Erin and Ruby are sisters and dual carers - meaning they care for each other, and also their Mum who has type one diabetes. They have kindly shared their stories with us on what it's like caring for each other, the challenges, and how it brings them closer together.
Read Erin's story below. Click here to read Ruby's story.
Hi, my name is Erin, I’m sixteen, and I am a young carer for my sister Ruby - a chatty, rambunctious twelve-year-old, whom I love dearly, and who was also diagnosed with type one diabetes two-and-a-half years ago.
This means that for everything that Ruby eats or drinks, she has to inject herself with insulin (which us non-diabetics naturally produce) in order to maintain her blood sugars at a healthy level. This can be anything between seven and twelve times a day. She uses an insulin pump, and has a scanner in her arm which reads her blood sugars, which can then also be read on her phone.
My mum is also a type 1 diabetic, and so simply by osmosis I have always known a fair amount about the disease, including the effects of high and low blood sugars and how to treat them. Diabetes was just sort of a fact of life for me, I saw it as a thing that was simply dealt with as the norm, and my mum was always on top of it.
At first, when I heard that Ruby had diabetes, I was not perhaps as concerned as I might have been. After all, with a role-model as good as my mum, I trusted that Ruby would be able to manage herself well too. I did not think of diabetes as being so significant as to cause alarm. After Ruby’s diagnosis, I had more formal training about what to do in situations where Ruby would need emergency care. This did open my eyes a bit more to how serious the impacts of diabetes could be, and my awareness of my own responsibility grew.
Diabetes was still ‘normal’, to me, in a way, but its presence was now a lot more apparent in my life. Perhaps that was inevitable, as I grew older and more aware anyway, but Ruby’s diagnosis was the spark for me to start paying attention, I believe.
I have helped to look after Ruby since she got her diagnosis, and although she is also exceptionally good at looking after herself, she can’t be left on her own. So, when Mum and Dad go out, they leave me to look after her. Whilst I don’t always have to have eyes on Ruby, I do need to always have an awareness that she is okay. This means that Ruby has to frequently check her blood sugars and let me know what they are, and then I can make a judgement as to whether or not she needs to correct them with more insulin or carbohydrates to keep her in range over the next few hours.
Ruby needs particular care when her blood sugars are low (also known as being hypoglycaemic – ‘in hypo’) – this can happen at any time and she needs immediate treatment in the form of jelly babies or dextrose, which raise her blood sugars. This usually happens when me and Ruby are out on a very long walk, playing sport, or generally just being active.
I have to try and spot the signs that Ruby’s blood sugars are going low, and help her. On occasion, when she gets into hypo, I become the designated ‘carrier’ – piggybacks abound (once jelly babies have been administered) to get her back to the house, as when she is in hypo, she is not permitted to walk.
Frankly, caring for my sister is something which I am often hardly aware of. It’s just the norm. I suppose it comes from the natural act which is looking out for one’s little sister anyway. Ruby, being her incredible self, is extremely self-reliant, and so my role usually consists of simply reminding her every now and again to check her blood sugars and remarking on the beeps that her insulin pump makes, asking if she’s okay, and the aforementioned piggybacks.
While I do have a sense of added responsibility as I know that I need to able to deal with treating her if she were to potentially fall unconscious due to her blood sugars, I feel able to handle this.