Camp Nurse


The two week stint at Camp Heartland, a summer camp for kids both infected and affected by HIV/AIDS was my first real nursing job. The head nurse handed me a list of names on the first day. "Cabin 5" was written across the top, underneath was a line which read "6 and 7 year old boys". Kirk Morales was the sixth name on a list of ten.

Kirk was a sixty pound package of pure trouble, and hands down, my favorite camper in Cabin 5. He was undeniably adorable, with a mop of curly black hair and a tendency towards constant motion. Unfortunately, his hyperactivity exceeded the limitations both his ADHD medication and his camp counselor's patience. From my seat in the nursing station, directly adjacent to the dining hall, I overheard agitated exclamations of "Sit down, Kirk!" upwards of ten times per meal. I smiled, thinking, "That's my boy."

Kirk's cousin Matthew was in Cabin 8 with the other 9 year olds. Matthew kept a close eye on Kirk, scolding and encouraging him with the finesse of a parent. When the two boys arrived at camp, a five-hour flight's distance from their Florida home, they ambled into the nursing station hand-in-hand. Matthew walked slightly ahead, and wore both of their backpacks. "Go ahead, Kirk," Matthew said gently to his cousin when I approached the smaller boy. "She's going to take good care of you." Matthew had been to camp before. This was Kirk's first time.

Squatting towards the ground to bring my face level with Kirk's, I reviewed his multiple medications. An inhaler and a bottle of pills for his asthma. Another white-topped bottle containing twice-daily tablets for his behavioral problems. Cough syrup. Nothing, I noted, for HIV. "Negative," I presumed, marking it on in my mental check-off list for Cabin 5.

Matthew always stood beside Kirk while I dispensed his medications. "Okay, Kirk, water or Tang?" I asked. The medication was mandatory. The fluid chaser, optional.

"Better give him Tang." Matthew spoke with authority. "He hasn't learned to swallow them plain yet. Right, Kirk? Especially those bumpy ones. Gotta have something to drink to get 'em down." Kirk nodded in agreement, feet tapping and arms swinging. Matthew waited patiently, coaxing Kirk through the ingestion of three different pills. Then Matthew took his own pills from his own, different nurse. I stole a quick read from the side of his orange CVS bottles.

Kirk and I were buddies until Day 3 when he decided to run around the playground barefoot. His counselor, Dave, carried him, squealing, into the nursing station. Kirk squirmed all over the elementary-school-cafeteria-style table and bench. He was crying, and playing "keep away" with his own feet. Eventually, Counselor Dave had to pin him down.

The last thing you'd expect a 6 year old to say as you are pulling splinters out of the bottom of his foot is "Screw you!" Give him another ten years, force him to drink his third Ensure of the day and dispense the green pill that he knows will bring on the nightmares, and the same phrase stands well within reason.

I will admit, after the initial momentary surprise, that the words hurt my feelings. "I'm on your side, kiddo, we need to get these little bits of wood out of your feet so you can play again. Don't you want that?" Kirk sniffled and slid across the bench. I fetched gloves, gauze, some alcohol pads, and a pair of tweezers from the medical supply closet.

Dave held him steady, while I fished under the table for one of Kirk's feet. He kicked the sore sole out of my hands. It was like trying to trap a live bird. Blood smeared across his heel. "Stop it!" he screamed. "Don't touch me."

"Kirk, I need to do this. I'm just going to clean it up and take a look at it."

"Don't! Don't touch me! I'm bleeding!"

"It's okay, Kirk, we'll just put a Band-Aid on it."

"No, you can't do that. Please. You can't touch my blood. It's dangerous for you!" The soft-skinned, tanned child was sobbing now, pleading with me. For a moment, I felt my own eyes burn. "What a heavy weight," I thought, "to carry on such small shoulders."

Copyright 2007- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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