I know this blog talks about Teddy Ryder a lot. But he and his story are what I most commonly think about and interact with here. First, there was the online show, second we just got a new video artifact that pairs incredibly well with that show (see social media for details), and finally, I’m working on an in-person version of the exhibit too—that one will take me until almost the end of my internship. My point is, while I feel connected to Teddy and his story for all the personal reasons I’ve discussed so far, I also feel connected to it because his story has been (and will be) the focus of my entire internship. So, as per usual, let’s talk about the Ryders.
For this post, I want to focus on Mildred and the role that parents (and supports more broadly) play in the experiences of people with diabetes. Diseases like diabetes can often be framed as an individualistic journey: A person feels symptoms of diabetes. They go get diagnosed. They learn how to treat it. They live with it and figure out all of its nuances (because, of course, treating diabetes is as much an art as it is a science).
And, to a point, this is all true. Those diagnosed with diabetes are certainly the first line of defense. We check our blood sugar, we administer insulin, we know when we’re feeling low and need to have some juice. But leaving this framework as an individualistic one completely shuts out all the people who keep those with diabetes on track. As a diabetic myself, I’m certainly not trying to discount what we go through on our own, I simply want to recognise those who help us on that journey. They’re important.
Mildred, for example, was one of those supports who just wouldn’t back down. Her love for Teddy was fierce, and she had this fire inside her that kept alive her hope for a treatment that would save her son’s life. No matter how dire the situation seemed, no matter how much weight Teddy had lost, no matter how little time remained, Mildred seemed to just know that something would pop up. That knowing made her ready—ready to leap into action and get Teddy whatever treatment was out there.
Anne Pritchard (niece of Teddy Ryder and photographed below) says it best. In her oral history interview with me, Anne said “she was tough. She was just so adamant that he was gonna push through and she was gonna be the one to do it.”
One day, about 2 years after she and Earl put Teddy on the Allen starvation diet, she got her chance. Teddy could receive a new treatment for his diabetes, but he had to go from his home in Rockport, New Jersey, to meet Dr. Banting in Toronto, Ontario. The distance of this journey was approximately 1030 kilometers. There were certainly efficient trains at the time that would have made for an easy enough journey, but that’s still a long way from home. A mother and her son, in a new city, in a new country, with just each other (and occasionally Dr. Morton Ryder—Teddy’s uncle) for company. It was a brave venture, but if it could save Teddy’s life, Mildred was ready to go.
This photo is from their time in Toronto. It was taken on August 28th, seven weeks after Teddy’s treatment started. I love this photo, because it shows the compassion and love that Mildred had for her son.
Of course, the point is that Mildred’s choice to take Teddy 1030 kilometers from home shows the crucial role that supports play in the lives of people with diabetes. If Mildred didn’t make this choice (let alone the choice to starve her son in hopes that a better treatment would come along in the near future), then Teddy wouldn’t have lived. As Anne Pritchard said in her interview, without Mildred, “I don’t think it would have happened.”
Not only did Mildred do these grand gestures of support and love, but she also supported Teddy at the ground-level. Teddy was six years old when he started receiving insulin treatment. The process of administering insulin was complex and difficult, so a six-year-old would certainly have some trouble on his own. Below is a telegram written from Mildred on her first night in Toronto. She writes about administering insulin (“doing the deed”) to Teddy herself:
Night letter Toronto, Ont. July 10, 1922.
E. A. Ryder,
Left hospital Sunday now located at 59 Grosvenor St. Toronto. Used extract tonight for first am doing deed myself. A deposit in Canadian Bank would be most convenient. Can you send draft for $150.00. Teddy about as usual.
8:50 AM MAL 7/11/22
Anne also addresses this meticulous and dedicated side of Mildred: “She deserves a real crown for what she did. You know those diaries? If you look, weighing every single morsel and cooking up all that very very bland stuff, and watching your son wither away and lose and lose and lose and you know that whole starvation diet situation, you know?” This example is from Teddy’s pre-insulin treatment, but it shows how Mildred, since before Toronto, was dedicated to supporting her son and his illness.
Mildred is but one example of supports (parents or otherwise) for people with diabetes. Now, of course, it’s very important to mention Teddy’s father Earl too—another major support in this story. As Anne tells us:
So, as much as I go on about Mildred (because her part in this story is just so interesting), we must acknowledge the supports at the back of the room—those who also do all they can, just a little quieter.
But that’s the main purpose of this post. If you know and are close to a person with diabetes, you may be their Mildred or Earl. I certainly know my mom and dad are. My mom actually reminds me a lot of Mildred—her determination to keep her kids safe. My dad also reminds me of Earl—a constant support, but a quieter one, always ready to do what is necessary. And now I have more supports—friends, my partner Jordyn (who always helps with my low sugars if I need it). So, to them—along with Mildred, Earl, and any other supports for anyone with diabetes out there—I say thank you.
Until next time,
P.S. I’ve linked this before, but if you want to hear the full Anne Pritchard interview or if you want to check out the online Teddy Ryder show, click the buttons below! And let me know if you have any “support” stories you’d like to share!