Camp Chinnock

Not long after I was diagnosed with type I diabetes, my parents sent me and my brother, also a type I, to a diabetic camp called Camp Chinnock.  I was both excited and worried to go away for two weeks.  This camp, I was told, was just for type I diabetics and I could make friends that understood how I was feeling and what I went through every day.

So, the summer of 1988 came and my brother and I went away to camp.  The camp was a fun experience.  The point was to show young diabetics that they can do anything any normal healthy kid their age does.  We hiked, canoed, danced, swam, made music videos, watched a play about the emotional effects of diabetes and how annoying people who don’t understand diabetes can be, did crafts, etc.

“In 1957, a young physician from the University at Loma Linda Hospital contacted the then current director of the YMCA Camp Conrad, Jim Risner, and asked if he could start a summer camp for children with type-one diabetes. The young physician, Dr. Robert F. Chinnock, wanted to provide children with diabetes a positive camping experience and demonstrate to everyone that, when managed correctly, these children could participate in the same activities considered only possible for children without diabetes. It was through the joint effort of these two pioneers, that the Southern California diabetes camping program was born.”  – diabetescamping.org

Looking back, I really don’t remember any diabetes education.  There were no talks on how to eat healthy and balance exercise and medication.  There was no talk about the complications that can happen if you don’t take care of yourself. We had to line up several times a day at the infirmary to get our injections, and if I recall correctly, it depended on who was the nurse that day if you were allowed to inject yourself or had to let the nurse do it.  I remember being upset that they wouldn’t let me do it myself…, they should be teaching self-sufficiency and independence. We had set times to check our blood sugar and our group leader would record every reading and didn’t properly deal with highs (send you to the infirmary for a bolus).  Lows were treated with candy or juice.

I remember a girl getting in trouble because she was caught with candy she had brought from home.  A bag full of chocolate candy bars and other stuff.  I remember two boys got in a fight and one of them hit the other over the head with a rock.  There was so much blood everywhere (or maybe that was my imagination) and the injured boy was sent to the hospital. The other boy, I don’t know what they did with him.  I remember a boy going unconscious from a severe low and being carried by a counselor to the infirmary.

I remember having a lot of fun.  Spending so much time out doors and being active.  I remember feeling a lot of good and bad emotions.  I felt homesick.  I felt like I wasn’t so rare, that there were so many others like me.  Type I diabetes didn’t just attack my family, there are others out there just like us.

One thing I did notice is that almost all the other kids felt just like me.  They were angry, scared, withdrawn, ashamed, depressed.  Just like me.

And there was no emotional counseling.

I know I am pointing out a lot of flaws in the camp, but this was a long time ago and I am remembering from a ten year old’s mind.  I did have a ton of fun…I just didn’t learn much about diabetes and how to manage it; and didn’t get any emotional or psychological help.  Thankfully I come from a family of type I’s and didn’t need any education, my parents taught me well (even though I didn’t use the knowledge, it was there).

I’m not sure how much the camp has changed since 1988, but I think it would be a nice, fun, and hopefully educational place for a young diabetic to go.  If only to learn they are no less capable than a normal healthy child, and to make friends with other type I’s.

Me wearing my Camp Chinnock shirt, 1988
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Author: Tamra K. Garcia

Stephen King says to "Write what you know." I know diabetes, I know me; so this is what I write about.

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