Everything had gone smoothly this past summer. The campers were going to return home unscathed and the staff was taking a collective deep breath — until a parent showed up early to pick up his child.
The parent knocked on his child’s cabin door without getting a response. Finally, after knocking harder and harder, he opened the door and entered. Inside, he tripped over shoes and towels and almost landed face-first on the wooden planks. The cabin was a mess!
An Ounce of Prevention
Maintaining a safe environment begins with a clean camp (and not just on the last day of camp). In this case, having the campers pick up and hang up their wet towels would not only have prevented an embarrassing situation but also would help prevent mold, which in turn, prevents exacerbations of asthma. The ideal would be to hang the towels outside in the sun, but small hooks by the bedside also work.
And, don’t forget the single best piece of infection control advice your Mommy ever gave you, “Wash your hands!” In the face of an ever-increasing threat from antibiotic resistant bacterial bugs and new strains of emerging microbial illnesses, hand washing is still the number one way to fight the spread of germs. If traditional hand washing (water & soap) is logistically difficult, invest in some hand sanitizer and “spritz” all that enter the dining hall or other activities that will include handling of objects, eating, or sitting in close proximity.
Keep in mind that because campers sleep in such close proximity with one another, colds, strep throat, and other infections are more easily spread during summer camp experiences. A good practice for the prevention of epidemic colds in the cabin is to place the campers in a toe-to-head configuration. For example, with two bunks together, the campers would sleep opposite each other, as would the campers on the top and the bottom bunk.
Usually, it is the very young campers that experience the epidemic colds during sleep-away camp. It is no fun to have to quarantine the children in the infirmary for sore throat and fevers when this can be avoided with common sense practices.
All activities are fun and welcomed whether they take place during structured sessions or free time. But beware, there is a dangerous potential for injury if the campers are not in appropriate attire for the activity.
For example, last summer some of our campers put together a quick pick-up football game during free time. They had done the same thing just a few days prior, on the first day of camp. Only this day, one of the campers was barefoot and as he ran for the play, he tripped and fell. He was in excruciating pain. X-rays in the emergency room revealed two fractures and the need for emergency surgery. He won’t be running without shoes anymore, but that was a very hard lesson for this 15-year-old camper. His leg cast was just recently removed, but he is still participating in intensive physical therapy.
Needless to say, shoes should be worn at all times during camp activities and for walking to and from those activities. ‘Flip-flops’ are fun and easy to wear but their use should be limited to activities not involving long walks in the woods, horseback riding or sports. Usually sandals are reserved for lakes, pools or other water activities. Many camps are now requiring parents to purchase sandals with secured straps for leisure camp wear.
Supplying all the correct equipment for each sport and activity is of utmost importance. This includes safety equipment that conforms to established standards. Camp policy should include buying and maintaining safety equipment and laying out the whole camp with safety in mind. Sports like quad bike riding should take place at a separate course with safety perimeters. Archery ranges should be roped off with specially designated waiting and shooting areas.
Before each session, all children should take part in a safety briefing and be instructed on the strict safety rules that apply at all times. And, of course, insist correct safety equipment be worn.
It’s difficult to be everywhere at once. So, your staff must take ownership when they see a catastrophe waiting to happen.
They need to intervene and change the circumstances and prevent serious injuries.
One death trap to avoid is the “slip & slide” in which a tarp is laid down on a grassy area, the surface spread with liquid soap and water continuously sprayed to maintain the “slippery” surface. I have witnessed many accidents with this type of play with teens (who tend to engage in rougher play then younger kids) getting hurt worse.
I have seen avulsed teeth (teeth knocked out of their sockets), I’ve seen children with varying degrees of concussions due to sliding into a tree, a bench, or another camper while going approximately 40 miles an hour, and of course, the old rush to the ER for suturing up gaping lacerations.
Don’t Panic, We Can Still Have Fun
By now, you must be thinking I’m the worst party-pooper nurse ever because I believe everything is dangerous (that’s OK, that’s what my three boys think!).
But, you would be wrong. I believe in having fun. I’m the first to get up and cheer and scream and play with our campers (at every opportunity I get!).
But, it is true I would rather play safely than make the dreaded phone call to a parent having to explain the accident (one that probably could have been prevented).
Camp is about exploring, discovering self, increasing self- esteem and most important, having fun. It gives kids a wonderful opportunity to grow and learn in a healthy and positive environment that is both fun and safe.
Everybody is in this together. Parents need to be aware of all rules, regulations (usually in the form of a Parent Handbook) and available activities so they can provide their children with all the required safety equipment.
Campers are expected to comply with all camp rules and regulations to ensure the continuous safe and healthy environment at camp.
And the camp, in addition to providing a safe camp setting, should hire a qualified pediatric registered nurse (RN) to assure safety and assume partial responsibility for the care and safety of all children. Acting in loco parentis, the RN can apply the same standards of care and safety any parent would expect. So while the children are having fun, all can rest assured they are being well looked after. It is all about the total camp experience; affording the parents peace of mind while offering the children the best summer camp experience ever!
“You are worried about seeing him spend his early years doing nothing. What! Is it nothing to be happy? Nothing to skip, play, and run around all day long? Never in his life will he be so busy again.”
~Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, 1762
Elizabeth Levine, RN, MSN, is an 18-year veteran in Neonatal-Pediatric Nursing. She has been a camp nurse for seven years, and has been at Camp Judaea, Hendersonville, NC for the past six summers. Presently the Director of Nursing for Maternal / Child Services at North Shore Medical Center, Miami, FL, and adjunct professor at Miami Dade College, Miami, FL, where she teaches Pediatric and Obstetrical Nursing. She has three camp-age boys and is working on her dissertation towards a PhD in Nursing.