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Camp Omigosh Nearly Derails a Camp Nurse

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How does one decide to hang up their apron, so to speak, when the nurse inside will not die? An oft-retired RN hits the crossroads while working as a camp nurse. Should she pursue more education, or should she step aside and let someone more experienced take the helm?

Specializes in Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep.. Has 30 years experience.

Camp Omigosh Nearly Derails a Camp Nurse

Camp Omigosh is a remote camp set in the verdant mountains of New Hampshire (yes, the name of the camp has been changed to protect the not-so-innocent). This is my fourth year as a camp nurse. Tired from a very busy month, I am actually looking forward to an experience I often dread.

Why do I dread it? I dread it because I am a projector. Not in the psychological sense but in the "Omigosh!" creative writing sense.

But this month, having my psychologically challenged brother up from Florida, plus a week of Vacation Bible School to help with, plus being in the middle of completing requirements to start a new job - I was looking forward to rest and the healing balm of nature.

Now let me tell you that I love my brother. I love working with the K-6 kids in our VBS. I adore the fact that I may be working at a "real job" this fall. And the 3 prior years of dreads I've had towards camp always end up unfounded. What seemed like it would be the worst ended up wonderful. A "high" that would last for months and renew me spiritually and emotionally. The memories of the surroundings and my experiences would sustain me for months. I don't know why I would dread it so much.

But let me just say that this year I was overwhelmed by my responsibilities. July was more than full, and even getting to camp - washing clothes, packing, gathering supplies, psyching myself up - seemed impossible. Then, once I got there, I realized that sometimes the dreads come true. What was difficult in the past seemed tame in comparison to what I experienced this summer. If I was a swearing woman then "Omigosh" would take up this whole page.

Kids from 5th grade to "graduated from 12th" would be attending our camp. We'd arrive at noon on Monday and return Saturday afternoon. Well, the experience started prematurely. Instead of the two nurses riding up in a car, one of the nurses (me) rode up in the bus. My friend didn't even tell me she was leaving; she just left. I began to doubt the love that she had expressed to me many times.

Hmm, how to express my disappointment. I was seated smack-dab in the middle of the bus. One adult (besides the driver) was in the front seat, and two other counselors were in the back.The one in the front exchanged anecdotes with the driver.The two in the back blissfully stared out the window with their earphones firmly planted.

This meant that I was responsible to be the bad guy - please don't scream in my ear, please don't throw that, please don't punch, please don't fall out the window - well, you get the idea. And kids never listen to me anyway. I'm shorter than most of them and, like Rodney Dangerfield, I get no respect. I could have used those headphones; ignorance is bliss, hence, i was not very happy.

But this tells you nothing about my nursing experience at camp this year. Oh, I could tell you about the nursing station, where the mice had built their homes in the cabinet and bureau drawers. Where the doors and windows of the cabin had been firmly closed, of course. Ah, thankfully, the smell was pungent, so we were not completely surprised at the surprises in the drawers. We were mid cleanout when our first patient, bleeding profusely (how??), arrived, before we had even unzipped our medical supply bags.

I won't tell you about the head lice, prophylactic ace bandages, crocodile tears, trips to the hospital, trips to the pharmacy, the multiple runs down the hill, followed by multiple runs up the hill, yes, with feet. My coworker's trips were limited because her cane and her cart (that she used as a walker) did not do well on the uneven ground. She felt guilty, and I was hard-pressed to feel resentful toward her. But still ...

Oh, and let's not forget the other runs. you know, diarrhea. and, the inevitable early morning emergency Bandaids. What about the number of items we forgot to bring? What about driving unfamiliar vehicles on unfamiliar roads? One year, all I could do was marvel at the beautiful sky. This year, what sky?

The thing that bothered me the most, though, was not the fact that we were straight-out busy, or that we couldn't relax on the screened-in porch or even attend religious services, as we had in previous years between Bandaids. No, it was the fact that this year it became apparent that my rusty skills were getting even rustier.

Other years, I would imagine the worst happening to the kids, and what would I tell those parents? I was responsible for their safety and well-being. Each year I'd prepare as best I could. But I could see this time that I needed to know more than I do. I couldn't keep up, and more often than not I had to defer to the other nurse on more serious issues, doubting my own assessments, and realizing that I was not the best candidate for this position. I could not even assert myself when it was necessary or stand firm on my decisions.

So I am torn. Do I pass, when they offer me the opportunity next year? (More like, beg, plead, and tell me there will be no camp if there is no me). Or, do I pursue what I dread the most? Do I go back to school for the leadership, assessment, and pediatrics experience that I need?

See, I have "given up nursing" so many times it's not even funny. It's generally because the stress is so great. I also have bipolar illness, and maintaining my stability depends on my taking care not to get that stressed.

