Asthma Camp, the Best Volunteer Experience

Vol. 20 •Issue 1 • Page 58
Barely Breathing

Asthma Camp, the Best Volunteer Experience

“Are you going to asthma camp this year?” Danny asked.

“Me?” I cried. “No way. What’s asthma camp anyway?”

“You’ve never volunteered at asthma camp?” another therapist chimed in. “It’s a blast. You’ve really missed a good time.”

“It’s a good cause,” Danny said, “and you get a week off.”

“A week off?” I jumped up. “It’s sounding much more interesting.” That’s how I ended up as a counselor at an asthma camp in a scenic little spot far enough off the beaten path that older kids were in a panic over video game possibilities and cell phone reception.

Although the kids were from all over the state, I was amused to see how a natural selection of groups was formed based on the stuff that they emptied from suitcases and backpacks when they arrived.

It amazed me that friendships were forged and cemented based on musical tastes, cell phone colors and sports memorabilia. In fewer than 10 minutes, the kids had sifted into groups, traded cabin and bed assignments and bonded into groups.

One little guy, Alan, sat all alone. After seeing him, I sensed I had a chance to make a difference. “Hey, guy,” I said sitting down next to him. “Want some company?” I gave him my man’s-best-friend grin.

“Bug off, weirdo,” snarled the whey-faced 10 year old.

His disgust had the opposite effect. I felt my heart go out to him. “Come on, sport,” I said, “Let’s go do something.”

“Like what?” he said after a long silence.

“We could hit some golf balls,” I offered.

“I hate golf,” he replied.

“How about darts?” I suggested.

“What?” he cried, “You wanna teach me a bar game? Sure. Thanks.”

“A hike?” I tried again.

“Oh right,” he huffed. “Me, you and my oxygen tank. Big fun. No thanks.”

The dinner bell saved me from further embarrassment, but after lights out, I asked the head counselor if I could take Alan on personally.

“That’s fine,” he said. “You do know the kid is—difficult.”

I spent a good part of my night on my game plan for the rest of the week while my fellow counselors placed wagers on my success.

Somehow, the following day, I coaxed Alan into a canoe.

“I don’t see the big deal with this,” Alan said as I paddled across the lake. “I need my inhaler.”

“It’s in your backpack,” I reminded him as I beached the canoe among the shady oaks hovering over the water’s edge.

“Let’s go for a hike in the woods,” I suggested.

“If we really have to,” Alan replied, barely stifling a yawn.

I was saved by the dinner bell. En route to the dining hall, I pulled Alan close and tussled his hair. To my surprise, he didn’t resist.

“That hurt,” he said.

The rest of the week was equally and miserably spent, with me offering tempting diversions and Alan shooting them down like skeet. It was the longest week of my life without question. I tried trampolining, hopscotch, needlepoint, beadwork, basket-weaving, bridge and cribbage, all to Alan’s complaints.

“I can’t. I’m allergic. I don’t. I won’t,” he replied to my every endeavor. He protested when I asked him to be my partner for the Asthma Camp Olympics. “It’ll be fun,” I insisted, pushing him into the canoe during one phase of the competition.

By the end of the week, I finally admitted I had made no headway with Alan. I hadn’t found one single thing to interest him. I was ready to go back to work. When the parents were reunited with their children in the parking lot, I was floored when Alan rushed to his mom, flung himself into her arms and began to chatter excitedly about camp.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I had the best time. Can I go again next year? I had my own counselor, and he was so cool. I rode in a canoe and had a firefly on my arm.”

“Hey, I’m sorry I talked you into asthma camp,” Danny said the next day at work. “I heard you had your hands full.”

“I had a great time,” I said. “I’m going again next year.”

Brent Swager is a Florida practitioner.