By Allison Piazza, Reference Services and Outreach Librarian
November is National Diabetes Month. As one would assume, the New York Academy of Medicine Library has a large collection of books about the disease. As I perused the stacks, however, one title jumped out.
Shoot that Needle Straight by Robert Rantoul was published in 1947, and tells the story of Richard “Dick” Hubbard. The book opens with Dick ill, and home from boarding school. His symptoms are numerous and puzzling, including dry tongue, a constant craving for sweets, headaches, weakness, and a drastic increase in height. It’s not long before Dick is told he has Diabetes Mellitus, a diagnosis that elicits a “What the hell is that?” from Dick.
What follows is an engaging, often-times laugh-out-loud narrative of Dick’s new life with diabetes. Accompanying each chapter are charming illustrations by W. Joseph Carr.
After he is diagnosed, Dick and his mother travel to Boston, where he will have a two-week stay at a “diabetic home” known as the Carver Home, and see a diabetes specialist by the name of Dr. Anderson. At the Carver Home, Dick learns about diabetes and how he must control it through a home routine of proper diet and exercise. He also learns how to give himself insulin injections from his nurse, Miss Carver:
“Disinfect before you begin.
Press the needle firmly in.
Squeeze the plunger way down far.
Withdraw the needle and there you are.”
Dick’s new life as a diabetic is not without its hiccups. In one chapter, he goes to see a physician who claims he can cure diabetes, which he explains is the result of “a nervous condition brought on by destructive and fearful thinking processes, as a result of strain, over-worry or disasters.” Of course, the hope for a cure is too good to be true. The doctor in question turns out to be the head of an international narcotic ring, wanted in Argentina, Mexico and California for peddling an “iron tonic” full of morphine to unsuspecting diabetes patients.
In another chapter, Dick agrees to be a diabetes research participant at a lab. In a passage that would make any 21st century Institutional Review Board member cringe, the doctor explains to Dick what it means to be a “guinea-pig”:
“For this period you must be willing to do anything we ask, regardless of your feelings…. At certain times our requests will be difficult and will, no doubt, upset you emotionally, but you must realize the emotions cannot stand in the way of medical science, and content yourself with the thought that we look upon you as a medical specimen rather than a human being.”
Another highlight of the book is Dick’s (somewhat inexplicable) trip to Munich, Germany with his mother during Adolf Hitler’s reign. During the trip, Dick is hospitalized with painful sores. The situation is, understandably, quiet stressful for Dick, but he takes it in stride:
“Nazis. Heil Hitler! The Third Reich! You read ominous stories about them, you shuddered at what people said they intended to do to America and the world, but never in your wildest dreams did you imagine yourself sick and alone among more than one thousand of them in their homeland. What a story to take home!”
These are just some of the situations Dick encounters as a diabetic. While highly comical, the book is also meant to educate and inform the diabetic patient. The American Journal of Digestive Diseases reviewed the book favorably in 1948, saying:
“This is a book that might safely be presented by a physician to a diabetic patient or by anyone to a friend suffering from the disease. … The general dietary regimen and the insulin therapy are described in exemplary fashion.”
Another review in Science Education also speaks highly of the book, which they mention “has been checked for accuracy by eminent doctors.”
While Shoot that Needle Straight may no longer be medically (or politically) correct, it is one of the gems of our collection.
 The American Journal of Digestive Diseases 1948 15(3):103.
 Science Education 1950, 34(4): 274-275.
Interesting cartoon approach to health care. That was not uncommon in the 1940s. If the book was published in 1947, why is the protagonist visiting Nazi Germany?
I have one from my childhood that included cartoons – “Health Can Be Fun” by Munro Leaf (1943). Perhaps that is a more effective way to teach than with straight narrative.
It’s also a strategy in the two Roizen and Oz books, although I think they overdo it, and the puns dilute the information.
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