Camp Week

Volunteering in the kitchen was a bad idea.  Yes, I wanted to support there being an affordable summer camp for kids, but the week did not go well.  It was bad for my RA, it did not accomplish my desired goal, and the chef did not create good meals.

RA-wise, I consider my dragon mostly under control (recent flare aside).  Working in the kitchen put an end to that.  I had not realized that “helping” in the kitchen meant working on my feet from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.  Standing for that long hurt my feet and knees.  All the cutting, chopping, and container-opening did a number on my hands, too. I’d awaken in pain in the middle of the night unable to close my hands into fists, then get up and open-and-close my hands until they quit hurting quite so much and would allow me to get back to sleep.  Even today, half a week after camp is done, I was up at 4:00 with swollen hands.  Helping was not supposed to cause this much pain.

My primary reason for volunteering was so that my daughter and I would be able to spend some relaxing time together before she leaves for college.  For the past two years I have not volunteered at camp because I did not want to intrude on my kids’ time away, but this year my daughter suggested that we’d be able to spend some time together if I was at camp, so I signed up.  The camp director knew I was there to spend some time with my daughter, but gave me a job with no free time. After working in the kitchen for eleven hours, I would shower and fall exhausted into bed.  One afternoon I had time off, but my daughter was photographing one of the group activities at that time so wasn’t available.

That time off — yeah.  That was because I made the chef mad and he sent two of us away.  For breakfast that day he served one piece of French toast per child.  A few kids were able to get seconds, but there were many kids who came back for more food who were yelled at.  I was shocked.  Camp is supposed to be fun; don’t yell at the kids simply because they need to eat.  It is reasonable for kids to ask for a second or third piece of French toast.  In fact, when there are still two cases of eggs (8 dozen each), three gallons of liquid egg, ten gallons of milk, and twenty-five loaves of bread, I think it’s reasonable to stand there cooking French toast until everyone has eaten as much as they want.  BUT I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t in charge.  HOWEVER when lunchtime came and the ravenous kids were told that they could only have one corndog (when there was still a full case of corndogs in the freezer), I asked the other helper to confirm that I’d heard accurately.  The assistant chef heard my question and said he wanted to cook more but the chef said no.  At that point, the camp director walked through and I said, as a parent of campers there, that it was wrong to send kids away hungry when we have food to feed them.  The director told the chef to cook the rest of the corndogs BUT the kids had already been told they couldn’t have more, so only three out of the final box were eaten.  The chef got mad at us and spent all afternoon in the kitchen cooking dinner by himself.

The chef did not provide enough food for the kids.  He claimed that those who came back for seconds wanted special privileges and to get something that the other kids didn’t have.  No, they didn’t want special privileges.  They were hungry and wanted more food; they would not have any objections to other campers also getting enough food.

I also had significant objections to his menu choices.  Corndogs? Ewww.  That might be baseball game fare for some, but it isn’t a nutritious lunch that will provide fuel for active kids running around camp all day.  In fact, the camp director did not eat most of the camp fare, but had separate meals prepared.  More than one camper noticed and found it grossly unfair that they had to eat “disgusting looking slop” but the adults got good food.  The entire menu was so bad that I meant to grab it off the bulletin board at the end of the week so that I could post here just how objectionable the entire week’s food choices were, but got sidetracked on the last day and forgot to grab the menu.

“Sidetracked” means that my youngest child threw up in his sleeping bag during the last night, so I was trying to juggle making breakfast and getting someone to help him clean up his mess.  Then my kindle disappeared during breakfast, and I was looking for it (never found it and the camp director promised to 1) make an announcement but didn’t, and 2) send out an email, but didn’t).  I was sidetracked; you’ll have to take my word for it that nobody who cares about nutrition would have approved of the camp menu.

