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May 6th, 2009
12:49 PM ET

My evening with an icon

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

As far back as I can remember, I have watched David Letterman on late-night TV. I was a high school freshman when I first started watching him regularly, much to the dismay of my parents given the late hour of the show. During college, it was during his show that you would find the students gathered in the lounge waiting for the “stupid human trick” or his signature Top 10 list. I always felt he was at his best when the topic material was slightly more serious, and there was somehow comfort in watching this funny man offering a little comfort. I was always amazed at how effortlessly he navigated an interview, even the difficult ones with Cher many years ago and more recently with Joaquin Phoenix. In New York City, I always enjoyed walking by the Ed Sullivan theater, wondering what it was like inside.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta and David Letterman.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta and David Letterman.

Well, last night I got a chance to get a real insider’s look. Letterman invited me to be on his show, and I took him up on it (watch video). Suffice it say that I never dreamed I would be sitting on that stage with this icon, and there was no question I was nervous. It started with a pre-interview call with one of David’s producers, Matt Roberts. He was terrific and he had clearly done all of his homework. He recited facts about my career I had forgotten, and talked me through the whole structure of the show. Letterman primarily wanted to talk about swine flu, but warning: The conversation could really go anywhere. “Have a conversation with David, and don’t worry about the audience,” was Matt’s final piece of advice.

When the time came to walk out, I almost stumbled over my own feet and shook David’s hand too hard out of pure terror.  My mouth went instantly dry. He started by asking me about the process of being considered for surgeon general. A bit of a surprise, although I had talked enough about it that I felt comfortable. He kicked it into high gear when we started talking about medicine and he mentioned his own heart operation. From there, we finally transitioned to swine flu, and there he was offering the same comfort in his unique way - except this time I was a part of it, sitting right there with him.

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soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. fastwalk

    I'm so happy to have a chance to send a message to you Sanjay. I'm so happy that CNN included time for a doctor's opinion. Everytime I see you on I sit and listen intently. Always very professional and such a nice smile. Such a relief from all the bad news.
    Stay with us, we are so happy to have you!

    May 6, 2009 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Terry Washington State

    Sanjay, Think we've heard you speak of most topics on CNN, but it was great to see you away from the reporting genre. I thought you were awesome. Nice to know people I find to be ICON's have ICON's of thier own. Great job. WELLNESS to you and yours.

    May 6, 2009 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Tana D'Amico

    O-M-Gosh!! I've always said I'd like to marry a man that was a cross between David Letterman and Sanjay Gupta!! lol. Your both the best at what you do! 🙂

    May 6, 2009 at 20:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Bob Jimenez

    Dr. Gupta,

    Thanks for ALL you do to communicate to the world! I am not a TV nut, and teach H.S. health/wellness and coach. I use a lot of your info to research health and medical issues of the world today. School books have so many limitations on them! Kids are really interested in this area and see futures here that they do not see in many areas.
    It is real, and always changing and so exciting!

    Thanks, (Coach Bob)

    May 6, 2009 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. El

    Hi Doc

    It is nice to see that Docs are human too, as often they tend to hold back their emotions. Your nervousness did not show with Letterman.
    Good job!

    May 7, 2009 at 08:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. TVCashCrate

    Sanjay,
    I have the utmost respect for you my medical colleague! I am a former US Army Flight Medic and when you decided to see what was going on in Iraq you earned that respect.

    I am following you on Twitter and always look forward to viewing the articles you post their as well as your articles here. You are a good person and I thought you should be told this.

    Thank you from an Army Vet.

    May 7, 2009 at 09:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. M. Goocher

    Comfort was mentioned a couple of times in your piece. Recently, you indirectly offered comfort to a friend of mine. Her son had been in Grady Hospital after getting beaten by a gang in Buckhead and I assured her about the quality of his care referring to the piece you did on CNN last year, or the year before. She had not see the piece, but knew who you were. Some doctors have the 'comfort' gene in their personality, some don't. You do. Thanks. And thanks for putting your family first and saying it on Letterman. Our world be so much different if more parents took that long-term view.

    May 7, 2009 at 09:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. jean milwaukee, wisconsin

    hi Sanjay, I saw you on Letterman, thought you were great and i really enjoy you and your reporting on cnn and you are easy on the eyes as well, i follow you on twitter too...

    May 7, 2009 at 09:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Tiffany

    It sounds like you really had a good time. I am actually very rarely up anymore for letterman myself. I have 3 kids so I am always doing something for them. Well best wishes always, Ohio person.

    May 7, 2009 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ellen Sweeney

    It was awesome to see you on Letterman. You certainly looked at ease. As a Respiratory Therapist I follow you closely on CNN and really enjoy your medical input. Keep up the great work and keep posting to Twitter.

    May 7, 2009 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. gayle mccauley Malden ,Mass.

    I was very happy to see you with Dave! A fan of his forever!!It's nice to know that even when 'experts'(you) are out of your element,you can get nervous too!So inside,we all are human and vulnerable.Thanks for all you bring to CNN,It wouldn't be the same without you!Congrats on the new baby, Peace!!

    May 7, 2009 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Linda

    Dr . Gupta,
    You always appear to be cool and confident when you are reporting. How refreshing it was to hear what you were really feeling and thinking before and during your interview with David Letterman. YOU'RE HUMAN!!

    May 8, 2009 at 00:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Chicago Cristy

    I agree with Terry it's nice to see ICON's have ICON's very refreshing....Have a great weekend!

    May 8, 2009 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Yvonne

    Dr. Gupta – I live in Atlanta too. You are so awsome the way you communicate medical issues. I have a high admiration for you. I hope you don't work too hard. You are very, very busy!!!!

    🙂

    May 10, 2009 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Danielle

    Dear Dr. Gupta,

    Thank you for being a caring human being first, and then a doctor. I would wish that other doctors would get out of the I AM GOD MODE, and more a human mode. Most patients are so nervous and confused and it is nice to understand that some doctors are nervous too. They are scared, just as you were. All most humans want from a doctor is the knowing that he or she cares. And that they try. I have one doctor who is amazing. If she doesn't have an answer, she will curl up in her big chair and grab a book. I will always admire her.

    Thank you again

    June 6, 2009 at 03:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. icon package

    P.S. Please review Green user Icon from email-icon-set

    September 21, 2012 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.