Flying with a pump and no wings – by Helen May

On day one of my Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, I was told diabetes should not stop me doing what I want. I have tried to live my life with that in mind. I have walked up to 40,000 feet in the Nepalese Himalayas, sailed across the Channel, canoed down the River Wye, rock climbed in the Italian Dolomites, skydived over Northamptonshire , tracked gorillas in Uganda, … but it has been some time since I tried out something new.

Being a new year, I decided it was time to try out a new activity and looked to the local circus school for inspiration. In my job I spend my time days juggling one thing after another coming across a plethora of clowns on the way. I needed something different to try. After reading their web pages, I found my inspiration: a chance to fly through the air without wings; a chance to have a go on a flying trapeze.

I remember, as a child, playing on the climbing frame: swinging on the bars and spinning round and round head first (and backwards) around the bar. But I hadn’t done this for many years, and never very high or on a moving bar. I was going to do something I had never done before.

When I turned up at the circus school in a beautiful church with a high ceiling and huge trapeze rig, I was excited but nervous. Along with my apprehension of jumping off a high platform and whether I would be able to lift my legs on to the bar before letting go and swinging upside down, I was worried about what to do with my insulin pump: should I take it off … and risk my blood glucose going too high or should I keep it on? If I kept in on, where would I put it? I didn’t want the pump tube to get caught in the ropes in my harness and I didn’t want the discomfort of the pump underneath the harness waistband.

Eventually, I decided to put my pump in a pump belt around my waist, under my top and below the harness band. It was out of the way of the harness but protected … at least I hoped it was.

After a warm up, I gingerly climbed the ladder to the platform, I went up and up and up to the height of a two-storey building and held on very, very tight as I looked out towards a stunning stained glass window (one of the benefits of being in a church) trying my best not to look the long, long, long way down.

I held the swinging bar with my right hand and the stable upright with my left hand. On the first signal, I bent my legs. On the second signal, I straightened my legs but didn’t jump. I tried again … and again. OK, I was being a coward but what sane person wants to jump into the unknown at the height of a two-storey house? That sane person was me: on the third attempt, I grabbed the bar with both hands, jumped and swung and it was brilliant swinging backwards and forwards until I let go and landed in the net below unhurt and euphoric.

Next time, I got my legs on the bar and by the forth jump, my legs were on the bar, my hands were off the bar, then back on and after another swing, I dismounted with a backflip. During all this time, I had forgotten I had an insulin pump … or even that I had diabetes. I was having so much fun. I was quite proud of myself being able to overcome my fear to jump and having enough core strength to get my legs up to the bar.

As I landed on the net below, I suddenly remembered my diabetes. Or should I say, my pump reminded me about my diabetes. As I landed, my pump came untucked from the belt and was flying at the end of its tube. It was fine; I was fine; my blood glucose was fine. Sure it’s not the best way to treat an insulin pump but, yet again, I had proven diabetes would not stopped me doing what I wanted to do. And, if I get another chance, I’d be doing it again … although I’ll try to tuck my pump in a bit tighter. Show me the way to a church with a trapeze rig inside. I’m game.

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