Your Guide to Diabetes in Fiction
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Most people with diabetes have a love-hate relationship with its portrayal in fiction. On the one hand, these stories spread the word about the disease. On the other, many books, movies, and television shows have relied too heavily on, er, poetic license. Here's your guide to the literary and cinematic escapades of people with diabetes.
|True Believers by Kurt Andersen
Andersen gets it right, though the book isn't about diabetes. He lets his protagonist have a life that's not defined by her disease. Still, it would have been nice to find out exactly how hallucinogenic drugs can affect your blood glucose.
|The Baby-Sitters Club: The Truth About Stacey by Ann M. Martin
It's accurate—mostly. You'll probably cringe when Stacey's friends snack on candy while Stacey's diabetes dooms her to eat crackers.
|Covering the Bases by Leigh Olsen
Our 12-year-old protagonist is away from home for the first time, and despite constant worries about his diabetes, he miraculously manages to avoid making any bad decisions. Yes, it's preachy, but because pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. publishes the book (available at most pediatric endocrinologists' offices), the information about diabetes is spot on.
|Sweetblood by Pete Hautman
The book is mostly a what-not-to-do guide to living with diabetes—but it's a cautionary tale without being moralistic. Sixteen-year-old Lucy resents having to manage her type 1 diabetes, is overwhelmed by it, forgets about it, and gets drunk and sick in an intense and realistic scene of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
|One Step Behind by Henning Mankell
In the seventh book in the Kurt Wallander series, Wallander knows he needs to eat well and exercise more, but type 2 diabetes has come at a pretty inconvenient time: He's busy hunting a killer responsible for the murder of four people. And so One Step Behind features our detective spending lots of time guzzling water, relieving himself, and reassuring his colleagues that his health isn't impeding the investigation—even if he does have a low during the manhunt.
If you're looking for a serious take on diabetes, change the channel. There's hardly anything serious about the TV show Scrubs, and that also goes for its playful handling of one character's type 2. Case in point: In one episode, Dr. Turk makes money by having his fellow hospital staff members bet on his premeal blood glucose level.
The TV show excels in showing the internal struggle one woman faces in accepting her diabetes. Will she tell others? How much say does her family get in her management? It's one of the few fictional stories that take into account the family's adjustment to a loved one's diabetes. And don't worry, there's still the requisite dramatic hypoglycemic event.
Spoiler alert: Lenny's wife, believing he's faking his amnesia, gives him the ultimate test in this dark flick. She has type 1 diabetes and asks him to inject her with a dose of insulin again and again, believing that at some point he'll snap out of it with a wide grin and a "Gotcha!" But Lenny really does have amnesia, and his wife really is being dosed over and over again until she—mysteriously without any signs of hypoglycemia—slides into a coma and dies.
Probably the most well-known diabetes movie ever made, Steel Magnolias (the 1989 version; last year's TV remake recently came out on DVD) may be responsible for inspiring fear of pregnancy in an entire generation. The fact is, women with diabetes can and do have healthy pregnancies—gasp! Aside from that, Julia Roberts does a phenomenal job portraying one of the most dramatic hypoglycemic episodes in diabetes fiction.
Poor Jackie is just trying to rob the Federal Reserve when accomplices Bridget and Nina spot her insulin syringes, assume she's a drug addict, and stage an intervention. Her type 1 diabetes goes otherwise unmentioned for the rest of the mediocre movie.
Armande (played by Judi Dench) is a regular at the new chocolate shop in her rural French town, and her overbearing daughter, Caroline, doesn't like it one bit. Caroline likens chocolate to rat poison for someone with diabetes and makes a big stink about the cluster of bruises on Armande's leg, a result of her insulin injections. But insulin is no match against the evil forces of sugar because, as the priest at Armande's funeral so eloquently states, her self-indulgences aggravated her illness and caused her death. Aside from overdramatizing the diabetes-sugar connection, Chocolat is a sweet story.
Meg (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) lock themselves in a panic room after three men break into their home. But there's no glucagon in the in-case-of-emergency panic room. Naturally. Also, it's not stocked with food. It's possibly the worst-prepared panic room in history, but it makes for a lot of great drama, especially when Meg must venture out for supplies when Sarah has a severe low. The flick gets a demerit, though, when Sarah's given glucagon while conscious and well enough to show the bad guy how to prepare and inject it.