This Tiny Little Device Keeps Me Flying

Another day still doing what I love; summertime Decathlon flying!

I have a Love/Hate relationship with my newest “instrument”.

I’ve recently experienced a monumental change in my life. The change is an “instrument” I keep close to my heart and, more specifically, my belly 24/7. The purchase of this extremely expensive instrument has been in the works for 8 months, long anticipated but slow to accomplish thanks to government involvement, insurance, and Covid-19 delays. Throughout the many delays we all hung in there; insurance reps, government coders, and me, all with our eye on the ball – just get it done.  In the end, the others may not have really cared but I surely did!


The picture to the left is the remarkable, tiny computer that keeps me alive. It’s my new Tandem insulin pump, the latest and greatest cutting edge device in the world of diabetes. Were it not for this pump, or any number of others available today, I’d still be poking my fingers 10+ times a day to check my blood sugar and injecting myself 10+ times a day with insulin shots. Bye-bye to all those sticks!!

As a Type 1 diabetic, my pancreas no longer functions. 35 Years ago my pancreas stopped creating insulin and within days, I was diagnosed a Type One diabetic, totally dependent on injected insulin. It was scary. It was a critical life-change. I was suddenly dependent on others to stay alive.

Judy Birchler and her C140, pre diabetes

As a private pilot and aircraft owner, my ability to continue to fly as pilot in command ended at that moment. It was not possible for a Type One diabetic to fly as PPL of any aircraft. MY FLYING ENDED – overnight!

Happily, after 22 plus years, the FAA came around and allowed Diabetics, in good heath, to receive Third Class Medical Certificates. Yippee for me. I again qualified for a 3rd Class Medical!

Since then, as a diabetic, I’ve been on a mission to continually upgrade my options. I’ve recently reached a new milestone. At just 5 oz. and a mere 2″ x 3″ inches in size, I monitor my new pump (or rather it monitors me) 24 hours a day. My new pump is a Tandem with Control-IQ Technology.  It works in concert with a blood sugar monitor, the Dexcom, to read my blood sugar levels then calibrate my insulin requirements every few minutes, day and night. Through a Bluetooth connection, they work in unison calculating my insulin needs and making “pancreas like” insulin adjustments. Necessary adjustments are automatic, others require my review and acknowledgement/approval.

I’ve had a heck of a couple weeks learning the new protocol and understanding the volumes of information forwarded me. After all these years of diabetes, this pump seems a near miracle. It’s far from a working pancreas but ions beyond any pump to date. My love/hate relationship, my biggest challenge, has been injecting the infusion device correctly. I’ve attempted it 10 times, and 3 times I’ve blown it, bending the needle so insulin is blocked from reaching me.  Problem is, I don’t know it’s wrong until my blood sugar starts climbing high. When I get it right, life is good. When I don’t, my blood sugar climbs to uncomfortably high levels, I get sick and realize it’s time to replace the infusion set.


Throughout the ups and downs, I’m getting comfortable with the new pump.  I’m “in range” far more than out and tweaking it in the right direction daily. When my blood sugar has been acceptable, I’ve flown my Decathlon. The insulin pump sends me alerts when my blood sugar strays and two apps on my phone alert me as well. What an amazing new world I’m part of!

My Decathlon panel with my Tandem Insulin Pump front and center. I can place it in my pocket or front an center on my panel for quick reference.


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