Camp nurse stories: The back-to-back shift you’ve never heard of


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Being a camp nurse has its own brand of “back-to-back” shifts: shift one—campers; shift two—counselors!

The following is an excerpt from the chapter “Band-Aids, calamine and a cappuccino to go” from the book Camp Nurse by Tilda Shalof.

By the second day I felt as if I’d been there a week. I took a stroll around the grounds. In no time, I was in a scene from a “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” puzzle. Wherever I looked, I saw a potential hazard, something about to break down or an accident waiting to happen. There was broken glass on the ground left from the counselors’ party. At the waterfront, I found rusty nails protruding from the dock and no sign of a lifeguard anywhere.

Later that day, I cornered Mike. “I have some concerns, things that need your immediate attention.”

“I hear you, but give it time. I know it’s crazy-busy at first, but trust the process.” He tucked his clipboard into the crook of his arm in order to take my hands in his. “You can do it, Nurse Tilda. Be positive!”

Over those first few days I realized that if I was going to last, I’d need a daily routine. But when I tried to set infirmary hours, the kids still came and knocked on my door whenever they liked, day or night. During the brief intervals of quiet, I locked up and walked around camp. I liked to watch the activities because everyone seemed so happy, even doing their chores. My own kids were having a great time, too. Harry found a snake and kept it in a jar beside his bed, along with a pile of flat skimming stones he was collecting. Max discovered the joys of peeing in the forest, climbing trees and hanging out with his new pal, Wheels, the camp driver, who took him for rides around camp on his BMX bike.

Why couldn’t I just relax, enjoy it like everyone else? By the third day, the flow of traffic in the infirmary had not slowed and the nights were still full of interruptions. By day the campers came; at night, it was the counselors. At the end of each day I was exhausted, but I learned that there was no point going to bed before midnight because I would only get woken up. One night, for some strange reason (sisterly bonding?), there was a run
of gynecological problems. Long after midnight, a counselor woke me up about a menstrual problem.

“I’m losing all my blood,” she wailed. “It’s extreme.”

“How long has this been going on?”

“Weeks and weeks,” she moaned.

“Is it worse tonight? Why did you decide to come to me now, so late at night?”

“I was walking past and saw your light was on.”

I had taken to leaving a little light on in the hallway to help me as I fumbled around for my flashlight and jeans when I got woken up. I made a note to self to remember to turn it off. I handed her pads and tampons and promised to book her an appointment with a doctor tomorrow. “It’s not easy being a girl,” I commiserated.

Shortly after that girl left, another one came to the door with a “quick question” about itchiness and burning “down there.” Doesn’t anyone ever sleep at this place? I offered to obtain the treatment for a possible yeast infection the next day.

“Okay, but if I take it, how soon after can I, you know, be with my boyfriend?”

“The over-the-counter treatment takes three nights. After that, you should be okay.”

“We can’t wait that long!” She burst into tears.

“Goodbye!” I showed her the door.

I would never talk to a hospital patient like this, but here, it seemed the way to go.

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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