Sheena Nguyen 2017-08-11 00:57:18
As dermatology residents, sometimes our world can appear very small. We spend the months leading up to our in-service exam buried in books, and outside of studying, our days in clinic can sometimes seem never-ending. So, when the opportunity came to take a step away from this world, even for just one week, I leapt toward the chance to be a volunteer and experience Camp Discovery — a camp that offers a one-of-a-kind experience for kids living with chronic skin diseases. This turned out to be one of the most exhausting, yet completely rewarding, weeks of my residency career thus far. On the first night, all the volunteers prepared for the campers’ arrival by meticulously studying the background of our cabin’s campers — everything from their skin conditions to food allergies to which medications needed to be administered and when. After hours of reviewing, I had gone to bed that night feeling comfortable and prepared. Less than 24 hours later, I realized that I was so wrong. How do you convince a 10-year-old girl to get in the pool with the group when she is almost always wearing a hat to obscure her extensive hair loss? Is it safe for the kids with severe allergies to be petting the therapy dogs and llamas? The answers to these questions were definitely not in any manual. As overwhelming as it must have been for some of these children to be leaving home, as well as their parents and friends — some for the very first time — I could definitely relate to their uncertainties. That first night with the campers present, I was assigned to night duty, which was essentially keeping guard in the hallways of the cabin and responding to anything from potential seizures to making sure any sleepwalkers didn’t wander away. Luckily, it was an uneventful night, but not being able to sleep myself, I took the opportunity to write welcome notes to the campers and spent time reviewing some of the genetic conditions in my textbook…there were so many I was beginning to lose track! Not that studying was time wasted, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that these kids are so much more than the dermatologic diseases they arrived with. Even though that first night we memorized names to diseases, by the end of camp, I could only remember things like how incredibly talented the girls in my cabin were when they performed a rendition of Vance Joy’s Riptide with a guitar, or how genuinely funny another camper was with his knock-knock jokes that left me in tears laughing almost every time. My admiration for these kids grew more and more with each passing moment that I spent with them, and by the end, my only wish was that they carry on the confidence and happiness that I witnessed them exude at Camp Discovery. Maybe the cheesiness rubbed off on me (though it’s most likely a pre-existing condition), but if there were more places like Camp Discovery, the world really would be a happier place. It’s pretty impossible not to have a smile on your face when you’re treated to dinner shows with the United States Boomerang Team (they are a real thing, and they took home gold medals at the world competition this past fall), or getting pampered before the talent show with hair stylists and makeup artists from Nordstrom, or taking part in a full-blown food fight (gluten- and nut-free of course), or even experiencing simpler things like eating produce straight from the garden and puckering up from the sour apple taste of a Sorrel leaf. These uniquely unforgettable experiences that go along with Camp Discovery would not have been possible without the generous donations from AAD members and others, and the volunteers that put the resources to use. Even though each camp is only a week long, it leaves a lasting impression that support for the program is vital year-round. The takeaway from this experience, at least for me, seems to be that we need to remember we’re treating more than just disease in our patients. We may be inundated figuring out which steroid will be covered for our eczema patients and other obstacles of the sort, but it’s important to note that places like Camp Discovery are out there, and they’re essentially a prescription for joy for everyone involved. Sheena Nguyen, MD, is a PGY-4 dermatology resident at the Western University of Health Sciences / Chino Valley Medical Center. Learn more about Camp Discovery at www.campdiscovery.org
Published by American Academy Of Dermatology. View All Articles.