Tales of a Diabetic Intern; Chapter 11: I Finally Get It

Here we are. My last post as a summer intern at Banting House. I’ve always liked endings (and simultaneously hated them). I love the satisfying wrap up of time spent and lessons learned. So how do I end this blog series in a satisfying way? Do I write about Teddy, who’s been the focus of my entire internship (and quite a few of these posts)? Do I write about my experiences as a diabetic (since that’s what I wrote about first)? Do I reflect on what Banting House means as a historical site, place of remembrance, and place of support for those who live with diabetes today? Well, if there’s one thing I’m known for, it’s going big. So why don’t I do all three.

This blog post shares an emotionally intimate story from my time at Banting House. The story is about a tour I gave just three days ago (the Friday of my second last week here). This tour was so special. I will not give any specific names, but I imagine members of that tour will know who they are (if they read this post). To them, I say thank you for showing me what Banting House truly means to people—and what it truly means to me.

Ever since I started my internship, Grant has told me stories about tours who get so emotional in Banting’s bedroom. They tear up, they touch the bed frame, they bawl for a minute or two, because that room—and the meaning it represents—is so important to these people’s lives. I have guided some lovely tours during my internship, but no one ever reacted that way to the bedroom—not until Friday August 27th.

That Friday, there was a scheduled tour and I was asked to guide them through the museum. I was prepared for a normal tour, like all the others I had done. But this tour started off differently. I asked the family if anyone lived with diabetes, and one person—the teenager—held up their pump. I held up mine in response. It was a great first connecting moment.

I brought the family into the first few galleries, and even before the bedroom, this tour was fantastic. They read everything. They asked deep and interesting questions about the artifacts and Banting’s life. They were amazed by fun facts and provoked by the nuances of the insulin story. They really soaked in the information and were constantly engaged. I thought, “it couldn’t get better than this.” And then we entered Banting’s bedroom.

I explained to them the usual about the bedroom—the wallpaper, the bed frame, etc. And they paced through, being very respectful and quiet. I figured this room would mean a lot to this family, so I told them it was okay to take photos (just no flash). I think that made them feel more comfortable. The mother turned to me to say thank you and I could tell that her eyes were tearing up—that was the first time I saw this room evoke such emotion.

They seemed to be staying in this room longer than the others. I soon realized that I should give them some space, so I left that entrance way, walked down the hall a few meters to the doorway of the next gallery. That’s when I heard it. Not loudly, but there were soft sniffles and sobs coming from the bedroom. At first, I thought it was the mom and that alone warmed my heart (it made me think of my mom and how she’d react in this space). But I thought for a moment and realized that it was everyone. The parents, the grandparents, the teenager. Everyone was taking a moment to let the room wash over them.

Then, from those soft sobs, I heard the little brother (probably seven-years-old) pipe up and ask, “why are you guys crying?” The mom replied, “it’s okay, these are happy tears. Banting is our hero. He’s our hero.” Banting saved her son’s life. As Grant always tells me, there are no experiments in Toronto without this bedroom. There is no Teddy Ryder without this bedroom. There is no me, my brother, and this teenager without this bedroom. I always understood that in an abstract sense. But in that moment, listening to that family from afar, I finally got it. I finally, truly, understood the meaning of working at Banting House—because of this room, and the families who can come, stand inside, and give thanks for the discovery that saved and saves millions around the world.

I think it’s fitting this happened the day before my last week. If it happened earlier, I may not have recognized its significance as much. Regardless of what I have done during my internship—the exhibits, the blog posts, the collections management—this is why I came here. This tour is why I chose to do my internship at Banting House.

Several years ago, when I first learned about public history, I learned that Western’s program was going to do a partnership with Banting House for the 100th anniversary, during which the students would help design a travelling exhibit for the discovery of insulin. I remember thinking to myself, “even if I end up doing public history for just one year of my life, it seems so fitting that the project I work on is for the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin.” That partnership is why I chose Western’s program. But then the pandemic hit, and we couldn’t help with the 100th anniversary as much as we would have. So, this summer internship feels right and special. While I hope to continue with public history for years to come, even if this is my only year, I still got to work on the 100th anniversary—how cool. So, this tour from Friday is the serendipitous end to my internship. It’s the reason I chose Banting House, embodied in one, hour long, experience.

As I sign this blog series for the last time, I want to remind everyone of the importance of that room. As the diabetic intern, it’s a special place for me, but it’s also a special place for Teddy Ryder, that teenager, his family, and countless others who have visited in the past and who will visit in the future. The significance of place cannot be underestimated in public history. It truly changes lives.

Thinking of you, all those interested in the history of diabetes, and all those personally affected by diabetes,

Patrick (The Diabetic Intern)

P.S. It’s been a wonderful journey. Thanks for having me.

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