We All Need Help (A Thank You to Dr. Gottlieb)

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 15. I went in for a routine checkup before the school year, and walked out with a diagnosis of “diabetes.” Learning I had this lifelong “chronic disease,” which could lead to all kinds of complications if not properly managed, and which requires such complex daily routines to control, wasn’t fun. It left me stunned, confused, sad, and angry. Anyone reading this has experienced this same shocked feeling.

My primary endocrinologist during those first few years of diabetes was perfectly competent, and I had no particular complaints. But then we discovered the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes. It was a clinic in my home city of Denver that took diabetes care to a whole other level. The doctors, the nurses, the nutritionists, the educators — all of them spent their entire careers working with nothing but diabetes and diabetes management.

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I started going to the Barbara Davis Center, where I met with Dr. Gottlieb. And that changed everything. He was brilliant, he listened, he understood every part of what I was dealing with. When I had a question, he wouldn’t just respond with one concrete, black-and-white answer. He would paint a full, nuanced picture that gave me a real understanding of not just what to do, but why to take those steps and how to understand the disease for myself.

Dr. Gottlieb helped me see this disease from a new perspective, one that made it less intimidating, more understandable, and more manageable. I might have been just fine without Dr. Gottlieb, but I can tell you without a shadow of doubt that my life was made infinitely better thanks to his guidance and support.

Eighteen years later
It was a recent trip to the Penn Rodebaugh Diabetes Center that reminded me of those early years. For a long time now, I’ve been “self-managing” in a lot of ways. I’ve regularly seen my primary-care doctor, who specializes in endocrinology, but that’s not the same thing as seeing someone specifically devoted to diabetes management. For a long time, my management has been consistent, and hasn’t required tweaking. My A1Cs have been in a very good range, and I felt equipped to handle the minor fluctuations that came along here and there.

But recently the swings have been wider than they used to be, and it’s clear I need to reevaluate. It’s clear I need to get back to the kind of team-oriented approach that I had all those years ago. And so I found the best diabetes-focused clinic I could find near me, and went in. I’ve only been for one visit, but already the wealth of knowledge and years of experience are showing in their approach. I have an appointment to meet with their “pump specialist” next week (I’ve always preferred the idea of injections, but my base rate seems to have much more fluctuation now than in the past, and a pump may prove much better at handling this kind of pattern). The fact that they have someone dedicated to this highly specialized role speaks volumes. I know I will get the kind of detailed picture and nuanced, broad understanding that I received all those years ago from Dr. Gottlieb.

But even more than the technical and medical information that a center like this provides, I value the feeling of support. I value the knowledge that I will be supported not just by a lone endocrinologist but by an entire multidisciplinary team of people dedicated to making this disease easier for me to live with, easier for me to manage, and less harmful. I value the fact that I will be working with people who know this disease on such a detailed and thorough level that they have dedicated their professional lives to working with it.

So let me offer my week-late Thanksgiving toast. Thank you, Dr. Gottlieb, for making this disease understandable, workable, and for supporting a young man struggling with something so overwhelming. Thank you for the insight, the knowledge, the patience, and the wisdom you gave me. And thank you to the Rodebaugh Center, the entire team of doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and others who support those of us living with diabetes. Thank you to all of the centers, diabetes specialists, educators, and others who help us live better, fuller, safer lives. Thank you to the spouses, the parents, the children, the families of people living with diabetes. This disease forces us to ask for help, and it can knock us around sometimes. But let’s be thankful that there are so many dedicated, kind, talented people ready to jump in and help us face the challenge!