Bites and Burns

So, I’m like candy to poisonous spiders. I’m not trying to “workers’ comp” my employers to death, in fact I sleep under my insect net every night! I flip my mattress every day and shake my sheets (we call it flip ’n strip, even though the strip part comes first). I don’t know how I’m increasing the likelihood of being bitten, but I apparently am. This time, my right shin is glowing red with infection. It looks like a fried egg with red albumen and an oozing white-purple yolk. I’ve been told not to squeeze it but last night I couldn’t resist. A semisolid banana pudding-looking ooze burst from my skin when I put pressure on the wound. What was strange was the hole it left when I was done. It was like a pin prick of a tunnel into my leg. Kind of creepy, actually. I poured several caps full of hydrogen peroxide over the wound and watched it bubble and froth. It didn’t hurt.

A couple of days prior, I had been to a nearby hospital to have an indifferent physician in a foot brace palpate the wound with uncaring and painful speed, declare it a mere boil and prescribe me antibiotics. It was a strange, strange day. I had taken one of my campers (we’ll call him Tag ‘cause he likes to write his name on things) to the hospital to follow up some burns he’d sustained after blacking out and falling face first into the pow wow fire last Tuesday. Scariest day of my life as a chief. Tag has had one other blackout experience and now I’d like him to get checked out for this apparent tendency. Sakes. We were just about to end our nightly pow wow. We were all seated around the fire discussing what went well that day, what needed work, and various other things including my countless prompts for campers to quit involving themselves with the fire (hands off! Liability!) and to respect the speaker by holding one’s own “tones” (talking). Tag rose, stretched, looked to his left at a fellow camper (we’ll call him Pushup ‘cause he does those when he’s angry), smiled and fell forward like a domino right into the fire. Pushup and I think Bossy (another code name) grabbed Tag out of the fire and stood him aright. He was covered in ashes, and we didn’t really see the nature or severity of his burns till we got him to our cistern.

At the time, a visiting chief was staying with us and was able to recall his first aid training (I could not. I was too busy freaking out and thinking about proper channels, paperwork, and radioing in the incident to the management). We didn’t rinse Tag immediately, as apparently one shouldn’t with 3rd degree burns. We did our best to get him calm. He was in quite a lot of pain but only gave a few urgent complaints. He didn’t cry or scream. Luckily, the ashes on his face were just ashes. He didn’t burn his lips off or anything. HIs forearms and chest took the brunt.

Within minutes our MC was at our campsite in their “gator” (golf-cart looking thing by John Deere) to whisk Tag away to the emergency room. When we saw him next, the following morning, Tag was smiling and mummified from palms to elbows in gauze. We have to change his bandages at least twice a day, and the guys help wrap him up and bird bath him at the shower house. The first day Tag was back from the hospital, Pushup washed his hair for him in the showerhouse sink. I scrubbed his back and upper arms. I was really proud of my guys for rallying around Tag’s needs. Bossy has taken the lead lately getting Tag re-bandaged and I usually help tuck in his shirttail and get his belt back on (no homo). The most annoying part of Tag’s recovery at camp is how long it takes to get him his pain pill. We’re still short staffed, and prescription meds are handed out by either the nurse herself or the MC’s. I don’t enjoy seeing my guys hurting.

So, all this time my spider bite was getting bigger and more nasty looking. Owing to my previous bite, I knew what to expect, so I just told my bosses early that I needed to see a doctor. When it was time to take Tag for his follow up trip to the emergency room, I was instructed to get my leg checked out then as well. The doctor made his rushed, indifferent pass over my leg, and I joined an undbandaged, frustrated Tag in his room a few doors down. The nurse had given him a pain pill and wanted to wait for it to kick in before scrubbing Tag’s wounds at the sink. All the blackened skin had to be removed from the raw, pink and white wounds. Tag was annoyed. He felt abandoned by the nurse. The same doctor that jabbed at my leg had hastily and painfully removed Tag’s bandages, then came the pill, and then a whole bunch of waiting and nothing.

My Red Cross First Aid certification says I don’t need to wait for some hamfisted nurse to come wrap up my kid. I started looking for the necessary bandages and get him out of that medieval establishment. It was unconscionable to witness my adored camper in pain with exposed, untended burns. I was so furious I couldn’t see straight. When I’m angry, I tear up, so I was trying my best to hold it together. I noticed Tag had begun to well up also. It’s against camp rules for me to let him make an unscheduled phone call, but I let him ring his mom anyway on the camp phone they always give us when we go off property (I got a little bit in trouble for it later ‘cause his mom made an unscheduled visit to camp and that just didn’t jive with our paperwork and all that, but please, her son just fell into a campfire! I’d want to see my kid too if it were me!). I couldn’t find the right things to re-bandage him (in a hospital, for Christ’s sake), so I fussed a bit at a lady in scrubs who claimed only to be running the front desk and was therefore absolved. I told her my guy was in pain, covered in burns and nobody’s doing anything. Eventually the nurse came and was able to get Tag scrubbed (gently) and re-wrapped. We headed out to get our prescriptions filled, picked up some McFlurries, complained openly about the hospital, and headed back to camp.

