Camp Recap

One week: three lice treatments, one visit from law enforcement, one scabies case, one case of cussing directed at me. It was an emotionally intense week for many of the young men, and exhausting for the rest of us. Two things helped me get through the week. One, when the CEO came to visit, she sat down and listened to me yak for an hour about how I saw the camp, and how I think it could be improved. I've never had someone in power actually sit down and ask for my opinion on how the place should be run, and it felt fantastic. If only I could get that kind of undivided attention from the school district. Second, the boys were at me nonstop all week long, making excuses to see the nurse for splinters I couldn't see, floss, bandages for injuries that weren't bleeding, etc. It was enough to make me start going crazy, and one morning I told my boss I needed to shut down the health center for a few hours while the boys listened to a guest speaker. He was in full support, and two and a half hours later, I returned dirty, scratched up, sweaty, and with aching calves, rejuvenated enough to finish out the week without going crazy. 

I have two weeks before returning to the school district. Time for some dog and beach time - see you in two weeks for round three in the school system!


A few bad apples

The vast majority of young men at camp appear to truly want to turn their lives around. The bad apples, though, put a blemish on an otherwise successful week. There were the guys that started the fight that turned into a small melee requiring law enforcement attention early in the week. Then there were the guys that on the last full day of camp decided to steal some items while the rest of us were at lunch. After a long search, confessions were made, and the guilty parties went home early. One of them was a camper who had made an especially positive impression me: always kind, yes ma'am or no ma'am answers to me, engaging me in conversation, etc. I was sad to hear he left on the bus of thieves that went home, but it was as I said to my boss: these guys, individually, are polite gentlemen. It's when they get together that the trouble starts. :( 

That said, the rest of the guys really did their best. I just about fell off my chair when I woke a camper sleeping off his nausea in the health center and he asked if he could get me coffee or tea in thanks for letting him rest. 


Crossing the Line

On Monday night, almost all of the campers participated in an activity called "Crossing the Line." I suggest reading about it here, but I'll try to summarize it. Basically, everyone stands on one side of the room while someone reads out statements such as, "Cross the line if you are male." If you're male, you walk to the other side of the room. The statements become progressively more personal, for example, "Cross the line if you've ever been lonely."

Surprisingly, the guys got really into it and almost every one of them took it seriously. I missed some of it, but I was able to re-join it for the debrief session afterward. The guys were able to talk about why they crossed the line for some reasons, and some of the explanations they gave were disturbing. A sampling of what I learned about some of the young men here:

  • One has a 7 year old sister in therapy after trying to commit suicide, and he thinks it's his fault
  • One had a best friend take a bullet aimed for him 
  • One was supposed to go to somewhere with three of his friends but didn't; the three were killed in a drive-by and a fourth bullet was shot in the air, presumably for him
  • One was raped by a woman at age 7 and a man at age 10
There wasn't a dry eye in the house by the time the activity finished, and it was really impressive the way some of these guys opened up to a room full of 100+ people, mostly strangers. As one young black man summed it up after saying he felt closer to everyone in the room, "Tonight was hella dope, I feel like I can go eat breakfast with my Hispanic brothers now!" 



I'm going to bed having still not converted my notes from last night into something sensical, and it's because I didn't exactly have time for it today. This morning I went to breakfast feeling under the weather, and told my boss I was going back to bed after breakfast. Long story short, I was in bed for about a half hour, and then out of it for the rest of the day due to a couple of major incidents. One: a brawl involving at least 40 or so of the young men requiring the police. Two: scabies. Yes, scabies.

We're all in one piece still, at least.


Overheard at the pool:

"Look at us playing water polo, a bunch of us fucking kids from the hood!"

I was cheerleading an exciting game of water polo for guys that have rarely been able to even swim in their lives. In fact, a young man about 19 or 20, did not know how to swim and was getting lessons from a fellow camper. There's a heck of a lot of colorful language being thrown around these parts, but frankly, I feel right at home. These are the grown up versions of the kids at my elementary and middle schools, and they're so inclusive and welcoming I feel like an insider, despite being the whitest, blondest thing in these parts. Though there continue to be issues with them in groups (think gang references, fights brewing), and they've only been here 24 hours, I am certain this week will have a great impact for some of them.

I combed out a camper's hair to check for any remaining nits, and while making conversation with him, I asked if he'd gone on the night hike with his brother. "No," he replied, "I did some freestyle rap with some of the other guys." As though that's a totally normal thing to do, and for me to hear.

Tonight's activity was "Crossing the Line." If you don't know what it is, I'll explain it a bit next time. For now, I'm going to bed, digesting the night's activity. Hint: it reduced most of a room of over 100 young men to tears. Incredibly moving.

One more week

I have one more week of camp, which, after last week's insanity, is probably a good thing: the pace here, at least that of last week, is not sustainable.

