Despite having been a diabetic camper and now an experienced medical staffer at the American Diabetes Association’s Camp Colorado for type-1 diabetic children, I know that all expectations go straight out the window once camp starts.
There are 100 medical volunteers on campgrounds, vials upon vials of insulin, alcohol swabs, syringes, testing meters, finger pokers, test strips—all the necessary baggage. Standing in the supply room can make any diabetic feel like a kid in a (sugar-free) candy store.
As a member of the med staff, you can expect 250 campers— a number that increases each year as the ADA tries to push the maximum capacity to allow one more camper the experience of a lifetime.
The campers run around with highs and lows, often in need of a blood sugar test, an insulin correction or glucose treatment. Hardly is there ever a dull, steady-blood-sugar moment.
Then there is my favorite med staff activity—the “juice fairy” flight.
At 1 a.m., the med-staff comes into every camp cabin, with poker and meter in hand. Ready to test or not, here we come.
It’s pretty standard procedure—wake each camper and ask for a finger to poke. I once got the response, “I don’t have one,” a clever response to my obnoxious, early-morning request.
Next, we test the camper. Low sugar? Force down some juice and crackers. High sugar? Insert insulin.
Each child’s visit from the juice fairy can take two minutes or two hours, depending on the child’s reading.
Regardless of the hour, there will always be a team of fairies flying through camp, accompanied by their headlights — juice in one hand, insulin in the other.
Why would I ever volunteer at Camp Colorado, where sleep is minimal, stress is maximized, and plans are always accompanied with the F word (flexibility, of course)? With all the highs and lows, Camp Colorado somehow continues to serve as my summer escape, the same way it did when I was camper myself.
There is a distinct difference at Camp Colorado. All of its campers were diagnosed with diabetes at different times in their lives — some at six months of age, others just weeks before the beginning of camp. They have one value that non-diabetic campers often fail to recognize. With their daily struggles and tight routines, one thing makes these campers truly stand out in a crowd: their gratitude for camp.
There is a feeling of relief that these campers experience here. They know they are closely monitored by the medical staff. They are happy to be surrounded by kids who have to do the same finger poking test at least four times a day.
Their parents can sleep at night this week, knowing their children are in good hands.
And they can still have an authentic camp experience — the A thru Z list of camp activities. Nothing stands in their way.
I never thought I could poke a child for a blood test and get a “thank you so much!” Gratitude is standard at camp.
From the diabetic song renditions—my favorite this year was “It’s a High, Low Life” to the tune of “It’s A Hard Knock Life” to naming our insulin pumps, there is no better therapy than a week at camp.
An eight-year-old camper summed up the camp experience perfectly.
This boy’s pancreas decided to stop working for no reason one day. He had to change his entire lifestyle to manage his diabetes.
“If they find a cure for diabetes,” he asked, “can we still come to camp?”
Hearing that was better than maintaining a blood sugar of 100 all week.
There will always be highs and lows and bumps along the road, but a sense of gratitude is invincible to any competitor — and these kids are competitors.
What I learned as a camper stays true today: I am thankful for what I have found and learned about gratitude as a member of the type-1 team.
Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News