Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My (Diabetes) Camp Story

I was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 2, many many moons ago.

From the ages of 2 to 11 my dad gave me my injections. Only in the arm. The injection  had to be the arm so I could see what he was doing.  I remember injection time was also the time I would help him pick out the tie to wear to work.  I think my parents tried to make something negative into something positive.  But I digress, this is about camp.

I was 10 years old the first time I went to camp.  It was a day camp and I did not like it. At all.  Ok, I  liked some of it, but the way they handled (or didn't) a camper with diabetes made any of the good parts fade into the background. The staff didn't know much about diabetes and didn't seem to learn or ask questions which ended up with me singled me out a lot. Not because they were trying to make me feel bad, or different, but because they had no clue how to handle the situation.  I only attended one  summer.

I know I asked my parents about trying overnight camp which probably made their blood pressure go up a bit.  But they did their research and learned about Camp Nejeda. 

My first summer at Nejeda was in 1983. I arrived late because my dad was sick so he couldn't take me, and we had to find an alternate way to get to Camp.  If you've ever been to camp you know how important those first few hours are!  So, there I was - first time away from home, first time at Camp Nejeda, and late. I was very fortunate that Frani C. was my  counselor that summer.  She made everything ok.   I felt safe with her, and comfortable as well.  She called my gluten-free food "Phyllis Food" which took the stigma out of it.  I met so many wonderful people.  Another counselor who had a profound influence on me was Ted.  I have no idea how I got on his radar, but any time he saw me he'd shout my name really loud.  Not just a "hey Phyllis" but "Phyyyyyyyyllllllllliiiiiiiissssssssssssss"  Did I mention it was loud?  I was embarrassed the first dozen times he did it but then I started to like it,  and like the attention it brought.  I know now that he was doing it to draw me out of my shy little shell.  That summer I learned to give myself my own insulin injection. I was late to the party with that  but one day a wise nurse told me that she wasn't going to do it and I had to.  You may think that harsh but she somehow knew I could and would and didn't give me the option not to.  (Thanks Jean C!)  

Another magical part about attending diabetes camp is that since everyone else has diabetes too, the non-diabetics felt the odd man out.  

If you didn't feel well or had low or high blood sugar it was dealt with and 
life went on.  Not only did we do normal camp stuff like boating, archery arts and crafts, but also had diabetes and nutrition classes. 

Another strong memory I have is an overnight canoe trip on the Delaware River. We canoed all day, then camped out in tents. All was fine for dinner, then our bon-fire.  At some point in the middle of the night we woke up to hear Steve C. yelling.  Apparently skunks got into our food, which made Steve upset.  Of course he was, he was responsible for us, and our food, and you know diabetics and their need for food!  I don't quite remember all of the details.

Ah, the stories, the memories...

You should know that the magic of camp doesn't end when you stop going.  The friends and connections are your friends for life.   Thank goodness for social media and email - makes keeping in touch and getting help and support so much easier than sending a letter in the mail (though I do miss those days!)

As you can tell, Camp holds a very special place in my heart, and always will. You can probably imagine how much money it takes to run camp -- to provide enough nurses, and doctors to help ensure a safe, and fun camp experience; food to feed everyone; maintenance and so on.  

In closing, if you have a few extra dollars in your budget and would like to make a donation to Camp Nejeda for their 2016 fundraising campaign, I know many many people, including myself that would appreciate it: 

Note:  There were so many other people I met along the way that I could write a novel about, but I'll save that for another day.  Just know that even though I've only singled out a few, there were many counselors, nurses, doctors, campers that made a lasting impression.  

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