So. I have a year to decide, but actually, less than that, because I need to let the camp director know my decision right away if I'm not going to do it next year.

I really don't want to go back to school. and of course there are other options besides formally going back for my BSN.

But a part of me, in my heart of hearts, wants to try yet again. Nursing was my first love. I do love making those little ... angels feel better. And I love feeling like I have done a good job by them and their parents.

What to do, what to do.

But it sure proves the point that, once a nurse, always a nurse. She will always be a part of me, no matter how far I run.

Liddle Noodnik is an RN with a variety of experiences in different areas of nursing. Each one was her favorite, and built upon the other. She has one adult son and loves nature, photography, writing - and people.

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12 Comment(s)

Liddle, thank you for sharing from the heart. It is a decision not easily made. I made it under duress but am glad I did. Now I can concentrate on learning other things that I enjoy sharing with others. I am not tied down to a very frightening position,being responsible for another's life. While that may seem melodramatic it is the feeling I got when I did the last job, an on-call position. I recognized that I had to either up my game or find a new line. My plan at that time was a new line, perhaps home health, hospice,or some place where I would not be forced to fight death so hard. I had figured a part time job to supplement income and be part of allowing a natural death. you know that is not what happened. Instead I got out of it completely except for AN. I have few regrets. Money is one and another is the feelings I get sometimes that I should be using what I learned in school. I now recognize I use what I learned in nursing and in life for my current position. So usually I can self talk out of this "shoulding" myself.

I know this is no help in making your decision. Put it off until you are thinking with less emotion and get more facts about what you need to do and how you wold go about getting more education.

Liddle Noodnik

Specializes in Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep.. Has 30 years experience.

I know this is no help in making your decision. Put it off until you are thinking with less emotion and get more facts about what you need to do and how you wold go about getting more education.

It really IS helpful AKY. Right now I am in emoting mode and have been since the 23rd when I jumped on that bus ("jumped" is actually an exaggeration, haha) Your post is helping me get a little more clarity. There was a time when that "responsibility for life" and myself were very compatible. I enjoyed what I did and I was good at it. But I'm not there right now.

I'm at those crossroads myself.

I am deeply disillusioned by the way nursing has changed in many ways but mostly with respect to the very limited ability to gain employment being an older nurse with no BSN. I was a hospital bedside nurse for 30 years, lost my position back in 2008 for what I believe to be doing the right thing- I stuck up for an other nurse and the mob turned on me. That was before 'bullying' became a fashion statement. I have managed to just squeek by with one temp position after another, and sometimes an agency der deim now and then.

What I came to realize back in 2008 and 8 months of unemployment was, the world of nursing doesn't want us old nurses and especially doesn't want us without the BSN and in the hospitals. I thought it was me personally until I started doing alot of reading and following the news/current events.

My current plan of attack is to stick with seasonal work. Camp nursing was going to be one of them. I am not going to stick my neck out again.Hopefully I can get to that ever so precious BSN and see if that takes me to the 'far away places'(haha) academia promises. My travels into the world of "temp" has shown me there's more to nursing than the hospital environment- I have learned new things- LTC, telehealth, triage, epidemiology, dabbled into public health, outpatient family practice including pediatrics, case managment, disease management. I have learned new words like "clinical Nurse" "non-clinical""informatics" Call center". I have become spoiled and set free.

I will try my plan and see if it can take me to goal #1- that BSN and then make the decision of whether or not to leave Nursing totally behind; but I do know, I refuse to go back to the hospital again.

I wonder if the power that be in nursing ever dreamed that when they locked out the older nurses, the older nurses would end up not wanting to comeback, even those of us who are not retirement age.

Liddle Noodnik

Specializes in Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep.. Has 30 years experience.

I'm at those crossroads myself.
Sounds like it has made you stronger, in a way. You have tried all these different kinds of Nursing Jobs that you never would have. Maybe that's a thought (for me)

Hope wherever you end up that it's a good place!

xo

Liddle- I know it's hard, believe me. I was so angry and lost after 30 years bedside was all I knew. The thing that kept me or got me to try the first out of the box was I needed full time employment and Nursing is all I know how to do.

I remember my first thought after I realized from the job loss in January 2008, I cannot just walk into another hospital and get hired tomorrow like it was in the 1980's. Something had changed and I thougt it was me. I didn't know what to do. It was cold hard reality that no hospital around me was hiring.

I started to apply to anywhere nursing- I googled the home health/VMA close to me. I called a coworker who started doing Home health and asked her what it was like. Up to that point I thought "home health was the child of the lesser god in nursing" but I was going to bite the bullet any way. I had to. I had 2 daughters counting on me, a home to keep, my savings we were living off of. I was too stupid to file Unemployment so no income. So, I was going to settle for what I thought was second best. Well I didn't get the position.

