Is there something in the water? Seriously... it's like there's a contagion out there at the moment spreading misinformation about diabetes.
Sadly, movies and media missing the point is nothing new for the Diabetes Community. It happens all too often.
But some recent high-profile examples demonstrate the continuing battle we face combatting myths and misconceptions around our disease.
First, there's a new NBC show ironically titled Do No Harm (a reference to the Hippocratic oath that all physicians take) which premiered in January, featuring a brilliant neurosurgeon who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde syndrome causing his alter ego to come out and wreak havoc between 8:25 p.m. and 8:25 a.m. every night. The neurosurgeon happens to be living with diabetes (no type distinguished, but it appears to be type 1) and so before being cleared for surgery he must check his blood sugar by sticking his finger into some futuristic hospital-version meter the size of a table top (was this FDA approved, we wondered?!).
He apparently uses his diabetes as an excuse for why he can't work nights but must restrict his doctoral duties to the daytime hours. At one point, his alter ego gets into the hospital one night and thanks to being hopped up on adrenaline, tests at 325 mg/dL -- so the hospital collegues freak out, demanding emergency insulin because he's hyperglycemic and going into "diabetic shock." WTF? At just over 300?
So, there's that. Fellow D-Blogger Cara Richardson wrote a great post recently with her thoughts on the show, too.
Then we've got the latest nonfiction snafu: a news story circulating in which a Chicago reporter got it wrong when reporting about a 7-year-old girl who took the hero role when her mom was having a low blood sugar while behind the wheel. This reporter originally wrote that the woman was in insulin shock and "was in need of insulin," and that message got shared on Facebook and Twitter. When a few DOC'ers (Melissa Lee, Kelly Kunik, and Christina Ghosn) tried to let her know about the mistakes, the reporter insisted that these PWDs were mistaken and didn't know what they were talking about. Double WTF!
Then there's the whole Hollywood scene that has brought us some of the most classic diabetes misconceptions, including overdramatic portrayals of D-symptoms and confusion between highs and lows.
One of the latest is fairytale remake Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which came out January 25 and offers up what the director calls "a spin on diabetes" in the fanciful script. Star actor Jeremy Renner (as Hansel) supposedly lives with "the sugar sickness" that has an uncanny resemblence to type 1 diabetes. Hansel contracts the sickness after the witch force-fed him candy as a child, just before little Hansel and Gretel overpowered her and forced her into an oven. Thanks to all that candy, Hansel grows up needing regular daily injections at the beep of his timepiece. Without those injections, as we see at one point in the movie, he will go into immediate convulsions -- apparently the result of high blood sugar?
Gretel (Gemma Arterton) and Hansel (Jeremy Renner)
Of course, the big takeaway from this movie is that candy consumption leads to type 1 diabetes -- clearly not for anyone reading this post who knows better, but for most of the rest of the general public.
(Sigh. Head shaking...)
While D-Dad Tom Karlya and other DOC members found it a form of bullying, I watched this movie with my wife, and one hand, I was neither outraged nor disappointed; the movie wasn't very good in my opinion, and the simple fact that it was so corny and obviously make-believe made any diabetes misinformation seem trivial.
No one could possibly think anything in this fairytale-gone-evil romp was real, right?
Not everyone in the community sees this as a negative, either. One blogger noted that he didn't think he'd ever seen a movie with a diabetic hero, and Hansel's insulin syringe could actually be seen as a symbol of strength. And over at TuDiabetes, a fellow PWD diagnosed a few years ago also shared her positive impressions shortly after the movie came out:
"I love the little titbit that Hansel was a diabetic. It doesn't come right out and say it in the movie, but he says that when he was trapped inside the witch candy house the witch made him eat so much candy that now he has to take a shot every couple hours or he will die. I was like, 'That's soo cool! He's like me!!!'"
See? It's all in the eye of the beholder, apparently.
Then again, when an uninformed public constantly hears the misinformation that "sugar causes diabetes" and the clarification is lost, that misinformation easily turns into blame for the entire D-Community... no matter what type or situation we're talking about.
My diagnosis with type 1 came at five years old, just before I started school. I remember being told as a kid that I couldn't eat any sugar and that my sugar intake in the first four years of my life apparently had led to my diagnosis. My mom, who was also diagnosed at the same young age, was told the same thing by teachers and other parents. Such BS! Obviously, growing up with a type 1 mom, we didn't have mass sugar amounts in my house anyhow.
Sure, you can roll your eyes and dismiss it -- say to yourself that people blaming sugar consumption for type 1 just don't know what they're talking about. But at some point, there's the danger that this misinformation can carry over and hurt you and the bigger community. Like when you're trying to raise money for critical diabetes research, and people don't want to donate because of that blame game.
This is a very real concern for organizations like JDRF, so we reached out to them to learn what they're doing to help Hollywood and the television and media industries get diabetes right.
Spokesman Bill Sorensen, who's also a longtime type 1, said JDRF has worked with TV producers and filmmakers to ensure that type 1 diabetes is portrayed realistically and accurately. He highlighted ABC's hit show Body of Proof, which featured a story line last season in which the lead character's daughter was diagnosed with type 1. At the end of the show, a 10-second message aired to inform viewers that every day 80 kids and adults are diagnosed with T1D and inviting them to contact JDRF for more information. Sorensen said that after the show aired, the D-Community expressed widespread support for the episode's accurate portrayal of type 1 and the feelings and fears many families face during times of diagnosis.
He said the organization doesn't necessarily proactively reach out to media fishing for upcoming portrayals of diabetes, but that "JDRF is always willing to work with television producers and filmmakers that reach out to us in order to help spread type 1 diabetes awareness and facts in this manner." When queried, he stated that JDRF has "no comment" about Hansel & Gretel or other specific examples of misinformation.
While that's commendable, it seems we do need some type of proactive outreach, since not every TV or movie producer or reporter will know or care to contact the JDRF in advance. That is where the Diabetes Advocates come in.
Fortunately, Tom Karlya, writing over at his blog Diabetes Dad, says he's tired of this misinformation and is doing something about it. His vision is for a cooperative effort with what the Diabetes Advocates program is already doing on media awareness, working with advertising agencies to create a radio, TV and poster campaign for accurate diabetes messages, and enlisting D-Community members who want to help.
That idea is in its infancy, but he says he's already heard from ad agencies willing to support the program -- and he's asking the D-Community to get involved! Anyone and everyone who wishes to support this program should kindly email Tom here by Feb. 15.
Tom wants this to be a real grass roots project that offers people the opportunity to download educational materials to distribute in their own community. He plans to announce an ad agency that will be helping on this soon, and he's "very excited about the possibilities."
"No organization will own it, this 'IT' is more of a movement---it will be made-up of PWDs and Parents who want to make a difference. Spend a little time for big results. It's about time this world 'got diabetes right,'" Tom told us.
We applaud Tom for taking on the daunting task of working to make sure the diabetes messages are accurate -- no matter where they appear, and however unrealistic the movie or show may be.