at the high school level, and only one of us has canine companionship. Both of us have the privilege of raising a daughter or three, and both of us have known extraordinary hardships and disappointments in the past decade. My friend (Look, J, you’re in print! Thanks for subscribing!) told me that she was impressed that I was still living my life the way I wanted to live it. I can’t remember what I replied because I was shocked by her words.

Had you asked 22-year-old me what I would be doing in the years following college, I wouldn’t have imagined that I would be homeschooling three children or that I would have dropped out of grad school. I couldn’t imagine at that point how children would completely change my heart, or that I’d be content to stay at home with small people for the past decade. But these are the values and choices that are important to 39-year-old me. Having loved and lost three children, I don’t want to miss any of the big moments in these girls’ lives. Yes, I let my teaching licenses lapse. No, I did not finish a master’s degree in library science. No, homeschooling was not something I always wanted to do. Yes, it is stressful to manage S’s diabetes and G’s attention problems. And yes, that’s why I have taken up running with a vengeance lately.

These are the things that are important to me: family, friendships, striving to find balance in all areas, recognizing that I cannot control all aspects of life, and surrendering to a God who has my best interests in mind. Having a career and earning all sorts of accolades pale in comparison to understanding that silver is the perfect choice for a new insulin pump.