A Day at Camp

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A day in the life of a diabetic camp counselor

by datagirl7@oocities.com

Email: me

One summer in college I worked at a camp for diabetic children. If you think that working as a camp counselor in any camp is bad, you should try it when it involves needles, food control and blood. This is what an average day was like.

Many thanks to Claire (from Manchester, England), who wrote a letter to a friend from which this is adapted.

7 A.M. -- Wake up

Time to wake up the campers with a smiling face, (well at least as much of a smile as can be mustered at this time of day) and get them to spec - that is, test their blood sugar. This truly delightful activity consists of the kids pricking their fingers with an implement the size of a fountain pen that packs the punch of a pneumatic drill and is only slightly less painful than getting your finger slammed in a car door. I know, I tried it; each of the non-diabetics counselors (all 4 of us) tried it once just so that weíd know what it was like). Of course, the campers just love this activity; if you are going to get up at 7 on vacation, it might as well be as painful as possible.

Anyway, drops of blood are hopefully put properly onto a stick which is them wiped in response to a small omnipresent beeping machine that times the whole procedure for you. You then put the strip into the machine and it tells you the blood sugar level. And of course, if you donít keep up with the timer or donít get enough blood on the strip, you have to start all over again on a new finger. Most of these kids will be speccing three times a day for the rest of their lives.

After this, nurses come and pass out the filled insulin syringes. Then we go through the exercise of them receiving their morning shot. This is a pain in two cases:

1. the chosen "site of the day" is the butt or stomach (the injection sites have to be rotated between these and arms and legs). Children just seem to have an aversion to getting shots in either of those two places. In this case one must sit with the camper and try to convince them that they really have to take the shot there (all the while listening to them cry for their mommies).

2. the child has never given themselves and injection before and is not very willing to start trying now. Some of the littler kids (we get kids as young as 5) even believe that if a needle pokes a hole in them all their blood will go out. Itís hard to convince them that that will not happen even though theyíve been getting injections 3 times a day for quite a while.

Then we help the little campers find their clothes and get dressed. Without our help they would wear the same thing every day for the whole week, wear their pajamas all day, or wear nothing at all. The reason for this is that they live out of their suitcases, which we try to keep closed to keep the animals and other kids out (the doors to the cabins are nearly never closed). We, the counselors, are privileged; we live out of pails, bags, and crates. Campers and counselors alike frequently find spiders and mice in their clothes. Once there was even a deer and a woodchuck in the cabins (although not at the same time). Luckily, both occurred while the campers were out, otherwise we would have had 8 hysterical, screaming 5 year olds on our hands.

8 A.M. -- Breakfast

Breakfast is always an interesting time. The older kids always want to eat more than is on their meal cards (small sheets of paper that list exactly what one may eat at any give meal right down to calories and grams of carbohydrates, fat and protein.) Consequently, one has to be alert to every sneaking hand or overactive mouth. However, with the younger kids the task is to get them to eat everything that is put on their plate. They never like anything, except peanut butter. Who could blame them, the food we get here is about as appetizing as I imagine 3 day-old dog food is. For example, yesterday we had cold, runny, greenish eggs and ham that started clogging my arteries the second I looked at it. Today, we had bread that was inaccurately called toast (it was hard to believe it had even been warmed let alone put in a toaster), runny jelly and orange juice that tasted like dishwater. Not eating all of one's assigned food is a potentially disastrous situation for these diabetic kids; if they donít eat enough they may have seizures later in the day, necessitating the use of intravenous injections (which arenít much fun for the counselors or the campers).

At least the young kids are not naturally predisposed to food fights like the older ones; they only join in the fun provoked by the stupidity of the counselors who think that the kids won't automatically copy them as they put the runny green eggs down their fellow counselors back.

Once a week, everyone wears p.j.ís to breakfast. Because the walk to the cafeteria is across a long bug-infested, dew-covered, infrequently mowed field, I wear duck boots with my p.j.ís to the cafeteria -- quite a fashion statement. I bring my teddy bear slippers and Mushface (my teddybear) to complete my ensemble. One counselor managed to find a pair of those footed Dr. Dentonís that fit him (with the little plastic feet that make walking on anything seem like walking on a freshly waxed floor). The kids love it.

9 A.M. -- Flag Raising

This activity is about as awe inspiring as watching an ant crawl across your foot; which is what we would choose given the option. Every non-pouring day, we go outside to perform this joyous activity. A different cabin gets assigned to the duty each day, but itís hard to split the work among 12 people (8 campers, 2 senior counselors and 2 junior counselors). Usually no one has a clue as to what they supposed to be doing and when they should be doing it. This leads to funny situations, such as: farting and burping contests during the recorded trumpet music, laughing fits during the pledge or loud discussions during the "silent" raising. Thankfully only 15 minutes is allotted to this particular activity.