This week is very different: it's a select group of disadvantaged urban youth and young men, ages 15-23. They're here to do leadership type camp activities and experience life out of camp. It's off to an anticipated interesting start: three brothers arrived after a 9 hour bus ride with active lice. Taking care of that nightmare - we couldn't exactly just send them home - took most of the evening and some of this morning. (With the aide of hair clippers, it went much faster than it may have otherwise, and the boys got a free haircut!)

I stopped by my boss's office at 10 p.m. last night to update him on the status of the lice-carriers, and he gave me a short talk about staying safe this week. "Just a head's up, we have a fair amount of gang symbols and such brewing already. Be aware of yourself in large groups, lock yourself in your cabin when you're in there, and call me at any hour of the day or night if you feel even remotely unsafe." Gulp. (In case you're new here, I'm 27 years old - barely older than some of the campers here - and not exactly from an urban background.) I told him some guys had already tried to barge in the health center under the guise of getting directions for a night hike, and had I not been with company already, I may have been a bit uncomfortable with that encounter. The same guys that wanted directions found my bedroom window and were making cat calls to me as I was trying to help some other guests here. That said, the other guys I have had contact with have been nothing but totally polite ("ma'am this and that, please and thank you) gentlemen. It's a good group overall, and so far it's been totally enjoyable to watch the guys learn about being outside. I'm just crossing my fingers there won't be too many fights to patch up.


Dear Parent,

Please do not take it out on the nurse when your child develops a 102.6 degree fever. I'm just the messenger.


Camp Nurse

P.S. When, after you finally agreed to come get your daughter and I asked if I could give her some Tylenol, I was not asking if I should give her the fever-reducing medication. I was simply confirming your permission to give it, knowing you would be arriving shortly anyway. Please do not insult my intelligence by complaining to my supervisor that the nurse doesn't know what to do in case of a fever.

Text of the day:

"Ive got a little man from day camp coming to u. He did not make it to the bathroom... he will need new pants."

And such is life for the camp nurse...


Oh, the drama.

Happenings in the past couple of days: 
1) A staff member working in the kitchen asking me if he had pink eye. I used my trusty reference I brought with me, Telephone Triage Protocols for Nurses, and questioned him on his symptoms. His answers were so useless that if it weren't for the fact that it were only one eye that was red, I'd have been sure he was stoned. Based on the answers he gave me, and the fact that his eye had been like that when I met him two weeks ago (at which point he said it was due to allergies), I said it probably wasn't pink eye. Fast forward to that afternoon: he'd been to the doctor, who had confirmed a case of pink eye. Everything at camp is ten times more dramatic than it needs to be, and if I hadn't heard the screams myself, I wouldn't have believed the chaos that ensued: "We're all going to get pink eye! I can't believe the nurse told him he could work in the kitchen!" Yeah, that was in front of me. No one listened to my rebuttal, my explanation of why I'd said he probably didn't (his idiotic answers), nor the fact that it is spread by direct contact and as a kitchen staff member, shouldn't be touching anything but the food when he's in the kitchen. And yes, in hindsight, I should have told him to err on the side of caution and take the day off, but still. In any case, it's been over two days and no one has another case of pink eye. So there. 

2) Bloody noses, bumped heads, scraped knees, tears over lost hiking sticks, and more. I haven't had a good rest in days, because every time I try for that, someone needs the nurse. And yet, the comments continue to come in that the nurse doesn't do anything. Still no one listens to my rebuttal, that they could have gone to nursing school and had my job if they wanted, or that I earn my day-time book reading by having to be available 24/7. 

3) Finally getting over the lice cases I sent home at check-in. Both kids made it back to camp with clean hair less than 48 hours later. In the meantime, I was subjected to complaints of itchy heads and claims that lice can jump 7 feet - does the nurse have lice now? Does the entire camp need to be disinfected? Again, no one listens to the nurse's assurances that lice is harder to get than most people think, and that they in fact cannot jump 7 feet. Trust me people, I've done more research on this than I care to admit. 

4) I found an adorable baby snake, above, that I might have kept a little longer had I not been so hungry for dinner. And, speaking of camp food, the menu here is apparently one week long. I'm on week three, and over all of it. Thank goodness for bringing my hot sauce, which has at least livened it up a bit, and for a roommate that's part chef and sent me here this week with a few extra dinners. 


Counselors are as much work as the kids

I had the following conversation with a girl I'll call Airhead Counselor (AC):
AC: So, I'm, like, breaking out in hives. Can I get some medicine for it?
Me: Sure. How long have you had the hives?
AC: Um...Like, two years?
Me: Okay...Have you seen a doctor at all? I can give you some allergy medicine, but it's probably not going to go away overnight.
AC: Well, yeah, but they didn't tell me anything. What can you give me?
Me: [Explains Benadryl and it's possible side effects, and Zyrtec.]
AC: So, Benadryl is stronger, right?
Me: Where did you get that idea?
AC: Well you said it might make me fall asleep. And it's 25 mg, and Zyrtec is 10.
Me: Okay, they're two different antihistamines. You can't compare the milligrams, because it's two different compounds.
AC: But Benadryl is stronger, because it's 25 mg, so can I have that one?
Me: No. If you've never taken it, I don't want to give it to you now and in the middle of the day, because you're working and you might get pretty drowsy. I'll give you the Zyrtec.
AC: Can you give me more than one?
Me: No. I'll give you one, they're 24 hour pills.
AC: When can I come back for another?
Me: How about in 24 hours?




