My Child is Sick at Camp! Now What?! - Summer 365

By: Katie Waldrep, Head Nurse

My child is sick at camp. Now what!?

It was my first summer as a camp nurse and I can still remember the panicked voice on the other end of the line. It was my first phone call letting a camp mom know that her child was sick at the Health Center. She was more distraught than the camper who was sitting in front of me. Mind you, I was not a parent yet and most of my experience in nursing had been in Intensive Care. I had no idea that what I perceived as straightforward Strep Throat would elicit such a response.

If you are like most parents who have sent your child off to camp, you researched it all… Which activities will best enhance your child’s interests? Which staff and directors have the type of personality and attitude to encourage and nurture your child? Which camp has the cleanest looking cabins and bathrooms? I know you were thorough because parents worry about these things. But even though you may have toured the Health Center and spoken with a nurse, you may not have really considered what it might mean if your little camper got sick while they were at camp.

Most parents have been the primary caregiver to “nurse” their child through an illness. You’re probably wondering how this camp nurse will know how to provide for your child while they are sick, and if they even will be able to “get better” while in the care of someone else. It can be upsetting to learn that your child is sick at camp but it does not have to ruin their summer, or yours. Below please find some helpful facts we have learned while caring for your children over the years.

Your child will get better.

It is hard enough to send your child away to camp and the guilt you might then feel when they get sick can be overwhelming. But remember — they will get better. The illness will pass and the event may even be remembered as an accomplishment. Do not discount the importance of overcoming an illness while away from mom and dad. I often tell parents that being “in the Health Center” becomes a part of their child’s camp story. The event becomes woven into the tapestry and can often be a funny or warm memory.

This too, shall pass.

Often it is harder for you than it is for your child.

As parents, we sometimes try so hard to make things perfect for our children that we can get upset if things don’t turn out as planned. Many parents are saddened if their little one has to miss out on an event while at camp due to illness. I cannot tell you how many parents have expressed concern to me because their child is missing a “Break Out.” So many camps go above and beyond to make the Health Center stay a positive, memory making experience too. We go on Mystery Golf Cart Rides and “sneak attacks” on the Canteen…shhhhh, it’s our secret! We have Head Staff visit to play games or watch a movie. And if an illness occurs during a special event like “Break Out” or “Sing!” we have our sick campers there for the show, too.

Don’t beat yourself up!

The staff welcomes your input.

Many children have special needs when they are sick. My daughter ALWAYS vomits with a fever. Some children are prone to night terrors or bedwetting when ill. Please share this with the medical staff. You may have written this on your forms and it can be slightly annoying that the staff missed this detail. Please remember it’s not intentional, we are all on the same team and while it may seem careless we can assure you it’s not, your camper is under great supervision while in our care. Be a part of the collaborative team with the camp medical staff. Share your tips. It may be a special technique to get them to swallow medicine or a certain food that you know will be the only thing they might consume while sick.

Help us out, let’s stick together.

Going home is not failure

Times have changed in the camping world — even within my 10 years of camp nursing. When I first started as a camp nurse, campers would stay in the Health Center for their entire illness, no matter how long the course. Going home was simply not an option.

At Camp IHC, just like many camps, our care is individualized which means we do what is best for EACH camper. Sometimes a stay in the Health Center can become a negative turning point, and a camper can be too distraught to stay more than a couple of nights. Our camp physician may feel that additional testing or a second opinion might be beneficial. Sending a child home for a short period during the summer can be a difficult decision.

Parents are members of the collaborative care team and it is in everyone’s best interest, especially your camper, to be positive and supportive. Parents sometimes worry that re-entry to camp can be a little difficult. Rest assured our staff, both Nurses and cabin counselors, are trained to make that transition as smooth as possible for your camper.

This is what we do!

Can you prevent your child from ever visiting the Health Center? Probably not. You can teach hand-washing and nose-blowing (or try — nobody’s perfect!) You can have your child immunized and up-to-date on their flu shot. But even with all of that, children love to share, and germs are certainly no exception. So when your caller ID shows camp’s name, try not to panic. Take a deep breath and remember that we are all on the same team.

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