4 Things I Learned Being a Camp Nurse

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a camp nurse for a week. I had been fortunate enough to go to overnight camp when I was a kid; one summer I loved it so much that I stayed four whole weeks! I vividly remember, years later, my favorite activities at camp: zip lines, horseback riding, pool time, dance classes. I’ve wanted my own children to experience those same things for themselves, and we finally had a chance!

However, my girls have become quite like myself in this way: we are serious homebodies. We love being at home, they love playing with their friends or with each other in the comfort of our own little yard, our neighborhood, and the familiarity of everything local. When the opportunity came up to be a nurse at a camp that they could attend, I had to jump on it right away. I knew they would love camp as much as I did when I was their age, but I knew they wouldn’t go without me being “close by”. So off we went, for seven days of overnight camp and new adventures.

My entire career in nursing has involved sick children, and children with cancer diagnoses is my true calling and passion. As you might imagine, being a camp nurse in the woods, in cabins, away from the WiFi, is slightly different than working in a state-of-the-art pediatric hospital in the heart of a city. In that week of camp nursing, I learned a lot about myself as a mom, as a nurse, and as a human being in general.

Children are amazingly tough and resilient.

I mean, I really knew this already. You can’t work in pediatrics without seeing firsthand the bravery and strength of children facing overwhelming medical problems. However, my eyes were opened to some of the struggles that “normal” children face every day. Homesickness. Dealing with injuries without Mom to kiss your scrapes and cuts. Dissonance among cabin mates due to different personalities. Turmoil at home.

Four Things I Learned as a Camp Nurse

Camp is a proverbial island — untouched by the outside world of technology or television, but some real life cracks can get in. The children at camp come from such a variety of different backgrounds, different families, and different abilities. Inevitably, these real life heartaches sometimes come to the health center in the form of tummy aches that are cured with a cup of Gatorade and a good “momma hug”. Then, off they go, refreshed and feeling better, even without a medication given. Kids just KEEP GOING no matter what, and I think we as adults can learn a lot from their resilience and strength in the face of everyday adversity.

Band aids and throat spray fix EVERYTHING.

Literally, everything. Scrape going down a slide? Band aid. Wasp sting? Band aid. Ingrown toenail? Band aid. Do we have any pink band aids? Nope, but I’ll draw a heart on this band aid with a Sharpie for you. Also, before this week, I had no idea that chloroseptic throat spray was so popular. When you’re out in nature, everyone’s throat hurts (it’s called allergies). With next to no side effects, numbing throat spray is clutch at camp; it either works and helps the throat pain, or it tastes so bad that no one comes back for repeat treatment.

Your own children are much more independent than you give them credit for.

Four Things I Learned as a Camp Nurse - dirt bikes!

I’ll admit, I was very worried about my littlest girl. She’s a momma’s girl, anxious often, and slept with her dad and me until she was five years old. She practiced her pick-up lines for a week before camp: “Hi, my name is Abbi. Do you want to be my friend this week?” But the self-confidence that this girl exuded during camp was amazing. She was vibrant, outgoing, always smiling, and made friends within the first few hours of arrival. And don’t get me wrong, she’s sweet and friendly under normal circumstances too, but she THRIVED in a setting of new people and infinite new opportunities. Ya’ll, she put up her own ponytail! She wasn’t scared of the dark walk between the cabin and health center at night! She even tried (and loved) a new activity — dirt bikes!

As much as we can love and pour positivity into our own children, never underestimate the value of another adult who pours encouraging, life-giving energy into them also. The counselors at camp were pivotal in inspiring both of my girls, and they viewed their counselors as bonus “big sisters” all week. Abbi was quoting one counselor’s favorite rule as soon as we got home from camp: “Disconnect to reconnect.”

Friends are SO important. And you want your children surrounded by good ones.

I found myself praying continually before and during camp that my girls would find good friends in their cabin and activities. Because they’re so close in age (10 ½ months apart!) they are instant friends with each other, but I wanted them to have different experiences and make new friendships at camp also. It was clear a few days into camp that they found a group of friends. Throughout the week I saw them encouraging each other to try new things, cheering each other on at activities, and exchanging addresses to keep in touch after camp. We all want our children to branch out from their comfort zones, and finding safety and support from friends while doing so is essential at this age. The day after we got home from camp, my two girls were already writing letters to their new friends.

And after all that excitement from their first week at camp, they practically begged us to let them go back for another week this summer. Fortunately, we were able to do so, and they’re off having a wonderful NEW week at camp with amazing counselors, friends, and new experiences. It was an awesome experience for me to be a camp nurse, and I can’t wait to go back next summer . . . but I’ll let them have another week in the woods without me, too.

This post was originally published on July 27, 2019.
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Kathryn is 31 years old and lives on the outskirts of Birmingham in the small town of Kimberly. She is a full time working mom, living out her dream as a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner. An Alabama native, Kathryn spent her childhood in Greenville and Montgomery, then went to high school in Asheville, NC, before returning home to attend nursing school at AUM. When her youngest child was born, she went back to get her masters degree in nursing from UAB. Kathryn has been married to her husband, Heath, for almost 10 years. She is Stepmom to Seth (age 21), Brenna (age 15), and Mommy to Caroline (age 8) and Abbigail (age 7). Add two huge Labrador retrievers and a cat, and Kathryn's house can feel a little like a zoo when everyone is home at the same time. But it's the most wonderful chaos ever. Kathryn loves the beach, cooking in her Instant Pot, reading in silence and funky printed leggings. Her family spends a ton of time outside, hiking and playing in the sunshine, and commuting the short drive into Birmingham for rock climbing and eating at good restaurants.

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