My assistant/lice-checker was out unexpectedly today, so I had to fill in during check-in. Not to fear, I thought; I'd been told by everyone around me that since this camp began 3-4 years ago, lice has never been found at check-in. So, leave it to the Lice Nazi, myself, to find the first case. I hate sending kids home from school with lice, but it's even worse when they're on summer vacation and staring at you with puppy dog eyes as you tell them they need to take their overstuffed suitcase, sleeping bag, and pillow, and go home. It was an unpleasant experience, and the parent was about as unhappy and indignant as you would expect, but I got back to business as the line had increased to a mob during this ground-breaking lice find. 

I was about to check another kid, and when he asked what for, I told him "bugs." It's easier than explaining what lice is when you don't have the time to do that. His dad started teasing him about bugs and monsters in his hair, and as he sat down, I could see from a distance that he was covered in nits. I told the dad that his child did in fact have lice, and the dad, thinking I'm going in on his joke with his kid said, "See, even the nurse says you have bugs in your hair!" It's one thing to send a child home with it, but it's just pouring salt into the wounds when they make a joke about it first, and then you have to explain that no, it is not in fact a joke. He was as irate as ever (with reason: the child had just had a haircut yesterday, and they're supposed to do lice checks before a haircut), the kid as sad as ever, and home they went. 

To clarify, the total number of children who have ever been turned away from camp for lice in the past 3 or 4 seasons: zero. Today: two, out of an intended 37 campers this week. Not awesome. 



Extreme parents, helicopter parents, same thing.

There was a parent last week that called twice a day: once in the morning, once in the evening, to check on her perfectly healthy, active 10-year old. Worse, she sent him pictures of herself and her sister, and if there's a faux pas at a children's summer camp, it's parents sending pictures of themselves. The poor kid got a lot of ribbing for that piece of mail. It's only five nights, people! Take a vacation from being a parent, and let your kid take some time off from your worrying.


Overheard at camp:

"So, why do you like the 4th of July?"
"Because this is the day we declared our independence from Great Britain, and if we hadn't done that we wouldn't be free and we'd be paying really high taxes!"

A camp instructor: "Yep, all of us instructors have degrees from college."
Camper, looking at me: "Even you?!"
Me: "Yes, even the nurse has a college degree..."


The excitement of the day:

When I sat down to lunch and heard over the radio, "Did anyone call 9-1-1?" A fire truck and ambulance had pulled into camp, flashing lights and sirens on; after several minutes of confusion, we realized that none of us had called them. Yes, that's right: they had the wrong camp. We're 1.1 miles from the main road, and several miles away from another too similarly named camp. I felt bad for the person who called 9-1-1, because the detour to our camp was a solid five-minute delay at the latest. 


Check In

I take in medication while the director and another do a lice check. They always start by asking the kids questions like, "How are you feeling? Are you healthy?" An especially honest girl told us that her mom wears a headband to cover her thinning hair, and, about herself and how she's feeling: "I'm thick. I mean, some girls are skinny and everything, but I have some more meat on me." We all stared at her in awkward silence (really, I've seen children a lot larger than she!) before we started blubbering about how she's healthy. Kids are awkward. 

I asked another kid if he had medication with him. "Nope," he replied, "Just an EpiPen and an inhaler." When I asked what he's allergic to, he said, "I don't know, ask my mom."

And about that same EpiPen, I had the following conversation with the kid's mom:
"What's he allergic to?"
"Okay...What was the EpiPen prescribed for?"
"I don't know, the doctor just wanted him to have it."
"So he doesn't have any severe allergies that you know of?"
"Well, he's allergic to basically everything, dogs, nuts, you name it."
"Okay...What kind of reaction does he have when exposed to dogs, nuts, etc.?"

And so on the conversation went. Parents, if your child has an EpiPen, PLEASE educate them on when/how to use it. 

Another family told me they packed two inhalers, so I asked them to pull one out for me to keep in the health center and another for the kid to carry around. They pulled out an Advair inhaler and an albuterol inhaler, and when I asked for one, they handed me the albuterol, saying he uses Advair "when he needs it." Again, please educate yourself and your child when it comes to medicine, particularly emergency medicine. 

And, something super sad: A girl was visibly distressed after check in, and the director said she's been coming for four years and he knows her well, so it certainly wasn't early homesickness setting in. No...Turned out she made some friends last year and they had all told her they were all coming back to camp this week. Apparently, in a cruel joke they played on her, they all came last week, leaving her to be stranded with a bunch of newbies this week. Girls can be evil. 

This week I'm down from 91 to 28 campers, no special needs, and medication is only distributed to a total of four kids after breakfast and after dinner.