Monday, October 25, 2010

Fun Surprises!

Life has been a lot more fun over the past week or so.  Things are still a bit unfamiliar, and life is very different than it had been—but now that Billy’s infection is somewhat under control, daily life seems a lot less heavy.

Saturday was a great day!

Bobby, Danny, and I got up around 9:00am to do some “corporate exercise” (as Bobby called it), and then we went for a run.  We washed up and prepared to meet my mom and our friend, Melissa, for lunch in the courtyard.  (Every weekend, there has been some kind of free catered lunch for everyone “on post.”  This week, there was all kinds of German food for Oktoberfest.)

As I sat down to eat, my mom came up to the table, and someone covered my eyes from behind.  I felt the hands…definitely a woman’s hands.  They were small.  Smooth skin.  A ring on the right hand.  None on the left.  “She’s definitely not married,” I said.  Everyone laughed.  I had a suspicion in my mind, but immediately dismissed it.  It couldn’t be Sara…but it was!  My room mate, coworker, and friend—Sara—had driven down to visit me from State College.  I LOVE surprises—and few people ever manage to pull them off for me.  But somehow Sara does—and she gets my family to help her do it.

(She met Billy through facebook last February when she was trying to figure out the recipe for my traditional birthday dessert.  And my mom had known since Wednesday that Sara was planning on coming!  Those three are so sneaky!)

We all finished lunch, and then Sara and I headed to our rooms to drop off some mail she had brought for me.  I started to show her around, and then I realized she had already been there!  On the bed was a turquoise-colored bin, full of some of my things.

Evidence that someone had been in my room...

I turned to put some leftovers from lunch in the fridge, and I saw more evidence.  It had been nearly empty earlier that morning, and now it was fully stocked!  I was blown away.

A fully-stocked fridge.

“What in the world?” I asked, confused.  “Your mom helped me load the fridge earlier,” she said with a smile, clearly pleased that her surprise had worked so well.  But she wasn’t done with the show-and-tell.  “I know you haven’t been able to cook here,” she said, “so I brought you a few things.”

But before you’ll understand how amazing all of this is, I need to share a little more about myself.

On August 20, 1993, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  I had gone to the doctor’s office for a sports physical for 7th grade volleyball, and we found out that day that there were tons of large ketones in my urine, and my blood sugar was 732mg/dL.  (Normal is around 80mg/dL.)  I was admitted to the hospital that afternoon.

It’s amazing how a diagnosis can change everything. 

It’s hard to explain all the ways that diabetes has affected my life.  I don’t let it limit me from living life as fully as I can—but it certainly makes life more challenging.  I try to eat carefully, to exercise daily, and to keep my blood sugars in my target range as much as possible.  It requires a lot of time, effort, resources, and perseverance—among other things.

In type 1 diabetes, something crazy happens in the immune system.  For some reason, the body decides that the pancreas—or, rather, the cells in the pancreas—are the enemy.  It’s the job of the immune system to kill enemy objects in the body, and so the immune system attacks some of the cells in the pancreas.  Those cells make insulin.  When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1993, it meant that my body would eventually no longer be able to make any insulin.

Why does insulin matter?  Well, when you eat, the food gets broken down into sugar.  The digestive system places the sugar in the blood stream.  Insulin allows the sugar to pass from the blood to the muscles, so that the body has energy.  Without insulin, the sugar stays in the blood, and the muscles starve.  The muscle tells the liver, “Hey, we need more energy!”  So the liver says, “Right, I’m on that,” and starts breaking down fat and turning it into sugar.  The sugar goes into the blood, and the liver thinks it’s done.  But there’s no insulin.  So the muscles repeat their message.  The liver breaks down more fat.  And the blood sugar continues to rise.

That’s why, on August 20, 1993, my blood sugar was 732mg/dL.  It’s why my body had lost so much weight (20 or so pounds over 2-3 weeks).  I was a very sick kid.

