At age 18, what did I know about caring for a kid with multiple special needs?
I arrived at Camp Simcha, a summer program for kids with special needs and severe illnesses, as a counselor. It would be my first time working with kids who have debilitating illnesses, and I was a bit hesitant. Will my camper be in a wheelchair? What kind of sickness does he have? Will I be able to bond with him? At 18 years old, the only person I had ever really paid attention to was none other than me, myself and I. How would I possibly take care of someone else for two weeks and be happy?
When my co-counselor and I received our camper’s profile, my jaw dropped. There were pages and pages of medications, machines and information about his illness and disabilities – Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, to name a few – as well as lengthy instructions for attending to his morning and nighttime routines.
He has a trachea?! He cannot speak? I have to give his medications through a g-tube?! What am I, a doctor? Such a fragile child at only 5 years old. A jumble of doubts filled my mind as I pondered what I had gotten myself into.
The beeping machine indicated that his oxygen intake was going down drastically.
After gathering some additional information, we were ready for our first night routine. It took two hours to set up all his machines and administer his medications, when finally he was ready for a peaceful night’s sleep. Or so we thought. He had only been sleeping for a few hours when the beeping started on his pulsox machine, informing us that his oxygen intake was going down drastically. His first night with us and we already have trouble?!
Sweat poured down my face. I ran to the phone and called the infirmary requesting assistance. Medical staff was relayed to our location and within a few moments they were on site. Looking for our problem they tracked all the wiring and buttons, until they found that the oxygen wire that hooks up to his vent wasn't connected properly. Immediately it was fixed and his oxygen started climbing back to normal.
Over the next week, I learned from my mistakes, perfected my routines, and gained the confidence that with a stellar medical staff by my side, I could provide the proper care. Sure, we had a few more incidents, some quite scary, but at least I was properly prepared.
The two weeks went by fast, filled with fun and amazing activities: a visit from NBA star Steve Nash, a magician from “America’s Got Talent,” helicopter rides, and spectacular concerts.
Before I knew it, it was all coming to a close.
We gathered in the social hall on the last night for video highlights of the prior two weeks. Everyone sat, eyes riveted to the screen, as we relived the dancing, singing and joy that we’d all experienced.
To cap off the evening, all the counselors were given a bag of treats to give their campers as a goodbye gift. In return, the campers were requested to give back one thing: a hug.
I gave my camper his goody bag, and he responded with an enormous embrace. At that moment, an immense joy seized me like a flash of lightning, and I let it all in.
Yes, we had amazing fun the past 14 days. But I never really had time to process what had transpired. For the past two weeks I gave myself totally to this kid. I took responsibility to be there for him at every moment. Day or night, no matter the cost. Yet since my camper could not speak, he never able to express how he was having an amazing time and how much he appreciated my care.
But when I hugged him and saw that big smile on his face, though, I got the message loud and clear. And I became overwhelmed with a joyous realization: the big "I" finally experienced life’s ultimate pleasure: the pleasure of pure giving.