9:15 A.M. -- First Activity Period

First activity period and I am now trapped in arts and crafts, also known as farts and craps, for nearly an hour. Oh well. Anyway, this wouldn't be too bad except that usually there are 20+ kids and only two counselors. A&C seems to be the catch-all for those who don't want to play "one and twenty" (an incredibly imbecilic counting and running game) until they die. The number of kids has disastrous effects, since we use x-acto knives, permanent paints and super-glue a lot with the older kids. Said x-acto knives have the strange tendency to disappear into the pockets of the 12 and 13 year-olds and never reappear. Later in the week, the kids wonder why we don't have enough to go around. Scissors are also popular with the young kleptomaniacs -- why, I'm not quite sure -- they are the kindergarten safety scissors that don't cut anything, in fact, we only use them to scrape things as it is. I, however, will not ever try to understand the actions of the 13-year olds; they are ruled by their hormones and peer-pressure.

10 A.M. -- Morning Snack

Oh, joy. Yup, food time again. They feed us, oh, about every three hours here. Usually snack is something as inspirational as 4 crackers (8 if you are lucky and your meal card says so), an apple and a pint of skim milk. After you eat everything, you spend the remaining 28 minutes playing with bugs, learning yo-yo tricks, keeping campers from "braiding" your hair, and playing duck-duck-goose. Whatever it takes to keep the campers busy and together until second activity period starts.

10:30 A.M. -- Second Activity Period

I'm in farts and craps again, during which I do t-shirt design. T- shirt making is very popular despite the fact that by the last session we only have 10 pencils and 5 scissors to go around because of the kleptomania rampant at the camp. However there is an unlimited supply of t-shirts, all of which have a diabetes product supplier logo on them. Today, the campers have to cut cardboard into stencils with the few remaining x-acto knives. This is a stressful time, because the dangers of x-acto knives in the hand of these teenagers include cutting themselves and/or cutting someone else. Little did I know that arts and crafts was a contact sport. We could always tie up the kids with the lanyards, gag them with the t-shirts, and plaster them to the floor... but somehow I just don't think that the management would appreciate that.

11:30 A.M. -- Cabin Time

This is when the younger kids go screaming around without care for life or limb and the counselors vainly run around trying to pick up all the pieces. And in which the older kids run around after each other, hormones hopelessly out of control, changing partners more often than I change my clothes.

12:15 P.M. -- Specs

Specs again but this time everyone is more awake thanks to the unlimited supply of coffee in the cafeteria. (Camp Song -- the coffee that they give us, they say is mighty fine. It's good for cuts and bruises and tastes like iodine...)

12:30 P.M. -- Lunch

Lunch, during which you get hard, crunchy french fries and soggy undercooked ones (rather like eating a raw potato) in the same serving. Itís a mystery. Today, we were also served reconstituted cardboard in the guise of meatloaf with tasteless iced tea and noodle-vegetable-minestrone-chicken soup; well, actually, Iím not quite sure but thatís my guess. We didn't have very many happy campers (or counselors) at lunch, needless to say.

This is also the time where the kids put you through what could be compared to the Inquisition. They like to put you on the spot. You answer the same questions every day: do you have a boyfriend? where does he live? how old is he? is your hair really that color? do you like us? why did you go swimming last night? why don't you take showers with us? . . . all you want to do is get away from the questions. At first you answer them truthfully (well, at least to a certain extent), then you start answering them in ways so that talk is discouraged. Yes, I had a boyfriend but he died last week. He had been raising llamas in Antarctica and there was a mutant killer ant attack and he and his herd died a tragic death...

1:30 P.M. -- Third Activity Period

We have the campers play kickball. We didnít have equipment today, so I was first base. One of the other counselors said, "Kris is first base, just touch her, don't run her over" which was probably a useful warning for these hyperactive, and often literal-minded, kids. The 5 and 6 year-old kids also have interesting things to say to us, including:

"Do you have a girlfriend...have you ever touched her butt?"

"[A counselor]ís got nice boobs."

"The grass is deep like the pool but the poolís made of water." (referring to the infrequently mowed game field)

Sometimes, we go to a park with the kids till 5 or so, until one day one of the kids refused to go home, climbed a tree and wouldnít come down for an hour. I guess he was afraid of what dinner would be.

2:30 P.M. -- Rest Hour

Rest hour. During which the campers and counselors alike go back to their cabin and rest. Yeah, right! This is the time when even the most somnolent (dozy) of campers suddenly becomes hyperactive, everyone under age 15 develops selective deafness and the younger campers all get homesick and make like the worshippers at the wailing wall in Jerusalem.