So I signed up getting the only hospital position I could get that July 2008 a per deim in a hospital cardiac stepdown and I signed up with an agency and told them all I wanted to do was LTC. I never did LTC in my life but to me that was also the child of the lesser god, less threatening; after all, "The Hospital was the creme del la creme" as we were told in school. The next dose of reality, the shifts weren't coming the way I remembered in perdeim hospital or agency nurses talked- agency work 7 days/week. the hospital was in financial trouble and cutting nursing staff hours. I thought I was safe with the LTC agency- wrong! LTC was cutting back also.

Well it was April 2009, I was also helping to take care of my elderly mom. I began to google (looking for her a medical day care to get some socialization and PT,OT). I found the Dept of Aging and got on the State Dept of Health website. On there I saw a job posting for a "Regional Staff Nurse- temporary, grant funded position in the Infectious Disease Dept". I thought to myself, I know isolation precautions- gloves, masks , gowns. So as a quiet joke to myself, out of frustration, I applied and forgot about it. In addition that day, being in the" fed up with the job hunt mood" I was in, I also saw a positing on USAjobs.gov for a "Clinical Nurse" at the nearest Military base and applied to that one too. What did I have to loose. I was essentially unemployed and I applied there to.

In doing my agency few shifts at the LTC, the perdeim few shifts and I signed up to do Flu shot clinics. Well in Nov 2009 I was called by the DOH and given the position. When i got to the "office" i didn't have one clue what to do. I stareted to jam reading sessions on Epidemiology, and every thing Epidemiology and after 3 months- it clicked.Just before that position ended, the Military base called and asked me to come for an interview. I got that job 2 months after the Dept of health job ended. Again- I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Went home crying every night almost quit and di googling telehealth, triage, case managment, then 3 months after the nightly reading jam sessions and a video i found on the Walgreen's website- it clicked. That job I loved and it lasted until this past May.

The dabble and experimentation gave me a glimpse of what else is out there, I am less afraid as I was back in 2008 to apply to the out of the box, other nursing areas, the non-clinical. The base job also gave me experience in pediatrics which I have sworn for 30 years I would NEVER do. My second phone call to a mom, I loved it and it came natural to me. So I am no longer afraid of Peds.

Moral of the story- Us old Nurse gals/guys have to not be afraid. If you examine your skills and ask your self "can I do this ??" ( like the Dept of Health Infectious disease job) The first step is hard- just close your eyes and plunge. Then do a mountain of reading and self study and it will click( it's just a learning curve).

I have sent out dozens of applications, no bites, I have had 2 interview- Home Health/VNA and an Home Infusion Nurse per deim, no word yet. I have by back up plan in place. I filed for Unemployment and signed up for the flu shots for this fall and my plan is chart reviews in the spring and camp nursing in the summer. I will work at grocery store if I have to make a full time pay. Either way- I will know whether I will continue in the roller coaster ride called nursing by the end of next summer.

Check out your dept of health, your elementary school for school nurse, the home health, the infusion companies, the doctor's offices- It sounds like you have alot of pediatric experience. Check out you church for Parish Nursing, the nursing agencies also-look in the careers section of the department stores- Lowes, Home depot, macy's JcPennies- they hire occupational nurses( I found a temporary occupational nursing position posting at Tiffany's jewelers in my state- I applied!! didn't hear anything but who knows) Check oput the nurse advise lines around your area. I think you posted you are in NH or Maine- check out Sironahealth.com Check out the pediatric hospitals for after hours nursing advise lines. I think both maine and NH are compact states- that's why the nursing advise lines are more plentiful up in New England and you have more rural areas. More opportunities in the remote( work out of home office on the phone!!) triage area of nursing. In my state we have postage size lawns- people slammed up against each other.

At the department of health- i didn't see one patient- it wasn't that kind of position. I loved it. At the base- I saw very few, just talked to them on the phone, I loved it- no call bells, no 4 people talking at you at once, noover head paging, no meds to give out. I just had to talk on the phone and give advise and there are protocol books to give the answers

keep us posted. Do what you have to do.

Edited by kcmylorn

tuhcoolyuh

Has 2 years experience.

All the "terrible" things you listed about what you had to put up with at camp sounded fine to me - your description of busy camp nursing with all it's pitfalls and emergencies actually seems right up my alley. But I love that kind of stuff, and I love working with kids. It sounds like you really hate it, which is totally okay, so just say no. Let somebody know (and soon) that this was your last year, so now they have a year to find a replacement and they can't tell you that camp won't go on without you. Good luck! There are so many fields of nursing, you just need to find something that better fits with your personality.

