Tuesday, March 08, 2011

DSMA Carnival Topic of the Week: Diabetes Summer Camps

Theme song "Are You Ready For The Summer?" from the 1979 movie "Meatballs"

The entire topic of diabetes summer camps seems to be pretty popular in the blogosphere, perhaps because the final deadlines for enrollment (and deposits) is imminent (or has passed for at least a few summer camps). See HERE and HERE for more on this subject from the Diabetes Social Media Advocacy (DSMA) blog. However, realize that residential summer camps are a big luxury for many families, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime luxury. The cost of residential summer camps for a 2-week stay in the Northeast is now around $3,000 per child for the 2011 season. Even though many camps have scholarship programs, the reality is that even with some form of scholarship, the cost may still be out of reach for many families. For example, for a family with say 3 children (or more), the choice NOT to send all of their of children away for summer may simply be an economic decision. For 3 children to go away to summer camp, parents would need to spend approximately $10,000, while an entire family may be able to go away someplace on vacation for the same cost (or less). Simply stated, summer camps are a luxury for many families, even though it seems like it's standard operating procedure for many families in the New York City Metro area to send their kids away to camp not just for a few weeks, but for the entire summer, year-after-year.

Because of the cost, day camps are an even more popular option for many families, and growing up, I did enjoy going to a nearby day camp most days (except when the weather was lousy) where I learned how to windsurf and kayak (I already knew how to swim and row a boat), but mostly it was just a place to hang out with other kids and have fun. But I also remember my parents having to to deal with special instructions on how to deal with hypos and the like with the camp administration, even though they never needed those things while I was at camp. Fortunately, since the day camp I went to was funded (at least partially) by taxpayer dollars, the camp was in no position to say "sorry, your kid with type 1 diabetes cannot attend because we do not have a nurse on staff", but it was still a big concern for my parents.

Still, stay-away summer camp was still something that I grew up hearing about. For example, summer camp was integral to the story of the 1961 Disney film classic "The Parent Trap" starring Hayley Mills, Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara (perhaps better known for her role in the original "Miracle on 34th Street"). I grew up watching reruns of that movie on television, and the 1979 film "Meatballs" (the theme song from that movie is above, but does require that you have Adobe Flash Player installed) that sort of launched comedian Bill Murray's film career, and that movie was all about summer camp.

But just imagine if you could send your child with type 1 diabetes away to a special diabetes camp, where the health concerns would never be an issue, plus the whole concept of good diabetes management, combined with independence from Mom & Dad, as well as hanging out with other kids who didn't need or want an explanation for why you had to inject insulin when you when you eat anything, or just because the numbers are out-of-range (which doesn't make it a crisis, or even imply you did something wrong). Basically, it's opportunity to have a great time. (Diabetes summer camp is also an excellent opportunity for mom and dad to take a break from diabetes.) While I might not have been wild about doing it as a 7 year-old kid, a few years later I might have found the idea to be very tempting.

A close friend of mine was a camp counselor at a residential camp in New Hampshire shortly after college. The experience was different as an adult, especially one with responsibility for the campers, but I recall thinking "if only there were a diabetes camp for adults!". Building on that theme, I would just answer the following questions that I probably would attend an adult diabetes camp for type 1 diabetes as long as I could fit it into my vacation schedule and it was a reasonable distance away from where I live. While an adult camp for type 2 might be worthwhile, there are enough unique needs for both two types of diabetes to have these things separately. For example, teaching Blood Glucose Awareness Training (BGAT) at diabetes camp would have almost no interest to people in the type 2 audience, while most of us in the type 1 community don't need such basics as what to do with test results or carb counting.

To address Q3: "What type of team-building activities would you like to see at an Adult Diabetes Camp?", I would respond by saying that there could be anything from advocacy and nonprofit fundraising, so such things as the things being addressed in Gary Scheiner's relatively new, online Type-1 University (T1U), to purely social events, races, competition, KP Duty ... the whole nine yards!

To respond to Q3.5: "What type of "not" so serious activities would you like to have?", I would respond by saying that some of the topics discussed during some DSMA/Twitter discussions such as a diabetes prom might also be the kind of purely "not" serious activities that would be worth having.

As for Q4: "Camp Counselors: Endo's, PCP's, PWD's or a little bit of both?", I'd say having some good endos as well as diabetes educators would be great, but they need not have such a dominant role in the way those professionals might at a kids diabetes summer camp.

What are your thoughts on this subject? I look forward to reading the feeback from my fellow diabetes bloggers out there!

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