Nutrition is important.  When I initially volunteered to help at camp, I was asked to run the snack shack.  That would have been perfect.  I’d have had lots of free time to visit with my daughter.  I talked with the person who ran the snack shack the two previous years, then went to the camp director and mentioned that I didn’t want to sell candy bars, but would like to provide nutritious snacks.  She enthusiastically exclaimed that nutritious snacks were a terrific idea.  I talked with a few kids and came up with a list of good snacks.  A week later the director changed her mind.  When I asked why, with a straight face she said, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”  I called her on it, but she preferred to pay for candy than to have healthy food donated1.  Last year’s snack person told me that they offered granola bars, but the kids didn’t buy them.  It is my personal opinion that kids buying 75 cent items instead of $1 items shouldn’t be taken as a commentary on anything other than price.  Anyway, when I said that I was still willing to do snacks but would limit kids to one candy bar, the camp director put me in the kitchen and asked someone else to sell candy and soda pop to the kids.

Part-way through the week the snack shack ran out of snacks, and I persuaded the person who did the supply-run to buy mozzarella sticks, but those were not made available to the kids until the last day when I put the cheese packs into a bowl of ice and handed the bowl to the person in charge of snacks — who set the bowl where it was hard for kids to see, and refused to write it on the sign board so that kids would know there was string cheese available.  The irony is that those kids I’d talked to for ideas were excited that I was going to have good snacks for them, and were disappointed that they didn’t get good food in the snack shack.

At this point, I should mention that most of the kids had a good time at camp.  Yes, they  didn’t get enough food at the meals, but they were able to buy as much candy as they wanted.  They learned lots, had fun activities, and are looking forward to next year.

I now know that my RA isn’t as well controlled as I had thought, and that I will need to monitor my activity level carefully.  That really sucks.  Then again, that’s true of everything about RA.


1One way that we keep the cost of camp down is to make a list of all the supplies that will be needed and ask for donations. In the past I’ve donated something from the list. This year, I planned to donate the snacks: fruit, jerky, fruit leather, juice boxes, string cheese…

I’ll rest after I die

Five years ago, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever have a “normal” life again.  This year, finally, I’ve been controlled enough (and learned enough coping tricks) that it’s seemed that things were getting back to normal.  Until this past week, that is.

I’ve been working like crazy, helping the older of my daughters finish her shopping for college.  Unlike most schools, the university she’s chosen has no dormitories.  Instead, there are student apartments for all.  What that means is that not only do students need towels, bed linens, and a microwave, but they also need everything else one needs for an apartment.  Vacuum cleaner, broom, blender, waffle iron…  Not only that, but the meal-plan only provides twelve meals per week, so students must do some cooking if they want the other nine meals people normally eat.  We’ve been watching the ads since January and gotten as much on sale as possible, but now it’s crunch time.  You know you’ve been spending a lot more money than normal when it trips a security flag at the credit card company.

I am exhausted!  “Pace yourself” is wonderful advice.  It just isn’t always possible.  I paced myself up until this past week.  Now I feel like I did when I was first diagnosed:  swollen feet when I get up in the mornings, stiff hands, elbows feeling like someone’s poking pins into them all day long, plantar fasciitis acting up, tendonitis in both thumbs, and fatigue so bad that I’m ready for bed by noon.  Instead of crawling back into bed, I’ve been driving all over town.

I am happy to say that we’re finally done shopping.  Unfortunately, I don’t get to rest.  Since I’d been feeling so well, I volunteered to help at a kids’ summer camp next week.  That might have been a mistake.

My duffle bag is packed.  Pills are all sorted into my pill box.  A syringe is perched atop the mtx vial.  And all I can think is that I wish I could stay home.  BUT my daughter will be at this camp, and we’ll have a chance to spend fun time together before she heads off to school.  To me, that’s worth the sacrifice.

After camp, I’ll have a couple weeks at home to… rest?  No.  It’ll be time to start harvesting the garden.  I have a few posts planned on how to make that easier on the joints.

May you have a terrific week!

What do you do when the doctor is wrong?

I hadn’t used an urgent care clinic in fifteen years, but Friday evening I encountered what I determined to be a non-emergency situation that maybe shouldn’t wait until Monday for treatment.

