A CDE Reminisces about Diabetes Camping "Before We Had Meters!"

| Jun 24, 2007

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of three, and I have lived with it for 62 years. I can still remember my mother learning to inject insulin into an orange at Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas.

I learned to give my first injection at the age of six. As I grew older I wanted more independence for myself, but diabetes was a stopper because I did not understand about my diet and how insulin worked.

Fortunately, along came Camp Sweeney. The camp is located near Gainesville, Texas, by the Red River, which now forms Lake Texhoma. One of the oldest camps for people with diabetes, it was named after Dr. Jim Sweeney, a father of the camping movement. I first attended his camp in 1956, initially as a camper for several years and later as a counselor.

Our routine was strictly regimented but oh, so much fun. Each session was divided by age. There were three cabins on each side of camp, one side for boys and the other for girls. We slept in bunk beds, about thirty to a cabin, and were checked by the counselors once or twice every night.

When roused in the morning, everyone rushed to the bathroom to double void in order to get a fresh and accurate urine sample for the old Clinitest glucose test. Insulin dosage was then prescribed by the "doc" depending on whether one was true blue or some shade of green varying to dull orange. Everyone except the very youngest campers drew up and administered their own injections.

Following this morning routine, we climbed the hill to the main building. There we weighed in, and then we went through the line and picked up our prescribed breakfast. If the doctor thought you were overweight, your diet was planned accordingly to kelp you lose weight. If you were under weight, you were given added calories. After breakfast came the learning classes.

Older counselors, nurses, and doctors taught us sick day lessons, how to calculate calories from grams of carbs, and how to measure out the correct portion of food according to our diet prescription. Our diets were divided into percentages of carbs, proteins, and fats for the day and then subdivided further for each meal.

We learned that carbs were divided into percentages ranging from five to twenty percent; for example citrus fruits were ten percent of our carb allowance, and apples and grapes were fifteen percent. The exchange method was also taught.

Activity time was never boring. We swam, square-danced, played tennis, and hiked. There were rifle classes and archery, and horseback riding was another big draw. At night, we square-danced or played games in the main building. I well remember carrying Karo syrup in case of low blood sugars, but all activities were planned so that no one would get too low. On Sundays, we had chapel in the Chapel on the hill.

When I returned to the camp as a counselor, the emphasis shifted. We worked in teams of two, and one of our most tedious duties was the night watch. We were expected to stay up all night and check on each camper, and we had to recognize low blood sugars by signs and symptoms because we did not have meters!

We looked for restlessness, cold sweats, and moaning. If we spotted them, we woke the camper up, usually asked them how many fingers we were holding up. If the response was incorrect, we gave crackers and orange juice sweetened with sugar. If the insulin reaction was extreme, someone ran for the "doc" and woke him up to administer IV glucose. To stay awake during the slow times, we played tennis for hours, listened to music, and talked.

Counselors were expected to know how to help campers plan their food exchanges for their personalized menus. If kids did not like what was served, we helped them work out suitable exchanges. We also taught and supervised insulin injections. Lente insulin had just come out, and many campers were switched from Globulin or NPH to Lente.

Had it not been for camp and what I learned there, I may not have done as well as I have; perhaps I would not even be alive today. I just retired from twenty-plus years as a diabetes educator and have been on a pump since the old Auto Syringe was experimental, a total of 28 years.

I never lost my love for camping, and I served as the diabetes educator at the ADA Arkansas camp for a number of years. I have edited a book of educational games that teach diabetic principles, and I wrote several games myself. I am a member of AADE and a registered RN with my CDE. There are now many great camps out there, and most will take a camper regardless of ability to pay.

The education aspect has changed but the philosophy of helping a person become self reliant and able to manage their diabetes is still foremost.

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Categories: Blood Sugar, Camps for Kids, Diabetes, Diabetes, Food, Insulin, Losing weight, Personal Stories, Syringes, Type 1 Issues


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Jun 24, 2007

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