Earlier this month I had the opportunity to be “Camp Doctor” at Camp Sunrise 2008. What an experience that was!
What is Camp Sunrise? Camp Sunrise is a week-long sleepaway camp for kids with cancer, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Every year the ACS helps rent a campground, and the doctors and nurses from Hopkins and University of Maryland provide medical staffing so that kids can go, even if they are undergoing active treatment. We can give IV fluid, antibiotics, and even chemotherapy at camp.
One of the best parts of camp is seeing my patients outside of clinic. No matter how informal I try to be with my patients, when they come to clinic they are just that – patients. But at camp, they’re kids. They run and jump and play and fall and skin their knees and do “kid stuff.” Like tie dying shirts. Or playing volleyball. Or performing in a skit. Just follow this link to the official Camp Sunrise website to see some wonderful pictures from previous years.
I also love catching up with patients I haven’t seen in a while. In the middle of the morning, I was standing near the dining hall and talking to an old patient, when all of a sudden someone crept up behind me and scooped me off my feet.
The young man holding me as if I were a rag doll was a patient of mine when I was a first year fellow, back in 1997. Obviously the chemotherapy didn’t stunt his growth! I remember him when he was 8 and his only passion was video games (he beat me repeatedly). Now he’s starting his senior year of high school and planning on college next fall. What a joy it’s been watching him grow up! Literally.
We also had our share of adventures that day at camp. Around 4 pm, the skies opened up and we were treated to a tremendous thunderstorm. Now, ordinarily, I LOVE thunderstorms, especially when I’m outdoors. But Camp Sunrise this year had only 1 road leading in and out. And lightning struck a tree. And the tree fell across that one road. And all of a sudden I was the only doctor in a camp full of kids with cancer that was cut off from the rest of the world. When the tree fell, it took a power line with it, so we also suddenly lost electricity. Evening medicines were distributed by flashlight. They had to hook up a generator to power the refrigerator that kept our medications cold.
Then a kid came to the Funny Farm (our infirmary) with a fever. That was pretty nerve-wracking, because a fever can be the first sign of a life threatening infection in our patients. Fortunately the young man was one of our long term survivors and just had a cold. Everyone was relieved when word reached camp that the fallen tree had been cleared and the road opened before anything really bad happened.
Despite the storm, my day at Camp Sunrise was amazing. I can’t wait to go back next year!