By Clare Card, RN
I’ve been a staff nurse in Parkland Memorial Hospital’s renowned burn center for 15 years. I’ve always heard that being a nurse is a calling, but being a burn nurse, well, that’s a calling that goes beyond anything you can imagine. For a patient to heal, they have to endure treatments that are painful, to say the least. I see patients when they are at their most vulnerable, often in critical condition with life-threatening injuries. For some, it can be weeks before they’ve turned the corner and start down the long road to recovery. Others are not so fortunate.
It’s difficult because even if you do your best not to become attached, you do. I try to leave everything at the hospital when I go home at night, but I can’t. I worry about patients and wonder if they will be there when I report for my next shift.
Living with a burn injury can be tough enough, so imagine what it’s like being a child with an injury that has left him or her badly disfigured. It’s difficult and it’s something these children have to deal with every day. That’s why Parkland’s Camp I-Thonka-Chi, which is Choctaw for “a place that makes one strong or fearless, not afraid to face life,” is so special.
A special place for special kids
The camp is for children ages 6 to 18 with burn injuries. The kids get to come to camp for free. But it’s not like a lot of other camps in which corporate donors pick up the cost. Parkland employees and donors who have a special place in their hearts for burn patients have generously funded the camp for the last two decades. Camp John Marc in Meridian, Texas, hosts us every June.
I often am moved to tears when I talk about the camp. It’s that special. We heal the physical wounds in the hospital, but the inside healing begins at camp. It’s not about scars or stares; it’s about just being a kid at camp.
I’ve been volunteering at camp for 15 years and lead the arts and crafts program. I’ve seen lifelong friendships forged and witnessed first-hand the strength and resiliency of the children. There have been times when I didn’t think campers could do some of the projects because of their injuries, but they were able to participate and it was beautiful. And what makes it even more special is when, as the group sits around the table making projects, it becomes an informal therapy session with the children helping each other. As they talk about their feelings, they’re making bracelets for their friends — just like any other child.
I love camping so I’m in my element when I’m at Camp I-Thonka-Chi. I look at those around me as my extended family. Some of the counselors are former campers; the others are firefighters, nurses, physicians, volunteers, retired businessmen — just an incredible group of individuals.
We usually have 50 or so campers — some of whom have never been to a camp before. The first day they’re quiet, too shy to say anything, scared and terribly homesick. Slowly they come out of their shells, and that’s when you know you’ve witnessed something miraculous. You’ve witnessed someone who discovered strengths they didn’t know they had.
At the end of the day, how can there be anything better than seeing a child “strong or fearless, not afraid to face life”?
Clare Card, RN, is a staff nurse at Parkland Health & Hospital System, Dallas.
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