The easy solution to this is to pretend it isnít happening. Put on your headphones at 10 (or 11 if you are a Spinal Tap fan) and hope for the best. Generally, as long as the kids stay in the cabin and no one loses an eye, you consider rest hour a success.

3:30 P.M. -- Afternoon Snack

Snack time again. And that's good because you are hungry because your body is finally getting used to this constant feeding. Yup, you guessed it, crackers again, but hey, if you're quick, maybe you can get the graham crackers instead of the bread sticks or melba toast.

4 P.M. -- Fourth Activity Period

I'm off!!! My first free moment in the day. So I hide behind the cabin and write letters, get some sun, listen to the radio, read and keep as far away as possible from anyone under 15.

5 P.M. -- Specs

That hour went fast. Specs again and shots. So much fun. And I have to turn my radio off while the nurses are here because otherwise the most raucous feedback comes out of it at volumes much higher than I thought were possible (maybe 12?) because of the walkie-talkies they bring with them.

6 P.M. -- Dinner

The most stressful meal in the day. You slept through breakfast and only made it through lunch because of the caffeine in your coffee but now its effect and your patience have been worn down and you've had it. All day, you've been listening to the dulcet tones of around 70 campers, whining, whimpering and wailing, individually and in unison. And now there is this one kid who won't eat her food and you know that if she doesn't that she'll get you up at 2 A.M. feeling shocky with a blood sugar of 20 and you're going to have to force her to eat a bugger sugar (red goopy stuff that tastes like...well forget it). This is not a pleasant thought so you contemplate forcefully ramming the food down her throat.

7 P.M. -- Flag Lowering

This is only slightly less comical than flag raising because now everyone is too tired to fool around too much. Most of us just stand around playing with our yo-yos. Itís usually dark enough that all the mosquitoes (from the nearby "skunge" filled pond) and gnats come out, so the flag lowering is often accompanied by an arm raising and a body slapping.

The arm raising occurs because if you stick one arm into the air, the gnats seem to congregate around it since itís the highest point in a given area. This allows you to breathe without inhaling the little buggers. The body slapping is because the well-fed mosquitoes are too smart to fall for that trick and go for any exposed skin. Luckily for me, the mosquitoes seem to be more attracted to the diabetics than to me (since they have more sugar in their blood).

7:15 P.M. -- Evening Activity

Inevitably, whatever activity is selected requires a lot of screaming and running around just when you want to lay down and die. Of course, all this activity is going to give your lovely campers low blood sugars during the night, which will in turn cause you to get red goopy stuff all over your p.j.'s. This is also when all the campers let everyone know the new nicknames for the day; such as: jock strap, scratchy, and gayboy among others.

This is also when one learns interesting songs. For example:

Ng-ah went the little green frog one day.

Ng-ah went the little green frog.

Ng-ah went the little green frog one day and his eyes went ng-ah ng-ah ng-ah.

Beep beep went the big mac truck one day.

Squish squish went the little green frog.

And his eyes didn't go ng-ah anymore. Cause they all got eaten by the dog.

If that's not an inspirational song, I don't know what is. We also sing the traditional camp song...

Do your ears (balls, boobs) hang low? Do they wobble to and fro?

Can you tie them in a knot? Can you tie them in a bow?

Can you throw them over your shoulder like a continental soldier?

Do your ears (balls, boobs) hang low?

Yes my...

And my own personal favorite (probably partly because I made up parts of it. The original lyrics are in italics -- it was very short before):

(To the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic)

Hereís the awful story of a man I knew named Pete

He always was involved in doing really stupid feats.

He jumped without a parachute from forty thousand feet

And he ain't gonna jump no more.

chorus : Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die.

Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die

Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die

and he ain't gonna jump no more.

As he jumped, he screamed quite loudly, "oh, what a fool I am --

For agreeing to try this jump for good olí Uncle Sam!"

Then he landed on the runway like a glob of strawberry jam.

And he ain't gonna jump no more.


They marked just where he landed with a orange warning flag.

Then they wiped him off the runway and they put him in a bag.

He couldnít be identified, so they put on it a tag.

And he ain't gonna jump no more.

8:30 P.M. -- Evening Snack

The joys of snack and being fed every 3 hours have already been discussed. Some of the kids took juggling class earlier today and are now practicing on the apples and oranges. We try frantically trying to grab them all before they roll away (the apples) or run away (the campers). Keeping an eye on all 8 of the campers assigned to your cabin doesn't seem to be too big of a task until you realize how much energy that they have and how little energy you have but, hey, if you're lucky you could get some salt on your crackers and maybe a few sesame seeds. Yum, yum.