Liddle Noodnik

Specializes in Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep.. Has 30 years experience.

thanks guys, now that I have had a chance to cool my jets it doesn't seem so bad lol... and maybe I will do it again. but def. I need more preparation than I have had, like, a serious first aid course (I took one online that was a joke) or maybe and/or go back for my BSN, so I can build my confidence/leadership/ and additional nursing skills (I believe the BSN here gives you school nursing and I think also additional peds) - anyway - I kind of want to do it next year lol

Liddle- I know it's hard, believe me. I was so angry and lost after 30 years bedside was all I knew. The thing that kept me or got me to try the first out of the box was I needed full time employment and Nursing is all I know how to do...

Moral of the story- Us old Nurse gals/guys have to not be afraid. If you examine your skills and ask your self "can I do this ??" ( like the Dept of Health Infectious disease job) The first step is hard- just close your eyes and plunge. Then do a mountain of reading and self study and it will click( it's just a learning curve).. etc.

LOVED reading this. Keep your eyes open for applicable article writing contests and write this up. I bet you will win. You really encouraged me!!

All the "terrible" things you listed about what you had to put up with at camp sounded fine to me - your description of busy camp nursing with all it's pitfalls and emergencies actually seems right up my alley. But I love that kind of stuff, and I love working with kids. It sounds like you really hate it, which is totally okay, so just say no. Let somebody know (and soon) that this was your last year, so now they have a year to find a replacement and they can't tell you that camp won't go on without you. Good luck! There are so many fields of nursing, you just need to find something that better fits with your personality.

well I did not mention a number of the things that happened. It was a LOT -- like, the counselor w/ the torn bicep (yeah, tendon ripped right off the bone!) and the act of congress it took to borrow a vehicle to take kids to the hosp, or to run to the pharm (we did finally work something out ...). and a bunch of other health care situations I didn't mention. But anyway you are right, it probably was no more difficult and perhaps LESS difficult, than a typical camp experience. Just, lots busier than in previous years, DEF. if I kept that up over the course of the summer, I'd have had no weight problem at the end lol... and 2nd, my ability to decide whether to continue would def. have been clearer ;) ... but anyway I really appreciate the feedback and suggestions, I will let you guys know what I decide/how things work out.

One thing I would suggest is to write P&P based on your experiences. You and your partner have been doing it long enough you know the routine things. This year has given you experience with the non-routine things. Make sure you put in how to get kids and staff to doctor, hospital and dentist. (teeth get knocked out frequently). I have a relative who can give you pointers (after the summer). She used to be a camp director so she has some idea of all the things that can go wrong.

I wrote tons of P&P. It helped me to think through situations better and write the cookbook so not everyone had to fall in all the traps I found.

I just thought of that.:idea: It is a confidence builder.

Liddle Noodnik

Specializes in Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep.. Has 30 years experience.

One thing I would suggest is to write P&P based on your experiences.

It's a very good idea. Some of it is covered in the camp's "Standing Orders" but none so specific. But I like it for sure re the stuff that they don't cover.

Interestingly, under "pediculosis," it basically just said how to treat it (it even said KWELL, which is not used anymore!), and the bedding, but it said nothing about sending kids home or not.

That is a fabulous idea AKY- writing Policy and Proceedure for Childrens camps.

What I have found; us old nurses have the skills and the mostly that 'sacred' experience. We are just not familiar with the new fandangled labels put on these skills and experience. These are things we have been doing for years and years.

Examples:

When we get report on a group of patients- doesn't matter if it's acute care, LTC or Camp nursing- this used to be called prioritizing( we did/do it every duty shift, mentally) aka deciding who to go to first, second and third etc, who the doctor needs to see= this is "triage":idea: ( Do you belive at least 4 people have made a ton of money off writing text books about each and every disease senario we have been doing for years and years: Barton Schmitt- 'Pediatric Protocols for Telephone Triage'. This is now the gold standard of care in pediatric triage. This doctor doesn't have to see another patient in his lifetime)

When we talk to a patient or a family about how to do something- dressing change, medication instructions and give follow up instructions, we called it 'patient teaching' = this is now called "nursing consultation":idea:

When we talk to an asthmatic about taking their inhalers, which inhaler is the preventative, which is the rescurer, and the technique for using the inhaler, what to avoid as triggers, which symptoms to be aware of for impending trouble, recommendations when and how frequently to see the doctor, peds has an asthma action plan/ AIM managment sheet that is recommendated by each state's dept of health = this is "disease management":idea: ( this is a red hot, hot topic with Pediatrics. Many state deptartments of health have grant funded positions for nursing positions in the deptartment and in some FQHC clinics, and public funded outpatient family practice clinics- the grant funds pay the nurses salary to do these positions: check out the civil service commission in your state)

Liddle Noodnik

Specializes in Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep.. Has 30 years experience.

Just FYI, I did decide a couple of months after this experience that I would not be helping with camp this coming year, and I feel really good about the decision. I will miss camp, and the kids (maybe I can go visit for a couple days) - but I have no question that it was the right thing to do.