Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Camp Conrad Chinook

The campfire is always the place where people remember their summer vacations best. Diabetes Camp is no different. The leader tells a story that warms the hearts and minds and makes people savor the moment. The wood cackles in the fireplace and it’s dark beneath a thousand pine and oak trees on this hill near Redlands, in Southern California in the early part of the summer of 2008.

The flames danced and so did the staff, as well as the audience. And did we ever laugh and smile and have a few tears as well this weekend. We are among 150 people at Camp Conrad Chinnock, a camp specifically created for kids with Type I diabetes.

I have two children with Type I diabetes, and we are here to bond with other families who have Type I as well as to learn the latest in diabetes research. But mostly, we’re here to have the kids feel “normal” when they do strange things like test their blood sugars up to ten times a day and give themselves insulin injections via pumps or shots.

Tonite at the campfire, we sang songs and made skits. The humor belonged to us, who have experienced the past three days together. The jokes and pokes were to ourselves and we had a few good laughs.

My boys are in bed now, almost asleep in our log cabin, with three sets of bunk beds on each half of the room, and a toilet that has not yet been opened due to permits not yet issued. Maybe next year they’ll be working, but if not, that’s ok, too.

The people who work here have created and instilled in our families a feeling of almost happiness at the chronic disease diabetes. Only those with this disease are allowed here. A special badge, of sorts.

Today, we learned from many sessions with “the doctor” and we hiked, canoed, fished, swam, shot pool and played foosball. We moms had a good cry or two. The dads did too, we were told. We learned to play with our kids, something we don’t always have time for at home. We learned that we can help each other deal with this disease, and offer ideas and advice that is truly helpful.

How do I deal with sports and my child was a topic on the mind of most of the parents? What are the current research studies on transplants learning? What hope do we have of a cure and when? When do I stop waking up in the middle of the night to check my son’s blood sugar? When is it ok to tell the child to take responsibility for their own shots? How can I let go?

The doctor addressed hundreds of questions posed by parents on topics from hormones to types of insulin and when and what amounts should be delivered and by what method?
More questions than answers, but the answers that were given were overall good ones.

We learned to get as much joy from today as possible and to concentrate on that. The kids learned to juggle, to create toys and to focus on the possibilities, not the restrictions of having the disease. They learned about juggling fire, and not to do it at home. They learned about animals, about astronomy, and about being kind to others. They made lanyards and other crafts. They climbed a wall, trees, did archery, basketball, swam and dove in the pool, rode bikes, learned about science in the nature center and made friends with other kids, staff and parents. While doing this, they learned more about how to take care of their disease. And for siblings of those with diabetes, they were “abnormal” for these three days, and enjoyed that feeling as it was a turn-around from the norm.

We leave tomorrow, stimulated and satisfied. We leave footprints and a legacy for our children that we are living day to day to day.

Thanks for the great experience at camp and we look forward to another great one ahead next year.

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