A hero you can count (carbs) on


Who is every kid’s favourite hero? …well, every kid with type 1 diabetes diagnosed circa 1992… You guessed it, CAPTAIN NOVOLIN!

When I was ten years old, I attended a weekend diabetes camp hosted by my local pediatric diabetes clinic.  I don’t have many clear memories of the experience but I do know it involved swimming in the lake, eating hamburgers, enjoying campfires and me rebelling against the annoyingly chipper sounding, “Bare Belly Breakfast.”  No way was anybody getting me to stick a needle in my belly!  Oh, how attitudes change.

One clear memory involves sitting in the dining hall with the other campers, writing about our favourite camp experience.  While the other campers probably provided one sentence of praise about the friends they met or the amount of Crystal Light they consumed, I took the assignment as my cue to write an epic story – an over- exaggerated ode to my first diabetes camp experience.

While the story itself is mostly forgotten, I do remember some highlights including a dramatized description of our dungeon-like cabins full of cobwebs, spiders, dust and dirt and a subtle reference to the fact that one of the staff nurses was rather witchlike.

After handing in my story, I promptly forgot about it.

A few weeks passed.

And then, at my next endocrinologist appointment, I was told that I had won the creative writing contest at camp (who knew there was such a thing?) and my prize was a copy of the Super Nintendo game Captain Novolin!  Needless to say, I was both surprised and amused.  Not only had I alluded to one of my nurses being a witch, I had won myself a hilariously awesome diabetes education Nintendo game in the process!

So my question is, does anybody else remember Captain Novolin?  Truth be told, I still play sometimes.  Despite the fact that it has been hailed as an embarrassing failure of the SNES age, I think it’s downright fun.  Released in 1992, the game was made possible by Novo Nordisk and the instruction manual describes the game as such:

“You must help Captain Novolin make it through waves of sugary junk food aliens and defeat the alien commander, Blubberman.  You must also help Captain Novolin manage his diabetes by checking his blood glucose, taking insulin and following his meal plan.”

Easier said than done…

The junk food aliens kidnap Mayor Gooden (who also has type 1 diabetes) and Captain Novolin must save him before his 48 hours worth of diabetes supplies run out!  As Captain Novolin, you attack enemies like ‘Fizzy Floyd’ (crush the can of sickly-sweet soda if you can), ‘Larry Licorice’ (this licorice monster is best avoided by ducking) and ‘Cereal Killer’ (this box of sugary cereal could give the Captain a stomach-ache), while consuming healthy food choices in accordance with Captain Novolin’s food plan – on the old exchange system.  Throughout the game, you check Captain Novolin’s blood sugar – using Chemstrips and a colour comparison chart – and take insulin as required – two times a day.

Now, the fact that Captain Novolin keels over and dies if he runs into too many junk food aliens isn’t a particularly realistic image of life with diabetes.  However, it is important to remember that this game was released in a different era of diabetes management – the age of NPH and Regular insulin, the food exchange system and reagent strips for blood glucose testing.

When I stop and consider that this game was released within the last twenty years, it really makes me appreciate all the advances that have been made in diabetes technology (let alone in gaming systems technology).  I remember the days of mixing cloudy and clear insulin in orange-capped syringes, waiting a full minute for my blood glucose meter to display a result and choosing my meals via the exchange system.  Fast forward not even two decades and look how far we’ve come!  Smart insulin pumping, five second glucose monitors, carbohydrate counting, continuous blood glucose monitoring, exciting stem cell research, an amazing online diabetes community…and the list goes on.

I can only hope that Captain Novolin will be reinvented for Wii gameplay – an insulin pumping, alien-crushing hero for the modern generation.  And instead of keeling over after too many encounters with junk food aliens, he simply does some quick carb counting and takes an extra bolus of insulin.  That’s my kind of hero!

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4 Responses to A hero you can count (carbs) on

  1. Albert says:

    Yes you always were a story teller, just like your aunt Nancy. I remember one of your stories where you were late for school and when you got there it was gone. Then you remembered that that was the day of the school trip.

  2. Laura Brandes says:

    So the school building literally went on a trip…without me. I remember well.

  3. Alex says:

    Aaaaaahahahaha… I remember Captain Novolin QUITE well. I can’t say that I ever won my very own copy through a contest or anything like that but I do remember playing it while waiting to see Dr. Shaban since that was the most ‘grown up’ of all of the things to play with in the pediatric metabolic unit on the fifth floor of Hotel Dieu… haha.

    Man, that game was aweful. That would be really funny if there was a wii version of it and you had to use the controller almost like an insulin pen or something… dialing it up and injecting it. Or else maybe its an old vial of NPH and you have to roll it before mixing it with your Humulin R or something… frig, we have come a long way.

    This, hands down, is my favourite post of yours so far. Kicking it old-school, diabetes-style…


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