A CDE Reminisces about Diabetes Camping “Before We Had Meters!”

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

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

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

Our routine was strictly regimented but oh, so much fun. Eachsession was divided by age. There were three cabins on each side ofcamp, one side for boys and the other for girls. We slept in bunkbeds, about thirty to a cabin, and were checked by the counselorsonce or twice every night.

When roused in the morning, everyone rushed to the bathroom todouble void in order to get a fresh and accurate urine sample forthe old Clinitest glucose test. Insulin dosage was then prescribedby the "doc" depending on whether one was true blue or some shade ofgreen varying to dull orange. Everyone except the very youngestcampers drew up and administered their own injections.

Following this morning routine, we climbed the hill to the mainbuilding. There we weighed in, and then we went through the lineand picked up our prescribed breakfast. If the doctor thought youwere overweight, your diet was planned accordingly to kelp you loseweight. 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 measureout the correct portion of food according to our diet prescription.Our diets were divided into percentages of carbs, proteins, and fatsfor the day and then subdivided further for each meal.

We learned that carbs were divided into percentages ranging fromfive to twenty percent; for example citrus fruits were ten percentof 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, playedtennis, and hiked. There were rifle classes and archery, andhorseback riding was another big draw. At night, we square-danced orplayed games in the main building. I well remember carrying Karosyrup in case of low blood sugars, but all activities were plannedso that no one would get too low. On Sundays, we had chapel in theChapel on the hill.

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

We looked for restlessness, cold sweats, and moaning. If wespotted them, we woke the camper up, usually asked them how manyfingers we were holding up. If the response was incorrect, we gavecrackers and orange juice sweetened with sugar. If the insulinreaction was extreme, someone ran for the "doc" and woke him up toadminister IV glucose. To stay awake during the slow times, weplayed tennis for hours, listened to music, and talked.

Counselors were expected to know how to help campers plan their foodexchanges for their personalized menus. If kids did not like whatwas served, we helped them work out suitable exchanges. We alsotaught and supervised insulin injections. Lente insulin had justcome out, and many campers were switched from Globulin or NPH toLente.

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

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

The education aspect has changed but the philosophy of helping aperson become self reliant and able to manage their diabetes isstill foremost.

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