So I’m off now for the next couple of days. I’m having my spider bitten leg looked at by the doctor who saw my first bite. I’m glad I have antibiotics, but the wound grows larger and stranger over the course of the day. Who knows if I’ll need this one hacked open and emptied. I’ll do my best to rest up as well this time off. I want to sleep, watch a movie, sew a monster etc. But I’ve got loads of paperwork to do for camp since an audit is happening soon. Even when I’m off, I’m on.

Take care everyone!!

Camp is unusual

My newest T-shirt is available. I drew this double-irised ball player a long time ago when I still lived in Asheville. Since moving to camp, my sketchbooks are packed away somewhere in my dad’s basement. I’ll find ‘em one day and scan all kinds of great images for all of you to wear.

So camp is going kind of crazy. Kids are strange. I keep forgetting that I work with a certain stripe of kids; those with behavioral disorders. They don’t represent every teenager out there. Lately, for weeks, kids have been fleeing their campsites for other campsites at night while we chiefs are asleep. We’ve had to stay up all night, or wake very frequently just to make sure our kids are still accounted for. It’s very problematic when kids run off. At night, there is no light, they don’t have proper boots (we collect boots at night to prevent running away. A lot of good it does), they can’t really see where they’re going, so the risk of injury and getting lost increase alarmingly.

Several campers in my group have been running off. One camper in particular, however, has decided he’s not going to “follow into the negativity,” and has been working hard to do well at camp. He’s been a badly needed infusion of positivity in my group, my life, my job. I really appreciate him. The other day, while my group was wallowing in low morale, low motivation and tons of loafing around, this kid sat on our meeting logs with me and wrote a poem to his mom. He asked my help creating the verses. I tried my best not to write the poem for him but help him come up with phrases that matched the rhyme scheme and meter he’d established, and conveyed the sentiments he wished to express.

It was a great moment. The poem was choppy and awkward, riddled with spelling errors, but very sweet and sincere. He asked if I’d draw a heart below the poem. I did. He asked if I’d add a banner. I did. He asked if I’d draw wings on the heart. I did. He asked for an arrow through the heart. I obliged. Then he wrote on the banner “Love that will Never Break.” I almost cried (understand, I was also very sleep deprived at the time. I’m no Sally Struthers). I was like “wow.” These kids are humans after all. Forgive the image. I doodled it on a café napkin just now and took a phone pic. The original was much nicer.

I mean, I never doubted the humanity of my campers. Their antics confirm it, actually. But it’s rare that I see the loving side of my campers’ humanity. They’re so busy playing hard and acting macho that such sensitivity rarely surfaces. Campers miss their families terribly. This kid in particular writes his mom nearly every day. She is his incentive to complete his camp program successfully and return home. When campers exhibit “maladaptive” behaviors, it sets them back. When they work hard to overcome their impulses and stay consistent with helpful behaviors, their camp stays shorten. They go back home either on time or early.

With so many of my guys acting crazy and going ape, you can bet I’ll dump as much of my attention and support into kids like this one who stays in bounds, supports his chiefs and his group, is funny, kind and considerate. He’s got a way with words, this one. Nearly everything out of his mouth is quotable. I’ve suggested he be a radio talk show host or an actor. When kids come from rough backgrounds where the only industry they can conceive of is drug sales and gang crimes, few of them realize what natural potential they possess for great and interesting occupations. I try to help them realize all their natural talents and skills and brainstorm which industries best suit them.

As this camper got down for the night, I helped him address his envelope to his mom. I tucked in the bug nets for his tent partners, made sure water bottles were filled, collected boots. I noticed he was still sitting up and scratching away at a notebook page. As I approached to encourage him to get to sleep, he tore the page out and handed it to me. He asked “do you like my robot? I drew it for you.” I was taken aback. I loved it. I want to put it on a T shirt for him. I have to think of a creative way around having to do the same for all my other campers who’ll cry “unfair” at such a gesture. Oh well.

Lately I’ve been thinking of quitting camp ‘cause of all the chaos and the lack of sleep I have as a result. I can’t leave my guys though. Some of them are working hard and have come to depend on me. They tell me their secrets and ask my advice. I can’t just up and quit and make them have to learn to trust a stranger or whomever might replace me. It’s tough. Whenever I return to camp, there’s a sharp block of anxiety in my gut. I know I’ll have another five days of getting cursed to my face, kids breaking rules they’ve known for months, serving the often very divergent needs of so many kids at once, and, of course, sleeping 3 to 4 hours a night. The work is the hardest I’ve ever done in my life. I want to get back to art. I spent time in a comic book shop today chatting with the clerk about X-Men and various illustrators for about an hour. I miss my old life. But I’ve got this one now. I’ve been at it for 6 months. I can’t quit yet.