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Camp nurse stories: Fun is never enough for a nurse!

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Think you could survive being the sole nurse at a hippy-dippy summer camp? Nurse Tilda lives (just barely) to tell the tale of being Camp Na-Gee-La’s biggest fun-crusher for one hot summer.

The following is an excerpt from the chapter “Escape from Utopia” from the book Camp Nurse by Tilda Shalof.

It was my last night at camp. There was an outdoor barbeque, but Sarge’s cooking had turned me into a temporary vegetarian. (At dinner one evening, not long after the rotten meat fiasco, I had decided to take a chance on beef stew à la Sarge. My fork slid down into a decidedly un-stew-like object. I dug around and pulled out a used Band-Aid.)

Eating Sarge’s food was my “Fear Factor.” So, at the barbeque, I played it safe. As I munched on a condiment burger made of ketchup, relish, mustard, pickles and lettuce piled on a bun, Mike came over to say goodbye and graciously thank me. “Will you be back next summer, Nurse Tilda?”

No chance! I shook my head no.

“It was wild at times,” he admitted, “but that’s camp. I hope you felt the love. Anyway, the main thing is that everyone had fun. You had fun, didn’t you, Nurse Tilda?” Mike asked. I couldn’t answer him right then because I was choked up with emotions. It was a mixture of relief, pent-up frustration and gratitude that it hadn’t been any worse—and it could have been so much worse. Fun was not enough for me. I needed safety measures in place, a semblance of order and…well, something else.

Overriding all of my emotions was a nagging disappointment. I had come to camp to get outdoors, but had spent most of my time indoors. I wanted to understand the appeal of camp, yet I now understood it less. Worst of all, I hadn’t connected with a single person there, and despite all the hijinks and hilarity going on around me, I’d been lonely and stressed out the entire time. My kids had had a great time, but I knew we wouldn’t be coming back here again.

That night there was a farewell campfire. It was chilly and the kids were wrapped in blankets and huddled close around the fire. I stayed just outside the circle where I could still feel the heat and watch the flames work their magic.

Afterwards I walked back to the infirmary to pack my stuff. We were leaving first thing in the morning. The door to the infirmary was closed and the screen door was barricaded shut with a chair on the inside. I knocked on the door and rattled the door knob. Eventually, Gidget and Moon Doggie came out, disheveled and flushed, their arms draped about each other. I should have known. I’d seen rumpled sheets in there before. I guess I should have been turning down the blanket and leaving condoms on the pillow like chocolate mints!

“She ruined our fun,” I heard them say outside my window, “but what a great little love nest while it lasted.”

They left me some poetic graffiti on the cabin wall:

We made beautiful music in here.
Gidget played the meat flute and Moon Doggie hummed
on her harmonica!

Excerpted from Camp Nurse. Copyright © 2009 Tilda Shalof. Published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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Tilda Shalof

Tilda Shalof RN, BScN, CNCC (C) has been a staff nurse in the Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Toronto General Hospital of the University Health Network, for the past twenty-four years. She is also the author of the bestseller, A Nurse’s Story and an outspoken patient advocate, passionate nurse leader, public speaker, and media commentator. She lives in Toronto with her husband, Ivan Lewis and their two sons, Harry and Max. Learn more about Tilda and her books at

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