A clipboard-carrying heavyset woman is working the clusters of parents waiting at the camp’s check-in like a politician at a 4th of July picnic. As I sit in the midday sun watching her pat backs and throw bear hugs, I pray she doesn’t come my way.
Since I’ve arrived at the Hole In The Wall camp, I’ve been an emotional mess. Overwhelmed with mountains of paper work, doctor’s appointments and therapists, I often feel like a rat on a treadmill and rarely get to stop and think about the ramifications of Savannah’s illness. Once I stepped foot on the camp’s campus and catch sight of other campers, most of whom like Savannah show no outward signs of an illness, the floodgates open and I’m can’t stop the tears.
Thirty minutes later the crowd has thinned and she turns her attention to me.
“Would you participate in a study Yale New Haven Hospital is doing on caregivers’ coping strategies?” she says, sticking out a clipboard and pencil.
The thought of such a study makes me want to laugh. I know several parents of special needs children who as a result of the stress became alcoholics. Still, for a researcher wanting to gain insight on this parenting niche, the camp is a human petri dish. I am not feeling chit-chatty, but grateful to the camp, so agree.
I quickly scan the questionnaire. No where does it list my coping strategies: binge TV, Chardonney, reading trash magazines or my favorite, staring into space.
“First time here? she asks. “How old is your daughter?”
“Nine,” I say, bracing myself. Her eagerness tells me she’s ready to launch into the “everything-is-going-to-be-alright” talk.
“My son went to camp here,” she adds. “He had leukemia and is now in law school.”
“That’s great. You should be proud.”
I know her point is to quell my concerns, but feel our stories are different. She had a light in the tunnel. Her days of doctors appointments are over; I’m just ramping up.
“What does your daughter have?” she says, turning the conversation my way. I’ve been on this merry-go-round before. When I say “It’s rare,” the person always insists. When I finally relent, they’re caught off guard and say, as this woman, “Is it curable?”
It is not.
Two hours later, after I check Savannah in and hand over her medicine at the clinic, I make one last stop in mess hall before leaving. My friend, the surveyor, is holding court outside with a group of parents. She is carrying on in a loud, animated way.
“Enjoy your week off!” she hollers.