To deal with this situation, a person with type 1 diabetes takes insulin.  And checks her blood sugar level often.  And exercises.  And watches the kinds of foods she eats.  And drinks water.  And takes vitamins.  And does any of the 50 other things that people with diabetes do to be healthy.  It’s a daily job, and it’s a big job.

Eye damage.  Kidney damage.  Damage to the circulatory system.  Heart problems.  Gangrene.  Amputations.   It’s not good.  Every time the blood sugar goes too high, it can cause damage.  And low blood sugars can be dangerous.

Lots of things affect the blood sugar.  Exercise can make it go down.  Food makes it go up.  Different kinds of food affect the blood sugar in different ways.  Insulin makes the blood sugar go down.  It’s a crazy balancing act.

Usually, I check my blood sugar often.  To control my levels, I take a certain amount of insulin, based on the carbohydrates I eat.  So to take an accurate dose, I count the carbohydrates I eat.  Often, I weigh my food on a scale, or measure it with a measuring cup.  If I can’t measure, I have to guess.  Sometimes I’m right; sometimes I’m wrong.  Some foods are easy to guess—like green vegetables.  And some foods are really tough, like breaded chicken tenders or pizza.

Here at Walter Reed, we have a place to stay, but it’s sort of like a hotel.  We don’t have a kitchen, so we eat in the cafeteria most of the time.  (And the cafeteria has lots of foods like breaded chicken tenders and pizza.)  That means lots of guessing for me.  Also, unfortunately, the cafeteria food here isn’t all that healthy.  Ironically, the hospital cafeteria food can make controlling my blood sugar really difficult. 

And all of this is what makes Sara’s surprise for me so amazing.

Before she came, she spent hours and hours cooking for me...

  • She made my special kind of pasta and measured out individual portions.  Then, she put each serving in a baggie, and labeled each bag with the nutrition facts.

Barilla Plus Pasta (Made from Beans!), divided into 2oz Portions, each in its own baggie--and all in a big bag with the nutrition facts written on it!

  • She made spinach and beef enchiladas on low carb tortillas (my favorites!), and wrapped each one in its own Ziploc baggie.
  • She bought me two containers of FAGE  Greek yogurt, because that’s what I usually eat for breakfast every day. 
  • Because veggies are so easy for me to guess on, and because they’re so good for me, I’ve learned to cook them in all sorts of fun ways.  I love to eat them!  And I love to teach people how to cook them.  This past year, I introduced Sara to roasted veggies, and she loves them that way.  So guess what!  She roasted a bunch of veggies and packed them in bags for me!
  • And…she got everything together so that we could make some my favorite slow-cooker chili recipe.  I already had the slow cooker with me.  She brought kidney beans, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, a can opener, containers of spices, measuring spoons, diced peppers and onions, and already-browned ground beef!  It’s all ready for me to combine in the slow cooker, so that we can eat some delicious, healthy, carb-counted meals!  

Ingredients for my favorite chili recipe!

We have no way to brown the ground beef, or cut veggies, so she did all that too!

I’m here to care for Billy and to be with my family.  If I absolutely need help, I’ll ask—but if I can do something on my own, I will.  [I know, I know.  I should ask for help.  People tell me that all the time!  And they tell Billy the same thing.  We don't listen very well.  :-)]  I don’t want to take things I don’t need, and I don’t want to ask too much of people.  I would never have thought to ask for such a gift!  And I am blown away by how much Sara knows me and loves me and has made it easier for me to be here.  Food is a simple thing, really.  But for me, it can be so complicated.  Sara’s work made food easier.

It wasn’t always this way.  When Sara and I first started living as room mates, we didn’t always get along very well.  Sara didn’t understand why I spent so much time preparing food.  But she’d hear me talk about diabetes, and she heard me talk about the ways I felt really loved by my brother Billy (especially the ways he’d do things for me or spend time with me).  Sara was determined to love me, so she started to get creative… 

It’s not that diabetes is a drag.  I certainly don’t want to burden anyone else with it.  But if I’m completely honest, it hasn’t been the easiest thing for me here.  And without me even saying much about it, Sara knew what I’d need, and she worked to make that happen.  And she surprised me with all of it!  It’s something Billy would have done.  One of those ninja-like moves.

