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Why Shows Like 'Virgin River' Shouldn't Get Diabetes Wrong

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“Virgin River” is all the rage at the moment and I suppose the appeal is its easy-watching nature and general innocence. Perhaps people are overwhelmed by the intensity of shows like “Peaky Blinders” and “Game of Thrones.” Or maybe “Virgin River” appeals to the opposite audience. Regardless of the reason, it reached the #1 show on Netflix according to our large-screen TV.

But, and it’s a big but, I’m disappointed in you, “Virgin River.” In fact, you had me shaking my fists into the air and shouting, “Argh!” not once, but twice, and I’m only in the second season! This agitation wasn’t due to Mel and Jack’s non-committal romance, nor Charmaine’s repeated manipulation and demands on Jack. No, my outbursts were much more critical – as in, crucial – than a mere viewer getting emotionally invested in a fictional drama. This was serious.

The first happened during the scene where Ricky shows concern about his grandmother Lydie who is home alone, and Jack and Mel go to check on her. She is laying on the floor dazed and confused. Mel knows about her diabetes and asks her if she’s checked her blood sugar recently. Lydie answers no and Mel immediately gets her to drink juice. OK, so here’s where it starts to get dicey.

It would be the safer guess to assume Lydie is experiencing hypoglycemia rather than hyperglycemia, but from just the brief look at her, Mel couldn’t have known for sure. Why not just get the glucose meter and check before treating? Then, Mel asked Lydie if she was taking her “injections” and Lydie again said no, mumbling that she doesn’t like needles. Diabetes 101 is this: without enough insulin (the injections) blood sugar becomes elevated, not too low. A swear word may have slipped out of my face.

The second incident that got me jumping on the bed and saying things that would not make my mother proud happened when Charmaine was having complications with her pregnancy, and her blood glucose was reading a bit low. What do they do? Doc tests her for gestational diabetes. If this were the case, her blood sugar would be high, not low! With gestational diabetes, the body cannot keep up with the insulin demands, thus causing the elevated blood sugar.

These two scenarios are unacceptable for two reasons:

1. It is a matter of life and death.

If a television show or movie decides to take on the topic of diabetes, (Virgin River is not the only one who has portrayed diabetes wrong. I’m looking at you “Panic Room,” “The Syndicate,” and “New Amsterdam,” to name just a few.) Now you might think I am being dramatic with this point, but if someone gives insulin to a person with diabetes who is having a hypoglycemic episode, it could put that person in a coma, cause brain damage, and even cause death. If a form of sugar (think juice) is given to a person with diabetes when their blood sugar is high, the result could be ketoacidosis which is life-threatening, and at minimum, some tissue damage could occur contributing to long-term diabetes complications.

As someone who has had type 1 diabetes almost my whole life, this is nothing to sneeze at. It is more than irresponsible. And how many times have we heard the saying, “I’ve seen it on TV so it must be true”? This is usually meant as sarcasm, but sadly, so many people trust what they see on TV because surely they wouldn’t get something so important so wrong.” Which leads me to the second reason getting diabetes in the media is unacceptable.

2. There is no excuse.

Sure, the average citizen might not understand the ins and outs of diabetes because they haven’t had the need to, but with the knowledge of literally everything known to mankind at the tips of our fingers, there is no reason to get the basics of diabetes wrong. (Let me clear it up for you right now so that there is no confusion: Insulin lowers your blood glucose and food/sugar raises it. A low blood sugar can be urgently life-threatening, and a high blood sugar less urgent, but still serious. As an average person, and as a TV drama, that is all you need to know. So complicated, right? It’s no wonder those big-budget shows can’t afford the research. (Insert eyeroll here.)

I’ll wrap up by saying that when we, the people with diabetes, see it messed up onscreen, we feel disrespected, enraged, and most importantly – fearful. We have enough to deal with every moment of every day trying to manage this disease, the least these production companies can do is get the facts straight.

Keep watching “Virgin River” if you must, but please know… just because Mel and Doc said so, doesn’t make it true!

Image via Wikipedia.

Originally published: September 27, 2022
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