Thursday, July 03, 2008

Poison Plants, Infectious Insects and Troublesome Teens

After a week of 'aquatic school' we emerged, some more scathed than others, as fully qualified open water lifeguards and level 1 instructors in canoeing or sailing. A few more days were spent learning how to collect, prepare and chop wood and such delights as the one match fire-an amazing feeling the first time you achieve it! We prepared the camp for the children's arrival, including putting all the tents up and clearing out under the platforms they sat on where all sorts of nasties liked to lurk.

Although none of us knew each other before we'd arrived at camp I ended up sharing a tent with a girl who'd been in my brother's class at high school, it really is a small world! In that first week or so we had to purchase all sorts of things we needed to get through the summer and would not have been practical to bring from the UK even if we had known about them. It was so humid in the woods that it was essential to buy sealed plastic boxes to store our clothes, and despite being warned it would happen, more than one person ignored or forgot the warnings about keeping food in tents and was visited by hungry raccoons!

Eventually, after what seemed like an age the campers arrived. The camp catered for children from 5 to 16, although the part I worked on was specifically for 14 to 16 year olds. The idea of sending your children away for a whole summer, especially at 5 or 6 was alien to those of us from outside the UK and took some getting used to. Fortunately though, as we were working with teenagers we did not have to share tents with them and had our own to escape to.

Many of the campers had been spending their summer's together for the best part of 10 years and so knew each other well. Generally speaking the children were from wealthy families although some benefited from scholarships. The ethos of the camp was to encourage team work, personal responsibility and leadership so right from the first day the campers were expected to be up at 7am and out collecting the wood they needed to cook their breakfasts. Lunch was the only meal the whole camp shared unlike breakfast and dinner where full meals were cooked over the fires in small cooksites.

Setting up the camp had been an interesting experience, particularly for us Brits unfamiliar with the kind of wildlife we encountered. By the time the campers arrived half a dozen of us had ended back at the pediatrician's confused by the new ailments afflicting us, poison ivy was all over the place, and despite warnings many of us had not recognised it, and it took the itchy blisters for me to realise the undergrowth I'd fallen in was a good example of poison ivy, ugh! Still, I was luckier than one girl who was bitten by a deer tick the first day she arrived and diagnosed with Lyme's disease a few weeks later. It transpired that so many of us had appeared in such poor condition that the doctor we saw telephoned the camp director to complain and insist they take better care of their staff.

Camp very quickly settled into a routine of wood collecting and fire burning. As counselor's we were entitled to 1 full day off work a week (although in practice this didn't always happen) and we were expected to 'teach' lessons of approximately an hour long throughout the day. It very quickly became almost impossible to put on as many different activities as needed each day, so before long things like water polo or walking sat alongside such delights as cloud watching and my personal favourite, fish feeding.

To put on any water based activities we needed lifeguards as well as counselor's organising the activity. The fact that only a small proportion of us were trained made things more tricky. The camp was based around a managed lake of about 3 miles in diameter with beaches at different points to access. The lake was fully stocked and so it wasn't unusual to find yourself being nibbled by a fish, especially during late night skinny dips, damn those things could give a good nip!

Whilst standing with a group of campers by the lake, as usual there was some mucking about going on, what seemed like good natured jostling and giggling in abundant supply. I was waiting for my lifeguarding session to start when one of the boys took things a bit too far. A heavily muscled 15 year old on his school wrestling team grabbed my wrist, pushing it up my back to my shoulder before flipping me around and lifting me off the floor by my wrist. I didn't know it at the time, but apparently it was the noise of popping and snapping joints which alerted the nearby group of adults. My scream came later.

By the time the others had sprinted over I was on the floor where I'd been dropped feeling pretty dazed and confused. Despite my spine having been affected I was helped to my feet whereupon it was immediately obvious that my shoulder was dislocated-it was hanging several inches lower on that side than the other! After a bit of fussing, including phone calls to notify camp directors I was eventually taken to the doctors. The pediatrician, again. Jolting along the way over rough tracks in a van.

The doctor was, unsurprisingly not impressed and after examining me insisted I be taken immediately to the ER. Having no idea I had EDS(Ehlers Danlos Syndrome), this was to be my first major recognised dislocation. Eventually, much later that evening I was seen by a very sweet doctor in the ER who was very excited to quiz me about whether, being from the UK I had chilblains. I was able to make him very happy with my colour changing feet! Being particularly concerned about my body weight the doctor gave me half a percocet, a sling and instructions that I needed to rest and follow up the next day.

I didn't sleep much that night between the weird sensations caused by the dislocations and the lack of pain relief. I was woken the following day by my very sweet campers who'd brought me breakfast-fruit they'd already peeled and cut up. It was a special day, and the reason I've never forgotten the date of this event. Rather than enjoying the fireworks and celebrations with every one else, I spent the 4th of July going back to the doctors!

Update: Happy Independence day to all my American Readers!


Unixman said...

So today must be the anniversary ....

Trixie said...

It's a shame all these 'once in a life time' memories are all marred by you in a lot of pain! But hey, I guess that is what you life is about. I'm loving your stories!

Mr. Nighttime said...

Your description of what happened has just left me totally dumbfounded.

"Eventually, much later that evening I was seen by a very sweet doctor in the ER who was very excited to quiz me about whether, being from the UK I had chilblains. I was able to make him very happy with my colour changing feet!"

Yeah, those ER docs...all it takes is the equivalent of bright, shiny things and they are so easily distracted.

Thanks for the Independence day wishes, and sorry for the dust-up 232 years ago. ;-)

Anonymous said...

All that way to meet someone from the same place as you strange !!
Didnt take long for the clumsy side to show its self though lol

(Thinking) fish nibbling skinny dipping hmmmm

having my cake said...

Ugh, the idea of the noise of popping joints has made me quite squeamish. What a way to remember the 4th of July! x

Bollinger Byrd said...

Great story.... not such a great way to remember it though!

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Unixman: Indeed it was, I celebrate in such style ;)

Trix: Funnily enough I've been thinking about that kind of thing lately-hand on heart pain/accidents etc haven't marred my life, but not knowing what was wrong with me or how to deal with that has done. Glad you like the stories, more to come!

MrN: In fairness I should have said the doctor was waiting for my x-ray results at the time ;)
If that story amused you, I have a wealth of stupid things doctors have said and done stories! Hope your 4th was wonderful

Jurid: It is strange isn't it? But, I think travelling is like that, my parents went to New York last year and randomly bumped into an old friend of mine on the street!
As for the clumsiness-it's one of my most endearing qualities, honest :)

Cake: Indeed! One of the few benefits of having joints as lax as mine is that they rarely make any noise these days. Strangely IRL that seems to disappoint the majority of people! x

BB: TY-ah well, at least I can boast of having a dislocation story for every occasion ;) x