It makes me think of Billy, and of my mom.  The three of us love surprises, and we love surprising other people.  So Saturday was a good day…full of some of my favorite things and favorite people.  And Sara finally got to meet some of the family I have talked so much about.  She’s definitely a keeper!

Michelle and Sara

So how is Billy?
He’s doing well!  Despite being stuck in a hospital bed (it’s too painful and draining to get up and walk), he smiles often.  His sense of humor is very much alive, and he seems to get a kick out of all the times my brothers pick on me.

The infection in his side is still healing.  One of the surgeons made a small incision on Saturday morning, and the infection has been draining ever since.  The surgical team is hoping that the infection will drain all the way and heal fully.  His white blood cell count is at 7, and the normal range is 4-10, so his immune system seems healthy.  If the infection in his left side heals fully, they want to try stopping the antibiotics to see if his body handles it well.  If there is no fever at that point, they can discontinue the antibiotics altogether.  We’re praying for that.

People have been asking about chemo.  When’s he getting the next round?  Chemo is incredibly hard on the immune system; it can knock a healthy immune system down to almost nothing.  So it’s important that a patient have a very healthy, infection-free body before any chemo gets administered.  Billy can’t have chemo until the infection is all gone.  Chemo is also hard on the liver, and Billy’s liver hasn’t been working at its full capacity.  Until his liver is working right, he can’t have more chemo.  So those are some things you could pray for—a healthy immune system, no infection, and a fully-functioning, healthy liver.

Billy also hasn’t been able to eat, but he’d like to!  So please pray for his intestines and his stomach to begin working properly.  Billy would love to take out the NG tube and to enjoy food again!

For now, we’re taking things one step at a time.  The step we’re on is caring for the infection in his side and waiting for that to heal…

Thanks for all of your visits, words of encouragement, cards, letters, gifts, and prayers!  We really appreciate it!


  1. Thanks for the update, and what a blessing Sara is! I am so grateful God is surrounding your wonderful family with love and support. Let us know if there is anything we can take care of from Dgo.

  2. Thanks to Liz Kidney, too, who helped me prepare all the food on Friday! :)

  3. May the Lord, God, abundantly bless this wonderful family. Prayers for healing and miracles and love love love. Deborah

  4. How awesome Sara is!!! Wow, what a great friend. Praying in Alaska!!!

  5. Sheryl (Rob's Mom)October 25, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    We just keep on praying, we'll never stop. Praise God for all he's done and will continue to do for Will and all of you. Love you.

  6. Michelle,

    As I'm reading your blog, I'm eating a piece of pumpkin cheesecake, and feeling very humbled by all that you must go through on a daily basis with your diet. It never occurred to me, the issues you must be going through with your diet while you're away, but what Sara did for you is so amazing! What a blessing.
    The updates on Billy bring so many emotions...but I'm so glad to be able to pray for all of you...
    Hope this week brings many more 'little' miracles...(although I know none of them are 'little'!) Stay strong girl, but also, cry if you hafta!

  7. What a wonderful surprise!! So glad that your friend could be there to bring some joy and normalcy. My SIL has type 1 and I have watched her struggle with it for 13 years. It is indeed a daily struggle. I am so glad that you shared this with us so that we have a new way to pray for you all.
    Much love, my friend. Tell Will not to eat too many jolly ranchers. He wouldn't want to damage his smile. :)


  8. Wishing him well and sending (((hugs))) his way.
    p.s. go to or and look up experimental treatments.


  9. Hey Michelle, glad that your friend Sara came to visit and re-supplied you with food and good cheer. We continue to pray for Will and for the infection to completely drain and for him to be able to accept the chemo and defeat the cancer in his system.

    Thank you for the updates, Michael Patterson


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