I spent the last week at an incredible summer camp called Camp CAMP. CAMP stands for Children's Association for Maximum Potential, which is a non-profit organization that "enables children with disabilities to thrive in a recreational environment where safety and nurturing are primary." I found out about it from my residency program - they encourage residents to attend camp as medical staff if our schedules permit. Fortunately, my schedule did allow me to attend, and I'm SO glad I had the experience. I've never been around severely handicapped children before. At least not in this sort of setting. I learned about them in medical school. I've seen them in hospitals. But I've never had daily encounters with them in a laid-back, non-medical environment. It was like a little taste of what life must be like for these kids and their families. Everyday we drew up their meds, distributed them (which could be very challenging!), and assessed the kids to make sure they were staying hydrated and not having any medical problems. The job of being a camp doctor wasn't really that hard. What was difficult was trying to find time to get to know the kids and their counselors. We had lectures every morning and I had to work in the infirmary a couple times, so between those responsibilities and managing meds, it was hard to really feel like I was part of the tribe (the kids were divided into four "tribes": Cherokee, Apache, Mohawk, and Pawnee... notice the initials are C, A, M, and P?). But I tried to attend activities when I could. They had typical camp activities, like swimming, horseback riding, and archery. Every child had a counselor, which I thought was really neat. It makes sense, though, since most of these children are so medically complicated that they need constant supervision. But here's the amazing thing - the counselors were all teenagers! They were aged 14 and up, and each one was paired with a disabled child. They were responsible for their child 24 hrs a day, for the entire week (they got a few breaks, but not many). They fed them, bathed them, changed their diapers, pushed their wheelchairs, and soothed them when they were homesick. They had to put up with all kinds of nasty bodily fluids, temper tantrums, hair-pulling, biting... and they did it with such grace and patience. I was so impressed with the counselors. I don't think I was nearly as mature or selfless when I was their age.
If I had to tell you about one camper that stood out in my mind, it would have to be a little boy who was about 8 years old, and I'll just call him Danny (he's a foster child, so I have to be careful about giving too much information... I can't put his picture on here, which is too bad because he has the CUTEST smile). He has a disease called Duchenne's muscular dystrophy, which is an inherited, progressive, muscular disease. These children are missing a muscle protein called dystrophin, and have weakness of certain muscle groups (initially in the lower half of the body, but eventually affecting the upper half as well). Many children end up in wheelchairs by adolescence, and death occurs in the second decade of life (usually from lung problems). They are usually intellectually normal, but may have some mental delay. I believe Danny was only slightly delayed. It is a devastating disease because it's progressive, and there's no cure. Anyway, Danny just had the sweetest disposition and the brightest smile! He was still able to walk, but his gait was abnormal because of his leg weakness. The last night at camp, there was a dance held in the outdoor pavilion (the traditional "prom night" for the campers, held every year). Danny was so enthusiastic about dancing and so popular amongst the other campers and counselors, and he ended up being crowned Prom King! It was so cute. He was very proud of his "crown" (a baseball cap decorated with puff paint and glitter). The med staff went crazy taking pictures. We called ourselves the camp paparazzi.
There were so many other adorable and loveable kids, I could tell a million more stories. Let me just say, I enjoyed it so much that I am planning on going back if I can. If you're interested in learning more about Camp CAMP, check out their website at www.campcamp.org. Now I gotta go to work - I'm on call tonight. Good times!