Interviewing Joe Montana With Skyrocketing Blood Sugar Levels
ESPN sportscaster Rich Hollenberg learned he had Type 1 diabetes on the night he was to interview a sports legend.
In the book typecast, Andrew Deutscher collects inspirational stories from people with Type 1 diabetes and families affected by Type 1. In this excerpt, ESPN sportscaster Rich Hollenberg shares how he was diagnosed T1 at age 35 on the eve of a professional triumph.
I could barely speak, not from nerves or from stress, although I carried around more than enough of both. Laryngitis, I thought. What a lousy time to get it, on the night I was set to interview football legend Joe Montana. (Yes, that Joe Montana.) I make my living primarily with my voice as a TV sportscaster, and now, on the verge of a personal and professional highlight, my voice was betraying me.
I couldn’t hide this one. My other symptoms were easier to mask, especially to people who didn’t see me on a regular basis: the rapid weight loss (30 pounds in six weeks), due to my seemingly unquenchable thirst, which precipitated my maddeningly frequent trips to the bathroom. I could handle these inconveniences. I could work around them. But, damn, I needed my voice to do my job.
My dad is no doctor, but he first put the pieces together. Even my primary care physician had misdiagnosed me as Type 2. After my dad pegged it, I consulted with an endocrinologist who accurately diagnosed me Type 1. By then, I had been taking metformin, a T2 pill, for months, and it had been doing nothing for me.
That past December, I had herniated two discs in my lower back, and when physical therapy didn’t alleviate any of the pain, I turned to a cortisone injection. While the epidural instantly cured me of my back pain, the steroid ratcheted up my blood sugar. Turns out, the collateral damage was done, and permanently so. My pancreas, already stressed, couldn’t recover. From that moment, the thirst, the urination, the weight loss, and the impaired vision fell like dominoes. I’d recover enough that August night to salvage my interview with Joe Montana, but there was no more denying that I had diabetes. It was a game-changer.
I wasn’t angry as much as I was lost, both physically and mentally. Depression set in, and my personal life went into a tailspin. Becoming a newly-minted person with diabetes was extremely taxing, especially while handling the pressure of being a public figure, trying to be the best Dad I could be to my nearly-2-year-old son, and expecting my first daughter. Something had to give, and my relationship with my wife was showing signs of cracks.
Amazingly, my support network stood with me on this, even when I was tough to be around. Through them I was able to right the ship. Now, every time I get a positive result from an A1C test, the first thing I do is text the good news to my wife, parents, and my best friend.
Given the chance to stabilize, I’ve now learned that diabetes is a disease of meticulousness, with ritualistic behavior that in some strange way dovetails with how I usually function. I am a creature of habit who works most efficiently when faced with a structured diagram of tasks or goals, so my diabetes care added another element of routine to my existence. It also heightened my desire to pursue a proper diet and a good balance of exercise. Driven by this, I accomplished a personal goal of competing in my first triathlon, determined to set an example for my children and myself that T1 wasn’t going to beat me.
It wasn’t always easy, especially for a perfectionist like me. I was hard on myself when I forgot to take my insulin pens and needles with me when I left the house. I cursed myself for not having the right kind of snacks on hand when my blood sugar dropped dangerously low, and I was left scrambling for the closest thing I could get my hands on, nutrition be damned. One nice thing about diabetes, however, is that when you mess up one day, you always get another chance the next day, if you’re lucky.
It dawned on me that my diabetes was about more than me. I came to realize I could use my career status in television as a platform to help raise diabetes awareness. I became involved in my local ADA chapter, and the ADA’s Step Out Walk, and the Tour de Cure. Whether it’s making TV appearances on behalf of the ADA or lending my voice to fundraising calls, I am committed to being an active participant in this community.
Presently, my diabetes is so ingrained in my everyday life that it’s almost an afterthought. Don’t get me wrong: there is still the requisite anxiety every few months when I visit my endocrinologist to get a report on my A1C (6.4 when I last checked!), but this is my reality, and I embrace the challenges that come with it.
That attitude is something I’ve learned throughout my career in sportscasting, after gleaning nuggets of inspiration from legends of the game, like Joe Montana. There’s a parallel between the pressure they face on the field and what we face in dealing with diabetes. In both cases, either you control the fear, or it controls you.
To read Rich Hollenberg’s full profile and other inspirational stories of people thriving with T1, buy the book typecast: Amazing People Overcoming the Chronic Disease of Type 1 Diabetes.
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