Diary of a Rookie Camp Nurse

June 28, 2009

I’m back from camp and it’s good to be home. I’m going to attempt to sum up the week I had for you, and I’m going to start by getting a few points out of the way:

>If you grew up going to camp every summer as a kid, then worked all summer at camp until you graduated from college, and even wanted to work full-time at camp for awhile, and therefore you are very excited about going back as the camp nurse, know this: it will NOT be the same thing. It won’t be what you remember. Especially if it’s a different camp than the one you grew up with and you don’t know that many people. Being the camp nurse is a somewhat lonely and isolating experience. You have to be available at all times, and if you leave your cabin (like for meals, or all-camp gatherings) you have to leave a sign on the door and take your phone with you. I realize now more than ever that I would hate to be a doctor because I would hate to be on call. I like knowing when my time is truly my own. So at camp I would end up spending long hours at a time alone in my cabin, but I couldn’t really relax because someone could come in at any moment.

>If you think that you’ll go to camp and get a lot of exercise and continue your triathlon training, think again. My sleep schedule was thrown all off, so I was way too tired to wake up early and go run or swim until the next-to-last day. And early in the morning is the only time that was feasible to exercise.

>It’s a lot harder to give meds to kids at camp than it is to give meds to adults in a hospital. I had to track the little suckers down. I found it easiest just to carry all the meds around with me in my backpack at all times so I could catch them. That, and a homemade first aid kit for fixing cuts and scrapes on the run.

So anyway, I arrived at camp last Sunday night and promptly received my first lesson: be flexible. They couldn’t find the key to the nurse’s cabin. Turns out the nurse from the previous week (an older lady who has been there for years, and is kind of protective of her “space”) had kept it, along with all the registration supplies, on purpose so that she would have a chance to “talk” to me. Lecture, more like. She practically ambushed me at the infirmary and made me late to registration. Thank goodness I’m such good friends with the directors, or I might have made a bad first impression.


My home for the past week

Registration went fine. Afterwards, I finally got a chance to settle in to my cabin. I organized health forms, made a list of food allergies to give to the cook, went over the schedule, unpacked, and read over the previous nurse’s notes. All of a sudden I started to get super nervous. I was thinking, if a kid actually comes to see me, will I know what to do?


The high-tech “clinic”

My first patient (child? customer? patron?)  came at 11:30 p.m. that night, right before I went to bed. Keep in mind, I’m used to going to sleep at 9 p.m. and waking up by 5 a.m. I was tired. She claimed an upset stomach. I had to call her mother to get an OK to give her some Pepto, because it hadn’t been checked on the health form. (I was going to get to know this girl really well by the end of the week; I think she just liked the attention.)


My sleeping quarters. It’s not quite a Tempur Pedic, and no that’s not my comforter.

That second day I was quite frankly overwhelmed with loneliness and homesickness, something I’m not used to. Mostly I missed David, and our loving home. At camp no one paid me much attention because they didn’t know me, and I’m not exactly an outgoing person. I started to get the hang of things, but I was completely on edge every second I was alone in my cabin. Also, I couldn’t shake the feeling that people were judging me based on how young I look. I’m 27, but people think I look anywhere from 16 to 22. Usually I don’t mind because I know I’m competent with what I do. But at camp, I really didn’t know what to expect. It’s probably silly, people probably weren’t thinking that at all, but it made me feel insecure.

Thankfully, soon enough I got a chance to talk to my good friend Emily, who is the camp director along with her husband Bobby. Then the evening came, and I got to leave the confines of my little hole. I actually got a chance to talk to the kids and get to know some of them. And I actually got a good night’s rest.

Each day was better than the one before. David came to visit for an evening which was wonderful. He tried to kidnap me and take me home with him, but I don’t blame him for that. :) The kids were really adorable, and I started to kind of feel like I knew what I was doing. I got to know some of the staff’s names. I started to master the art of taking cat naps, which meant I was finally able to relax a little. I began to enjoy mealtimes, mostly because I got to sit with Emily.


Bobby, Emily, Emily’s sister Camille, and Bobby’s brother Danny singing a song by camper request

By the last day, I almost felt normal being there. I wasn’t exactly sad to leave, but there was a certain nostalgia about it all the same. Here’s a rundown of what I dealt with:

  • 13 upset stomachs
  • 12 cuts/scrapes/abrasions
  • 8 cases of fiberglass (from the canoes – apparently you can remove the shards with pantyhose? Wasn’t expecting to come across this one)
  • 5 headaches
  • 3 insect stings/bites
  • 2 minor joint injuries
  • 2 splinters
  • 1 nosebleed
  • 1 pulled muscle
  • 1 blistering sunburn
  • 1 case of a wood chip in the form of a spike being impaled into a kid’s knee. THAT was exciting, but rather easy for me to deal with. I tried to pull it out once, it wasn’t coming, and I sent him to a doctor.


Before I left I accidentally pulled the door off its hinges. Guess I don’t know my own strength! That, or it was just a really old door. Oops.

Oh, and as for my week without internet? I missed it. A lot. I was not anticipating all the downtime and isolation, so I did allow myself one liberty: I downloaded a few apps from my iPhone. (Sally’s Spa, anyone? Love it.) But I got a lot of reading done, and the entire week was oddly relaxing, I think, if not mentally then physically. And at least I got to mostly stay out of the 100+ degree heat.


Me and Emily. She’s the one who’s pregnant, although this picture makes my stomach look swollen as well.

So there you go; an honest account of my camp nurse experience. Now I’m going to drag myself away from watching reruns of Law & Order SVU and go run for the first time in a week and a half. As always, thanks for reading. :)

Posted in: personal, goals, personal

Comments on Diary of a Rookie Camp Nurse

  1. 1

    From Scott:

    Don’t you mean Kat naps?

  2. 2

    From DeMo:

    I’m glad that you got settled and started to enjoy your time at the camp. A week without internet really is a long time. I know how that feels, but with enough distractions, it’s really not too bad. It’s just finding good enough distractions that’s the hard part… :)

  3. 3

    From Krista:

    Welcome back! Sounds like an adventure :)

  4. 4

    From lauren:

    you’re back you’re back! can we hang out soon please??

  5. 5

    From Rae:

    You must really love your camp director friends, because that does not sound like fun at all. Oh well, maybe it will make work seem better by comparison?

  6. 6

    From Christine:

    I’m glad that your camp experience turned out to be an okay one! Welcome back!

    p.s. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who enjoys watching law and order svu reruns.

  7. 7

    From Anne @ memoirsofacampnurse:

    Yay for camp nurses. Loved reading this! Have you ever gone back?

  8. 8

    From kapachino:

    I never did, mostly because I had a baby and she is just now two years old and I haven’t been away from her for a night yet! I would love to go back one day though, since I grew up at camp and worked there until I was 21, too. Many fond memories. Maybe when my kids are old enough to go!

  9. 9

    From Joan:

    I’m so glad you wrote this! I’m 21 and I will be a camp nurse for the first time this upcoming summer for 8 weeks. Do you have any tips or tricks you would be willing to lend? Or if there was one thing you should have brought but forgot, what would it be ?

  10. 10

    From kapachino:

    Hey! Glad you found my post! This was over five years ago so I can’t remember a lot of it. I haven’t had a chance to go work at a camp again since then. I just read over the post and I can’t think of anything else to add to it. Just know that if anything serious happens you can always call for backup. I would say just make sure you have refreshed your CPR skills and feel confident handling all the minor stuff and you’ll be great! Good luck. :)

  11. 11

    From Anne:

    Check out my list of hot tips for new camp nurses!

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