As the night wore on, I was using the bathroom more and more frequently.  It got to the point that there would only be a few drops, yet before I could get back in bed I felt the need to go again.  It was annoying, but not an emergency.  After a few hours, my lower back started to hurt.  Also annoying, but still not an emergency.  Deciding that I must need more fluids, I drank a glass of water.  After that, every time I used the bathroom, I would also vomit.  Ewww.  I drank more water because I didn’t want to get dehydrated and (not to be overly graphic), upchucking water was preferrable to dry heaves.

Three hours later, I typed “low urine output and back pain” into a search engine and learned that possible causes included cystitis, sepsis, prostate cancer, end-stage kidney disease, and kidney stones.  My symptoms didn’t match cystitis or sepsis, prostate cancer was easily ruled out, and given my recent lab results, so was end-stage kidney disease.  That left kidney stones or something Dr. Google didn’t reveal.  Since kidney stones are a possible side effect of one of my meds, I figured that was most likely what was going on.  Reassured that it wasn’t an emergency, I let my husband continue sleeping.

And, although it wasn’t an emergency, I knew I’d be significantly dehydrated if I spent the next thirty hours vomiting.  Googling “urgent care clinics,” I learned that the nearest one was quite a distance away (and in the opposite direction as my family doctor).  I love living out in the country, but sometimes there are disadvantages – like taking an hour to get medical help.

Once morning arrived, my dear husband drove me and my bucket (so I didn’t make a mess of his car) into the city.  The PA asked questions, did an exam, and told me that I needed to go to the ER.  It sounded to her like kidney stones, so the hospital would need to do some imaging and lab work.  She was also concerned that I was getting dehydrated.  How ironic that the PA had the exact same thoughts I’d had, but I’d chosen the wrong place to get help.

At the hospital, things got weird.  The doctor focussed on my vomiting, which I had been convinced was only a reaction to the pain in my back.  He ordered x-rays, not a CT, and also blood work and another urine dip.  The nurse went to bat for me and called the urgent care clinic for results instead of repeating the dip, however the doctor later insisted on repeating that test.  Eventually he decided that mtx made me more susceptible to infection, so told me I had “stomach flu” and sent me home with a prescription for an anti-nausea medicine.

Saturday afternoon I wore a path between the bathroom and the sofa.  No matter what the ER doc said, feeling the need to urinate three times every five minutes is not the stomach flu. When bedtime arrived, I took feldene, acetaminophen, and more zofran, and slept like a log for three hours.  At 2 a.m. I awoke in agony.  The back pain had moved to my side, and it felt like someone was stabbing me.

Eventually I was able to crawl to the bathroom where I huddled, moaning.  There was no way I could wait until Monday to see my family physician.  The pain was excruciating.  My husband got me another zofran tablet, and also dug through the medicine cabinet to find morphine left from my surgery two years ago.  The zofran didn’t work, but the morphine lowered the pain from a 9 to an 8, and we headed back to the ER.

This time there was a different doctor who explained that although people with kidney stones are usually agitated and move around a lot (I just wanted to curl up in a ball and die), he thought that’s what I had.  He waited patiently while I puked my guts out, then did an exam and sent me for a CT scan. Testing proved he was right.  The PA was right.  I was right.  What on earth was that first ER doc thinking?  I have a kidney stone, not the stomach flu.

Now I have different prescriptions and am waiting for this stone to pass.  And I’m wondering:  What could I have done differently?  What should I have said when doc #1 patronizingly tried to convince me that I had a simple case of gastroenteritis?  That wrong diagnosis cost me unneeded x-rays, a second trip to the ER, lost sleep, worry for my family, and a ton of extra time.  I suspect that in the future I’ll be asking doctors lots more questions.  Even though I haven’t been to medical school, I won’t be as accepting of a diagnosis that doesn’t sound quite right.  What’s the solution?  How can a person get good care without seeming obnoxious?

Life-threatening situations are what I consider emergencies:  heart attack, stroke, blow to the head followed by loss of consciousness, etc.  There are other instances in which medical care is needed, but nobody’s going to die if it takes a few hours instead of a few minutes to obtain help.  Hospital emergency departments are for emergencies.  Doctor’s offices are for other situations.  In my opinion, urgent care centers are for times that the doctor’s office is closed and the non-emergency situation can’t wait until the doctor’s office will be open.