Incorrect TV diabetes plotline used as excuse for fleeing police

I think that worldwide less than one percent of people who hear that a diabetic needs an injection would guess that it is not about insulin. They could have avoided that guffaw by referring to glucose tablets rather than an injection.

Exactly. But that violates the rule. To be fair, I understand Foster prides herself on being conscientious about this kind of thing, and a big part of the plot turns on the fact that she can’t find anything for the kid to eat that would do it–the snacks in the panic room are all low-carb (seriously? with a T1 kid in the house? I mean what’s the point of having a panic room if you’re not going to stock it with stuff you absolutely need in an emergency. But anyway…). And they build suspense out of the fact that the problem with the kid is all implicit (I guessed right away of course; probably most T1s do)–she’s got this funny watch thingy, what’s that all about? etc. (it was a GlucoWatch–a real device that had just come on the market). Which kind of plays on the audience’s general ignorance of what it’s like to deal with in an interesting way.

But ultimately the only point in having a diabetic in the plot is “That guy’s gonna need a shot!” It’s not quite as all-pervasive as The Law of the Interrupted First Kiss, or The Guy Who’s Gonna Win The Fight Has To Start Out Losing, or That Ferrari Is Gonna Get Destroyed, but it’s right up there. Because when it comes to the popular perception of T1, It’s All About The Needles, and “That guy’s gonna need a juice box!” just doesn’t cut it as a plot device.

My very first encounter with diabetes happened when I was about 12 years old, many years before my own diagnosis of type 2. I was on my way home from school and encountered a group of people clustered around a lady who was lying on the sidewalk, in spasms. A man who was trying to help her looked at a bracelet on her arm and said “She has diabetes, she is in insulin shock!” I of course had no idea what that meant, though today I would assume it indicated she was hypoglycemic. Eventually paramedics arrived and attended to her. I have often thought of that incident since and how ignorant most people are of the basic facts of diabetes until it strikes themselves or someone close to them,.

Ah, “insulin shock”—I haven’t heard that term (or “insulin reaction”) in a long time! Used to be what it was called when I was diagnosed in the early '90s.

I do think that general awareness of Type 1 (at least) has increased since I was a kid. Diabetes is covered in most basic first aid courses. I think a big part of the issue is that people simply don’t remember facts about things they don’t deal with on a regular basis. I have food allergies, and people are just as ignorant about those than they are about diabetes.

I’ve also pretty much lost faith in the ability of a TV show or movie to represent any medical condition or disability accurately. Consider how inaccurate diabetes portrayals are, and then realize that every time you see any other condition you’re not familiar with, those portrayals are just as inaccurate. So, now whenever I see a character with a medical condition or disability my interest perks up right away, quickly followed by, “Ugh, I knew they wouldn’t get this right!”

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My only pre-dx encounter was at a two-week gig my band was playing on Nantucket. Guy in his early 20s, very Bostonian accent–I would guess Eastie–had an insulin reaction at his table of the passing-out variety. His friends knew what it was, explained that he’d just been diagnosed and had gone out on a big drinking spree in a kind of denial reaction. The memory is a touchstone for me now as to what my own level of ignorance was just a couple of years before being diagnosed with it myself. I was familiar with the general concept to the usual extent (they gotta take a shot and they can pass out!) but I remember either I or someone else brought up the brilliant idea of putting a butter knife in his mouth so he wouldn’t swallow his tongue (is that a good idea for anything?). This would have been about '78, so he would have been on R/NPH or maybe just NPH–not sure if R was in use yet. Either way, I was soon to experience first hand the difficulty of trying to live a normal twenty-something life on that stuff even without deciding you need to go on a drinking binge. I’ve never had a full on unconscious-with-convulsions hypo but I’ve certainly been down in the cone-vision and graying-out zone, and the worst of those were all back in my R/NPH days.

The one that freaks me out is “Insulin shock therapy”–they actually did that as an alternative to electro-shock back in the 50s. Just go ahead and shoot some normal person up with enough insulin to knock them unconscious and convulsing, I guess to get their brain to reboot or whatever the brilliant idea was. Yeesh.

Yeah, I think A Beautiful Mind has a scene of that. Totally freaks me out, too.

60 years from now our grandkids will look back on what we consider cutting edge medical treatment today with the same revulsion.

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Old psychiatric RN here–I learned from older psychiatric RNs that insulin shock therapy was very effective as a treatment for severe depression (when the alternative was death by suicide), but obviously was dangerous. RNs caring for these patients all carried bottles of Karo corn syrup and big spoons on chains attached to their belts so they could treat post-seizure lows quickly.


Also–insulin shock predates electro convulsive shock, which, while also initially seeming as barbaric, was safer and more effective. ECT is now so refined that some patients prefer it to pharmaceuticals–fewer side effects!


I was in the Glucowatch trial, and had one for a while. It was terrible. It didn’t look like the one in the movie, though. It had a great technology: run an electric current in one particular spot through the sweat on your skin, over and over again. I got a few nasty burns.