9 P.M. -- Lights Out

Bedtime for the campers. Just when they are supposed to snuggle contentedly into their closely-inspected and re-inspected bug-free sheets (like you would like them to do and would love to do yourself), the kids who complained for the last 3 hours of being tired are suddenly, without apparent cause, wide awake. Of course, this is because they know what nighttime is for. It is for running around and screaming, trying to get away from every bug imaginable (even the ones that were so neat to play with in the afternoon). It is time to make jokes about farting, burping and snoring and to practice these activities. It is time to play battle of the flashlights and to make as much noise as possible, all the while hearing the very quiet yet scary noises coming from the woods behind the cabin. Nighttime is the time for the counselors, at witís end, to start threatening the campers with all manners of creative punishments, such as: cleaning the b-ball court with one's toothbrush and/or cleaning the opposite sex's bathroom with one's tongue and/or cutting the inadequately mowed acres of lawn with a nailclipper. The problem is that my group of 5 and 6 year olds thought that this last activity sounded like fun!

The little kids also know about what some of us do after their bedtime and they want in on the fun. They've heard the laughing from the pool area, they hear the creaking of the swings and Meatloaf blasting from the radios in the cafeteria. They donít understand why we donít want them to come with us. On the other hand, the older kids want to keep as far away from us as possible and frequently try to sneak out and raid the opposite sexís cabins. Sometimes they succeed, then it escalates into a raid war where each night more stuff is taken from each cabin and found later in the day under the cabin, in the woods, in a tree, or other places that necessitate close inspection for bugs once the items are retreived.

9:30 P.M. -- Free Time

At last, time to do what you want to do. . . but now are too tired to. This is when you most notice how far out in the boonies we are and how little there is to do.But at least you have free time. Free time to blunder around in the dark, get bitten by countless bugs, sit on slugs, run into the skunks, mice and woodchucks that live in your cabin area (and would like to be in your cabin) and wonder why you came here in the first place. Free time to socialize either outside or in dimly lit rooms filled with smoke.

Ah yes, the staff lounge, what a wonderful place to lounge around, that is if you like smoke, bugs, rats and moldy food on the floor. Or if you are into sitting on terribly delapidated furniture -if you could even call it furniture anymore. Even the first week of camp, the best chair in basement was breaking little by little -- it had no legs and the back had broken twice. Usually something interesting is happening down there however, so you just might stay even though your eyes are tearing and it stinks and you canít breathe and there's no place to sit. These events may be anything including: blowing bubbles, smoking pipes, movies (both those you've never heard of and those that you've seen 800 times), bitch sessions. A popular activity is watching people blow up a rubber glove on their head while smoking or juggling.

If you are having too much trouble breathing or seeing, you could go out onto the green top and perhaps play steamroller or ha-ha. Or you can sit on the swings and talk to your friends who also are not interested in choking or being crushed to death by the other counselors rolling over them. Sometimes we have a campfire. We eat Lifesavers in the dark to see if they really spark (they do). We give some counselors nicknames for memorable actions (one is now called Ralph because he puked after chewing too much tobacco). We roll each other around on coasters in the pole barn. As you can see, it's really boring here. I now can sympathize with people from small town. This is like being in a very, very small town; in fact, there are less than 40 adults here most of the time.

Or you could have the fun of being on OD. OD -- also known as On Duty. Two counselors of each sex are left to watch over all 72 campers, half of which will feel low and need to be specced, the others will say that they feel low in a vain attempt to get some food. Luckily the whining for food ends when they fall asleep.

However the fun doesnít end then. Because these kids have used about as much energy in one day as did a small town, some of them will have to be specced during the night, hopefully without waking them up (thereís less whining that way). This is always an interesting job. Invariably, the camper has their hands in an extremely inaccessible place, such as wedged between the mattress and cot springs. First you must wrench out said hand and shake it so that circulation is restored without waking the speccee. Then you pick a likely finger and punch a hole in it with the pneumatic device, again, hopefully without waking the camper up. If you are quiet, youíll usually succeed. And you are VERY quiet, because if the camper does wake up, you have some pretty quick explaining to do. If you succeed, you continue with the normal speccing procedure.

Some of us are beginning to see ourselves as vampires; after all, we wear sunglasses all the time and go around drawing blood at night. "Sorry I woke you up, but I'm just here to take your blood." The kids donít even seem to wonder about the blood stains that they sometimes find on their clothes in the morning.

12 P.M. -- Collapse

Lights out, bedtime, curfew. Whatever you call it, it finally means relief from the campers. By now, most of them are asleep, so you can finally get some rest. On nights when there are no campers, some of us sleep out on green top. Ah, to sleep, perchance to dream. And it all starts again in 7 hours.

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