A few weeks ago, I decided to volunteer as a camp counselor at a diabetic camp. The idea seemed great. From the age of 6-22, I had attended diabetic camps in Maine and New Hampshire. Those camps were so much fun and had an amazing impact on my life. In fact, I still keep in touch with some co counselors and campers. Every summer I would cherish the one week of bonding with fellow diabetics and friends.
Fast forward 20 years. I am now 42. Older, but still a very energetic and young at heart person. The thought of “helping” diabetic kids kept entering my mind. How could I give back? Camp, camp, camp. Why not? I had loved it so much. Surely, it would be just as good an experience, if not better as an adult. Good for me and the kids.
So, I contacted the camp, applied, and wa – la…was accepted. I was soo excited. Could not wait. Memories of camp came back to me. Was counting the days.
And THE day finally arrived. The night before, I was up all night. Could not sleep. So excited. Ready for the alarm clock to go off. Ready to load up the car and to head off to camp – sleeping bag. flashlight, bug spray, etc.
After a two and half hour (very long drive), I finally arrived. Yay! The camp facility was really nice. No lake (a big part of camp for me as a child), but still nice.
I was by far (extremely far), the oldest counselor.
Wait! Let me stop right here. Let me be honest. Over the next few days, I was going to realize that camp was very different as an older adult. All the images and memories I had from my childhood days were the past. Not the present. If anything, camp taught me so much about myself and diabetes. It stirred up “stuff” that was buried deep inside of me. And camp knocked some sense into me.
Where to start?
1. I am old. Yep. I hate to admit it, but a 42 year old cannot keep up with an 18 year old at 1 a.m. Now, I am a super energetic person who loves to run around and exercise. But a 10:00 p.m., I am normally sound asleep. And I stay that way until 6:00 a.m. Fast and sound asleep. Without lots of sleep, I am miserable. Cranky, irritable, and sick. So when the other counselors wanted to play dodgeball at 10:00 p.m., have meetings at 1:00 a.m. and the activities go on, I was shocked. Are they serious? Yes, they are. But I am not. I am tired and ready for bed.
Getting knocked in the head with a soccerball propelling towards at a fast speed (college guy whipping it at me), late at night (dodgeball in the dark) is very “different”. What had I signed up for? Maybe I was not as fit or tough as I thought.
Now it is only for a week you may be thinking. Actually, I tried to convince myself of the same. It is only a week. But after 24 hours, I soon realized that a week is a very long time to go without adequate sleep and rest (at least for me).
2. Ummm…we are doing hair wraps at 11pm.? Are you kidding me? I am trying to sleep (rest). Why are the lights still on? We are wrapping hair? Do I want a wrap? Seriously? I want to go to bed. I don’t care if my hair is in a ponytail or a braid, or loose. I need sleep. Which is next to impossible when music is playing and co counselors are singing and dancing. Lady Gaga? No? They asked me to do a quick dance off the top of my head. Ahhhhh….hokie pokie? I did the hokie pokie. Almost emarrassed to share that. But I was so tired and could not think of anything else so spontaneously. I quickly said that my “young kids” love the hokie pokie, and I chose it in honor of them (I missed them). In honesty, I could not think of anything else. Several minutes later I realized that there are lots of dances out there – the lawnmower, the pull, the shake…wow! and lots of new artists singing/chanting/screaming/mumbling lots of hard to understand lyrics. I am so out of the loop. 80″s music anyone?
3. Time to finally shut off the lights. Thank God. It is 2am. I lay there realizing that in one hour, they (the med team) is coming in to check everyone’s bloodsugar. This includes me. Oh no. Do I really need to be checked. 3 am and the cabin door flies open. The med team comes storming in with their miner hats on. The lights are so bright. They end up turning on the overhead lights because they can’t see well enough. Everyone is awake. Again. I am sooo tired. I know, I am whining at this point. But I am exhausted. Almost to the point of feeling sick. I understand why they are doing this though. Kids (and counselors) are a lot more active at camp then at home. Schedules are different. Food eaten is different. Life is different. And as we all know, this impacts bloodsugar levels. They become different. So testing frequently, especially during the night, is essential. Preventing lows is key. It was during the 3 a.m, then 4 a.m. (repeated testing because some folks were low so wanted to recheck), that I realized how serious diabetes is. In my own little world, I often forget about the “bad” stuff that can happen – seizures, unconsciousness, etc.
I have had a few unconscious reactions over my 38 years as a diabetic, but I put them on the back burner. I bury them and move on. Forward. So seeing (and feeling) the precision and methodical approach to avoiding lows regardless of the time was an eye opener. These medical folks were responsible for the lives of diabetics, and they were going to do everything in their power to prevent lows or highs. They were taking no chances and willing to sacrifice sleep and time. Amazing. Serious business. Medicine and passion at work.
4. Which takes me to the non stop passion and work and dedication. 24/7. Counting carbs, testing blood, determining insulin dosages, monitoring exercise and making ongoing adjustments. Diabetes is constant. On going. And the care at camp never stops. It can’t. When I am at home, I move through the diabetes “stuff” relatively quickly and effortlessly (unless it is one of those days). I have my own system and schedule/routine. I don’t sit and ponder about diabetes, bloodsugars, carbs, and the list goes on. I do what I have to do, and move on. But at camp, it was different. While they try to make everyone feel “normal”, there was no denying most of us have diabetes. And since they were responsible for our well being, they were going to take their time and be as accurate as possible.
5. As possible. A control freak like me wonders about that. Accuracy? How can someone who really does not know me or my history or my methodology really recommend how much insulin to take? how many calories to eat? how many carbs to eat? Yikes. Try telling a 42 year old carbaholic (keep in mind I am a runner), that she can only have 40 carbs at lunch. What? You are kidding right? Giving up control is hard for me. Even though the doctors, nurses, and dieticians know their stuff, I know my stuff too. Or at least I like to think I do. So far, what I am doing seems to work well. I did not want to hand over control. I am a controlling person when it comes to my diabetes, and I really did not want to trust people I barely knew.
6. So imagine being a parent who has to drop your child off and trust that the staff is going to care for that child. A diabetic child. It has to be so hard letting go. I kept thinking about that. Letting go. Trusting. Believing it will be okay. Camp will be good for everyone. I had to let go and trust as much as the parents (and kids). Easier said then done.
7. That being said, the younger folks seemed to trust from the moment they arrived at camp. They appeared to be on a mission of fun and nothing was going to stop that – not even diabetes. Living in the moment was apparent. They did not worry about having their bloodsugar checked at 3am. Low bloodsugar? Quick time out. Suck down a juice and on to the next activity. So resilient. So cool. A reminder that while one can get caught up in diabetes, it is a choice. And why choose to let diabetes stop you from doing whatever you want to do. Nope. Live life.
Whew. I am tired from writing all this. Bedtime is approaching. 9:15pm. So sad, I know. Not a night person. But I like ending on “live life”.
My whole point of sharing some thoughts about camp is that diabetes is part of my life. There is no escaping it. But if I treat it well, diabetes will treat me well. Camp knocked some sense into me. Made me realize that I need to be a free spirit like the kids, respect my diabetes, refrain from being a counselor at 42 years old, pass on dodgeball with college kids, and get lots of sleep….so i can live life.