In February 2020, just before Covid-19 hit, Ruth’s five-year-old daughter, Robyn, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Ruth had noticed that her daughter was very thirsty and was going to the toilet a lot. However, the reason she booked an appointment with a GP was because one day, she picked Robyn up and realised she was lighter than expected, which “set off alarm bells”.
When she looked up the symptoms on the internet, diabetes was repeatedly suggested, but she admits she did not want to believe that’s what it could be. She checked with her daughter’s playschool and childminder and they all said that Robyn was in great form, running around and playing. But Ruth still felt something was wrong.
She told some co-workers her suspicions, but they thought she was being “a bit dramatic”. She went ahead and brought Robyn to the GP. A urine test confirmed diabetes and Ruth was told to bring Robyn straight to Tallaght University Hospital, where she remained for the next week.
“At the time, it felt life-shattering, but the team in Tallaght was fantastic. They took such good care of us. And Robyn was entirely herself throughout, she just rolled with it. One day, we were allowed out of the hospital for a while, so we visited my parents. They found it difficult to understand because she was running around and looked so healthy,” Ruth recalls.
On the day Robyn was scheduled to leave the hospital, she experienced a hypo, so she was kept in for one more day.
“The hypo was so scary. It reminded me of when we brought her home from the hospital for the first time as a newborn. You wonder ‘how can I protect her?’ But the team at Tallaght made it very clear that they would always be at the end of the phone,” Ruth notes.
Ruth and her husband, Simon, found finger pricking and injecting Robyn stressful initially and Ruth warns the parents of newly diagnosed children to be careful if using the internet for information.
“You have to be really careful and not go online too much during that time, particularly the American websites. They scared me so much. I’d find myself completely overwhelmed by what those sites were saying. They sent me to such a place of anxiety and made the whole thing seem unmanageable,” she says.
Ruth acknowledges that Robyn’s diagnosis coming at the time that it did, just as the Covid pandemic was starting, has led to a “very disjointed, strange year”.
“We really wanted to teach Robyn how to live with her diabetes and show her how to do all the things that she wants to do, but we haven’t been able to do much because of the Covid restrictions. And we have great family and friends, but they haven’t really seen much yet. They haven’t seen the rollercoaster diabetes can be,” she explains.
Ruth and Simon have also had to figure out how to ensure that Robyn’s eight-year-old brother, Oisín, does not feel left out either. She notes that it is a “big balancing act”.
However, despite the rollercoaster year the family has experienced, Robyn is doing very well.
“Robyn has been a rock star throughout. Of course, she has bad days, but she has never been scared of the condition. Maybe that’s because she was never really sick with her diabetes. If she had developed DKA, things might be different,” she notes.
Robyn now uses a pump, which has given her “better control”. However, Ruth says she is glad she learned how to deal with diabetes without technology first.
“The technology is amazing, but I’m glad I don’t have to panic if, for example, the sensor doesn’t work. I know we can take care of Robyn either way,” she points out.
Ruth encourages anyone who thinks there may be something wrong with their child to check with their GP.
“At the moment, people are even more hesitant to make contact with their doctors because of Covid, but you know your child. My GP said to me, ‘if you come in with something and it turns out to be nothing, that is a good result for the GP’. Trust your gut, especially during Covid,” she adds.