Type 1 diabetes in TV shows: times are changing!

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We’ve talked about diabetes in movies before, and how having representation is not always for the best. On the small screen too, Type 1 diabetes is too often just a tool for dramatic narration, or a plot twist that complicates the ongoing storyline.

Type 1 diabetes in TV shows: we want drama! (or do we?)

In A.J. and the Queen, a show released earlier this year, we learn from the first episode that Ruby Red, the main character, has a blind roommate whose blindness originates from a stroke, a complication of his Type 1 diabetes. Isn’t the life of T1Ds just grand?

In detective TV shows, many people living with Type 1 diabetes get murdered discreetly through excessive insulin injections, like in Killing Eve (2018 – today), where serial killers commit murders by making them look like accidents. Stay close to your diabetes supplies…

In Grey’s Anatomy: Station 19 (season 2, episode 11 – 2019), Type 1 diabetes is used to further complicate a medical emergency. While a woman is in the middle of an epileptic seizure that firefighters can’t manage to stop, her daughter, who has Type 1 diabetes, has an hypoglycemia and faints.

A wind of modernity

Nevertheless, Type 1 diabetes is gradually being shown in a more central and more accurate way in fiction. Still in Grey’s Anatomy: Station 19, the T1D teenager wears a visible insulin pump attached to her belt. When they see it, the firefighters measure her blood sugars with a finger prick and a strip to confirm that she is indeed in hypoglycemia and that they can give her rescue carbs.

In NCIS (season 4 episode 22 – 2007), a character with Type 1 diabetes is this time not the victim, but the murderer of a case. The only witness to his crime is a blind man, who says he smelled a fruity odor at the scene; referencing the fruity breath of T1D people in ketoacidosis. You really had to think of this one!

On the TV show The Affair (season 4 episode 5 – 2018) we can see the character of Vik putting a flash glucose monitoring system on his father, who then complains that he has to change the device every two weeks. To which Vik replies “Or you could just go back to pricking your finger once a day!”

More recently, in July 2020, the Baby-Sitters Club started. This TV show, based on children’s novels published between 1986 and 2000, focuses on a group of middle school girls. Among them, a teenage girl with T1D who wears an insulin pump and, as a good fashionista, she has it all decorated. Enough to inspire the new generation of teenagers to proudly show their T1D management devices rather than hide them!

Grey’s Anatomy and Type 1 Diabetes

The first time Grey’s Anatomy talked about diabetes was in 2011 (episode 14 – season 7) when Richard Weber and Meredith Grey embarked on a clinical trial for Type 1 diabetes. The plot will last until the end of the season, and remains one of the few times that T1D has been a long-term topic on TV.

In 2020 (episode 17 – season 16), Type 1 diabetes is once again brought up on the show, when a patient arrives at the hospital after falling off a ladder. Analyses reveal that she is hyperglycemic and Meredith, who guesses what the situation is, manages to get her to admit that she is in financial difficulty and rations her insulin. She then rants about the price of the hormone in the United States. True to itself, the show takes a stand on a political and topical issue.

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