British television shows have taken some heat recently from the diabetes community for having shows with inaccurate and insensitive depictions of diabetes. Last year, a drama called The Syndicate seemed to show hypoglycemia being treated with insulin. More recently, a character in the long-running soap EastEnders joked, “If the kids don’t give themselves diabetes, it’s not a good party.”
That’s why it’s refreshing to see a show’s writers learn from past mistakes. An episode in the most recent season of Doc Martin seems to be righting a past wrong when it comes to the doctor’s administration of insulin.
In two episodes of the series which follows a gruff doctor in a small English town, Doc Martin must treat patients who fall into a coma because of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
In a 2005 episode entitled “Aromatherapy”, a local DJ who has been acting erratically turns out to have untreated diabetes, and is eventually discovered by the doctor after she has collapsed. A blood test confirms she needs insulin and Doc Martin loads up a needle with a hefty amount of it for what presumably is her first-ever insulin injection. As the scene fades out, someone in the background who is calling for an ambulance says that the doctor has administered 10 mL of insulin.
Oops. 10 mL would essentially be an entire vial of insulin. The move struck many in the diabetes community as either cavalier of the good doctor or, more likely, a fatal mistake on the part of the show writers. To a lesser extent, some viewers also thought it a bit confusing as to whether this woman had Type 1 diabetes or Type 2. She certainly would have been one of the older people in the UK to be diagnosed with Type 1, and it seemed strange to start her on insulin therapy right away if she had Type 2.
You can watch the episode online on Hulu. The action starts at about the 38:00 mark:
However, in the most recent depiction, the writers seem to have learned from this past mistake.
(AGAIN, SPOILER COMING)
In “Other People’s Children”, we begin to see warning signs that a child on a field trip has undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes, including unquenchable thirst and a near constant need to urinate. Eventually, the boy runs off and needs to be saved (because people with Type 1 always need to be saved, right? Sigh…..). He, too, is found unconscious, and Doc Martin administers a blood sugar test and then a shot of insulin.
This time, however, the vial is not nearly as full, and Doc makes a point to say that he has given the boy just 10 units of insulin, or 0.1 mL. It’s still a decently large amount, but not nearly as likely to be lethal.
It would be nice if people with Type 1 weren’t so prone to passing out on television, but at least one show is treating DKA a bit more accurately. Do you have a favorite/most hated depiction of Type 1 diabetes on TV that you want to share? If so, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4/25/2016 – An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Doc Martin was produced by the BBC. It was produced by ITV. Please forgive the American editor’s ignorance of the British television universe – as he tends to think every British show is BBC. Thanks to alert Twitter follower @ for catching this.
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