Pilgrimage to Joslin

I began this post sitting on a plane to Boston — on my way to that American mecca of diabetes care, Joslin Diabetes Center. I’ve read about others journeying there, mostly to obtain the Best Humanly Possible Care for their children with diabetes. I’d imagined I’d feel humbled and honored walking in the door as well.

But the strange thing is, as I entered the Joslin atrium from the cold Boston street this morning, it felt not unlike a visit to my very own university clinic at UCSF: hushed waiting areas with modern-subtle-style upholstered chairs, large windows overlooking city-scapes, long hallways floored with schoolish, industrial strength linoleum reverberating from clicking shoe soles.

I’ll admit the place is LARGE. The tour took me through seven floors of labs filled with fresh-faced technicians sporting blue rubber gloves (why is everybody starting to look so young?!) There were libraries wafting with the smell of musty volumes, that scent of academia that still makes me shiver to think I’ve blown some daunting mid-term exam. And there were hallways with memorials to the founders: Dr. Elliott Joslin’s patient log books, dating back to 1843 when he treated his own aunt, who managed to live for seven years after diagnosis (at a time when most patients, especially the children, lived only a few years post-Dx). And Dr. Priscilla White, one of the first accepted women physicians, who introduced the White Classification of Diabetic Pregnancies, which identified diabetic pregnancies at highest risk for miscarriage.

In one hallway, an old-time yellowing black-and-white print of a girl not more than 5 years old, in a sweet pinafore, sitting on the floor injecting herself with a bulky syringe just above her knee, while her chubby legs ending in button-up shoes lay splayed before her. This is where the history of it all Boston_2 began to hit home: this IS the mecca, the place where pioneers took up a disease heretofore considered a mysterious death sentence, and studied it methodically and with great hope for progress. And progress they made. The rows and rows of beakers, the large boxy laboratory machines, the conference rooms where smart-looking people lean in over their laptops, illustrating that the Joslin drive to help and eventually cure diabetes did not die with the good doctor himself! And I AM honored and humbled to be here.

But why am I here? Not as a tourist. Not even for an overhaul of my own D-regimen, alas! I’m working. Riding the fence, as the patient-turned-diabetes-journalist. Crafting outlines for two USDA brochures on diabetes care. Hoping against hope that my words can somehow help even one person struggling with this disease. So far just being here has given me a new sense of empowerment. How can they NOT find a cure some time soon, with all this human energy so singlemindedly focussed on diabetes?

My view of Boston will never be the same.

6 Responses

  1. Kim Chaloner
    Kim Chaloner March 6, 2006 at 3:10 pm | | Reply

    Joslin is an amazing place. I’ve probably been most impressed with the fact that a building/complex that huge contains such a concentration of people who care about Type 1! Sometimes those people are too few and far between in other cities. I had a wonderful meeting there about hypoglycemic unawareness, and was impressed with the caring expertise I received. There are times I wish I lived in Boston again just to be near that resource.

  2. Jo
    Jo March 6, 2006 at 3:40 pm | | Reply

    Sounds amazing!

  3. Kassie
    Kassie March 6, 2006 at 7:01 pm | | Reply

    I love the photos on the wall at the Joslin. You really feel like you are part of something big there. The history is tremendous, as is the focus.

  4. Nick
    Nick March 7, 2006 at 5:59 am | | Reply

    I have been to Joslin only via their website and through your words. I hope you’ll post info. on how Dr. Joslin kept patients alive so long without insulin. You’ve really piqued my curiosity. Do you take photos? They would be nice.

  5. julia
    julia March 7, 2006 at 7:26 am | | Reply

    I love Joslin. We’re moving out to the western part of the state, but I’m still going to make the drive in to Boston for Olivia’s appointments. They’ve been great there – I recommend them to anyone withing a few hours drive of the place.

    The worst part about Joslin is the tortuous parking garage. That thing is going to take the bumpers off my car one of these days, I just know it.

  6. Scott
    Scott March 8, 2006 at 7:49 am | | Reply

    I was a little unclear on what your definition was Joslin is a great center and when I was there, I did get the feeling that unlike many diabetes clinics, the staff there really did seem to care about the patients. However, the call Joslin “the mecca” is really overselling Joslin and underplaying the many contributions of hundreds of other centers (including the one at UCSF you mentioned). Joslin does not have a monopoly on discoveries, nor has it found a cure for type 1 diabetes (or type 2). There are other, more focused “centers” who might serve particular niches far more effectively, but only in particular specialties, whereas Joslin does everything.

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