Camp Oasis, IBD, and Mr. Rogers

“Look for the helpers.” -Mr. Rogers

It has been 24 hours since I’ve been home. Far from bugs, insects, snakes, coyotes (which I disappointingly did not see), and beautifully, loud, energetic children. It has been 24 hours since I have returned from Camp Oasis. It has been 24 hours since all those helpers, my fellow counselors, have left camp and back to the inevitable “real life.” I know they will continue to be helpers, contributing to the betterment of society in their own niche of skills and professions.

What an incredible surreal time. I was warned about “camp withdrawal,” but I didn’t realize how quickly it would set in. Many of these emotions came reeling as soon as I said my last goodbyes and hugs to my campers. And more teary goodbyes to my fellow co-counselors and unit directors who have provided me with support and encouragement during my time at camp. In nine days, we became a family, formed a community, and built friendships. As I sit here writing this, reflecting on those past nine days, I recall feelings of exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and sheer happiness that I haven’t found in a very long time.

Each individual I crossed paths with epitomized the concept of “helper.” Mr. Rogers would have been immensely proud.

These are individuals who have taken time from their families, careers, and professions to provide support, encouragement, and a sense of belonging to children who suffer from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). IBD is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract and it is an umbrella term that describes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. There is currently no cure for IBD, but treatment can provide remission and improve quality of life.

I must admit I was quite nervous. As a fellow patient with IBD, I was not so much nervous about having a flare (although that did cross my mind!), but more of first-time nerves in doing something new and a bit outside of my comfort zone. It really was stomach-turning, nausea filled nervousness. There was a strong knot in my stomach as my family dropped me off and I slowly walked to check-in and greeted other counselors. I made a mental preparation of all possible scenarios that I might be exposed to in the camp world. What welcomed me was everything that I expected and more – in the most challenging and rewarding experience.

There were so many significant moments I experienced. I don’t think I’ll be able to list them all, but I made a compilation of what I can vividly recall the most.

Nour’s Ten Snapshot Memories (in no particular order)

  1. I got married (twice!) and had 10 children. Well, okay, no not quite. It’s a playful camp joke for when you get assigned a co-counselor and campers. I was lucky to have two amazing co-counselors (two wifey’s!) and 10 wonderful campers. Incredibly grateful and blessed to have known those kiddos. We were the awesome Cabin 8. “Cabin 8, we are great!” was our chant.
  2. My first experience being at a camp AND sleeping on a bunkbed.
  3. Singing (and learning) camp songs and being around a campfire. The campers were adamant about teaching me “The Floss” (still learning) and “The Whoa” (I’m, uh, not very good). Hopefully, I will be an expert by next year!
  4. Making a delicious dessert around a campfire. First time making a banana boat! A great combination of healthy and ummm sugary goodness. It balances out right?! Watching the kids laughing, teasing, and reminiscing…what a pure scene. Even if it was for a moment, a moment where they forget about their disease, it will be a moment they will pull in hard times.
  5. Every night as the campers went to sleep, and I completed my nightly 11:30PM shower (quiet, peaceful showers I should emphasize), I would step outside for a quick minute and just take it all in. I look at the night sky filled with sparkling gems. You could never see that many stars in the city. They just overtook the sky and radiated in all directions. It felt like a fairytale.
  6. I saw my first shooting star. I’m glad one of my co-counselors was with me, otherwise I would have thought I imagined it! I did what anyone would have done when seeing a shooting star – I made a wish upon that star. It sounds silly perhaps. But if this wasn’t the time to embrace childhood, then when do you start? You know what I wished? I wished for everyone’s health and happiness. Everyone deserves that. I hope that is not corny.
  7. I learned to share two bathroom and shower stalls with 24 females. There are five females in my household, so I was born to handle this just fine!
  8. Going to bed at 12am and waking up at 5:30am. Great introduction to Motherhood 101!
  9. Most of my fellow co-counselors also had IBD. I spent most of my life hiding that I had IBD and embarrassed to talk about it. It felt comforting and reassuring to have relaxed conversations about poop without any judgment! I had never felt so much at home.
  10. It was wonderful to be an “unplugged” community. Nine days without using my phone or any other technology. It was hard the first few days not being able to reach for my phone and check my email or missed calls. I even started to feel phantom vibrations. But it was rejuvenating to be disconnected and really being in the present. We are constantly inundated and stimulated by so much technology that we miss out in living in the now. Just being present. Being in the moment and really living it.
    I actually had to call my family using a landline phone. When was the last time anyone used a landline?! A great throwback to our pre-advanced technology days.

This was an experience that I am still struggling to put into words. There was so much love, dedication, and pure commitment. I found the helpers. Genuine, selfless helpers. I felt inspired and moved by this overflow of love. Thank you for giving these kids memories they will cherish and help them grow. Thank you for teaching them by example how to be helpers. Mr. Rogers was right. There are helpers everywhere, and even if we don’t know this about ourselves, we too are helpers.

Nour Al-Timimi is a Marvel enthusiast, avid hiker, and work-in-progress baker! In her spare time, Nour enjoys reading, writing about various topics and issues, and conversing about the latest science discoveries. She aspires to visit as many museums, waterfalls, and cafes as possible (in no particular order)! Nour has her M.S. in Global Medicine from USC Keck School of Medicine.