It was in the spring of 2005 that I received a call from the director of the diabetes camp in the state where I lived and worked as a sales rep for a blood glucose meter company. He was calling to ask if I would volunteer as a counselor at the week-long camp, which served around 200 campers, the vast majority with type 1 diabetes. I’d known for years that counselors were always in demand at the camp, but had never stepped forward to volunteer. I’d heard the stories of how tough and exhausting it was keeping up with your group, performing 2:00 AM blood sugar checks, and ensuring that they all stayed safe and had fun. Frankly, I’d always had serious doubts as to whether I was up to it. This, however, was the first time that I had been directly asked to volunteer, and something inside me made me grudgingly agree. As I drove to the campsite to begin that week in June, though, I’d be lying if I did not admit to being as nervous as any of the kids who were attending.
As the week unfolded, however, an interesting thing happened. It became more and more clear to me that this was the best decision I could have made. As I got to know the kids at camp, I not only greatly enjoyed being around them, but they were also an inspiration to me. I found myself thinking back to when I was their age, and I remembered the feelings of self-doubt that often plagued me. I do not have diabetes, however, and could only imagine the additional challenges that it would throw into the mix of growing up. Well, you certainly could not have guessed any of that by being around them at camp. They went about their diabetes-related tasks of frequent insulin injections and finger sticks quickly and without fanfare, and then they got on to the more important business of building friendships, learning from one another, and just having a great time.
Well, let’s fast forward three-and-a-half years. While I no longer sell blood glucose meters, this past summer I completed my fourth year as a counselor. Was I exhausted at the end of the week? Of course. Was it worth it? No question about it. I know it’s an overused cliché, so I apologize, but it’s true…I get more out of the camp than the kids do. Being a positive part of the campers’ experience is truly gratifying, and on a personal level, I cherish the friendships that I’ve developed with the kids. I also realize that they may not perceive themselves the way I do. So, in an effort to help them see what I see, I wrote the following poem, which I shared with them at the conclusion of last year’s camp.
by Kirby Bowen
We’ve had a great time at camp this week,
You campers have my endless admiration,
I wanted to make you all aware of that,
And now I’d like to share some observations.
I do not have diabetes,
So forgive me if I don’t have a clue,
But over the years I’ve gained some knowledge,
And I’ve learned from being around all of you.
I know you get up every day and face the difficult task
Of keeping your blood sugars in healthy ranges,
It’s a daily grind to pursue this goal,
And it’s a routine that never changes.
As you’ve learned, there are lots of ups and downs,
But know that fault often does not lie with you.
Blood glucose sometimes has a mind of its own,
And will vary no matter what you do.
Be a realist, and not a perfectionist,
And follow this advice please,
When you have a good day, take credit,
When a bad day comes, blame the disease.
So as you lie in bed after a difficult day,
Please don’t give in to sorrow,
But pay attention to that courageous voice
That whispers, “I’ll try again tomorrow”.
But all of this advice I’ve thrown your way
Is probably nothing new,
Since living well with diabetes
Is something I’ve seen that you all do.
So in closing, all of you campers listen up,
There’s something you need to hear before you go.
Leave here tomorrow with your head held high,
You’re stronger than you know.
Kirby Bowen lives in Summerville, South Carolina, and will celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary on June 10th this year. Actually, he won’t celebrate it until the following week because he’ll be working as a counselor that week at Camp Adam Fisher in Summerton, the camp he mentions above. He is the proud father of a 15-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. He has been in diabetes-related sales for 20 years: seven selling insulin, the next six selling BG meters, and the last seven selling insulin pumps.