The Gift of Camp

arthritis camp with horse

arthritis camp ropes course

I know it sounds a little like a fundraising pitch – but it’s the absolute truth.
Summer camp for kids with arthritis related diseases is an absolute gift for
our family. It’s one of the main highlights of my daughter’s year, and one of
the things that keeps me motivated to raise support for the Arthritis
Foundation.

True story: Several years ago, I had Caitlin enrolled in a summer aquatics camp.
Finding some type of day activity was unfortunately mandatory, as I work part
time. Aquatics camp seemed a good fit, as they spend the morning in an indoor
heated pool, and the afternoon on the adjacent beach, ocean swimming. I had a
sit down with both the camp director and the counselors and gave them as much
education about arthritis as I could… and hoped for the best. The second week
of camp, the kids were taking a field trip to a waterslide park. That morning,
Caitlin awoke very stiff and in pain – but she desperately wanted to go. All
she needed was some extra time to soak in a warm tub to loosen up – which meant
we wouldn’t be able to make it to the bus on time. I called the counselor and
asked if I could drive to the water park an hour later – so Caitlin could join
the day. I was told no… because “the count going home on the bus has to be the
same as the count coming in on the bus”. HUH? She then said that my daughter
shouldn’t come anyway, if she wasn’t able to run up and down stairs to get to
the slides…. I argued – but got nowhere… and ended up staying home for the day
with my heartbroken daughter. She did not go back to that camp.

Having a safe, fun, rewarding place for your kids to go in the summer time is a
challenge for any parent – but it is particularly so for parents whose children
have physical limitations. Then you have to add in the worries of whether they
will be able to participate, whether anybody will understand their condition,
whether they will be made fun of or criticized….. a few bad days being left out
and ridiculed can do a lot of damage to a child. And if your child is on
medication? Can you imagine handing over a vicodin bottle to a young counselor
who maybe had three hours of training? Not so much. Sleep away camp? “Hi- this
is an injection. My daughter will have to have this twice a week….”. Yeah, no
problem.

BUT– There is a place where my daughter can gladly go every summer. It’s a place
where she will get to ride horses, swim, and fish, make wood crafts, and sing
around a camp fire. She’ll get to climb up a ropes course and zoom down a zip
line. There will be giggles, and a talent show, and silly Olympics. There will
be star gazing, and basketball, and the sound of birds in the morning. There
will be dreams, goals and strength. But the very best part is what won’t
be there – there won’t be questions, or stares, or pointing…. There won’t be
ostracizing, or demanding, or loneliness…. And Caitlin will never have to
explain what arthritis is or what it feels like – because all of the other
campers will understand all too well….

At Camp Esperanza (which means “Hope”), our local camp run by the Southern
California Chapter – the counselors will all be super-duper cool. All of them
have intimate experience with arthritis – and many of them grew up with it
themselves .There is a professional medical staff on site, including a
full-time doctor and nurse… but there will also be a volunteer rheumatologist
and a rheumatology nurse. The Well Shell is fully equipped with exam rooms and
equipment and people who are trained to dispense medications – including
injections.

When we put Caitlin on the bus to go away to camp next weekend, we don’t have to
worry that she won’t have the care she needs. Knowing that she’ll be having
fun… and will still have her medical needs addressed lifts a huge burden… And I
can’t wait to hear the stories, see the pictures, and meet her new friends!

To say that Camp Esperanza is a gift for the whole family is not an
understatement. For caregivers to have a few days without the concerns that
arthritis can bring is a welcome break. Siblings can enjoy some undivided
attention from mom and dad. And mom and dad? Well….. How shall I say this? We
have living evidence in our family of how Camp Esperanza is a gift to our
family. Caitlin went to camp early in the summer of 2008… and in March of 2009,
we welcomed our son Nicholas into the family. J

P.S.
There are arthritis summer camps and family camp activities held all across the
country. You can find out more about what is available in your area by
contacting your local chapter.

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