Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What Happened to Josh at Camp: July 2011

Edited October 29, 2011 to add a brief update:  A couple of weeks ago, in mid-October, we learned about three other kids from our congregation who came back from GUCI extremely sick due to neglect by the infirmary staff.  They were all at camp at the same time as Josh, under the care of the same camp nurse, and their stories are similar.  Last week, we finally got a letter from the camp director.  He says he's willing to come meet with us to discuss what happened.  Hey, it's cool, it only took three months for him to respond.

It seems to me that what happened to Josh was likely part of a much larger problem at GUCI.  I hope the director is willing to investigate fully and figure out how to make sure that kids are safe and well-cared-for at his camp in the future.  They sure weren't last summer.

This post is not about dinnertime.  This post is about why I wouldn't send my children, or anyone else's children, or my now-deceased dog back to Goldman Union Camp in Zionsville, Indiana.

When a kid goes to camp, he expects to have a great time with his buddies away from his annoying and embarrassing family.  That is really about it.  And how hard is it for camp to fulfill every ten-to-fourteen-year-old's dream of shedding the Mom who insists on humming show tunes in the grocery store?  That's the easiest thing in the world. 

For the kid's parents, the expectations are higher.  Camp courts the people who write the checks:  "Camp's most important goal is insuring the safety and wellbeing [sic] of every camper."  . . . building identity . . .  self-esteem . . . Yadda yadda yadda.  Camp's marketing materials promise your child a transformative experience in a secure environment.  That mission--well, that's a pretty big undertaking.  And if something goes wrong, at the very least, the absolute bottom, you would expect that the camp administration would work hard to make it right.

But oh when push comes to shove, as we discovered through unfortunate and alarming experience, the promises in the marketing materials mean not a thing.  The camp director--a rabbi who, frankly, should know better-- and the administrative personnel he supervises will refuse to accept any ownership or responsibility if something should happen to go wrong.  They won't be there for the kid or his family.  They will be too busy covering their own asses.

Josh got sick at camp.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, we heard from the infirmary staff that Josh was throwing up.  We figured he had gotten some kind of stomach bug that he was having trouble shaking off because of various camp factors--heat, bad food, constant activity, little sleep.

But when we picked him up, it was obvious to us--and Josh's pediatrician later confirmed--that the puking had another cause.  Josh was in the middle of a massive asthma attack, coughing so hard he was retching.

The camp nurse had lost his rescue inhaler.  The infirmary had no record of ever giving him his rescue inhaler.  It might have stopped the asthma crisis, maybe not.  We'll never know.  He never even had a chance to find out.  He got sick at camp, and the camp staff let him stay sick and get sicker.

When we got him home, he was a mess.  He needed antibiotics and nine days of Prednisone.  Nine days!  Our ten-year-old had 'roid rage.  He also needed a thirty-minute nebulizer treatment every four hours, which meant he had to spend about two and a half hours of every day for two weeks sitting in a chair with a mask on his face.  He wasn't allowed to go outside or exert himself or even talk loud, because that set off coughing fits.

We called and talked to the nurse and the assistant camp director, both of whom claimed we never sent Josh's rescue inhaler to camp.  Then they found it, and claimed they never gave it to him because he never asked for it. Nice.

We wrote to the camp director with our concerns about what happened.  In reply, we got a glib letter back not from the camp director, but from his boss.  The letter claimed that whatever happened to Josh, it wasn't Goldman Union Camp's fault, and anyway maybe nothing at all happened to Josh.

The camp director has never spoken to us about this situation.  He left me a voice mail about how he had been sick.  Again, nice.

No one apologized to Josh.  No one from camp ever said, "you know, this summer obviously did not go as it was supposed to for Josh, and for that we're sorry."  No one acknowledged that they fell short of the promises in the camp brochure.  No one even called to see how he was feeling.

(You'd think, maybe the camp nurse would call?  Out of professional curiosity?  Nope.) _________________________________________________

It has taken me a month to be able to write about this.  It has been a difficult time.  At first, Josh was terribly ill and we had to tend to him.  Mostly, though, it has been tough to sort through my feelings (anger, disappointment, sorrow, more anger, grief, loss, betrayal, oh there's anger again, hey!) enough to tell the story coherently.

Possibly the worst part of all of this?  Josh wants to go back to camp because of his great friends.  And we cannot, as responsible parents, ever send him back to that camp.  We might consider other camps, though.  We are looking and thinking about it and hoping that what we encountered at GUCI is the rarest possible exception, and not the rule.


  1. Oh man. What a giant clusterfluffle. I'm so sorry that they didn't have a better response to your letter (and to the puking and the asthma and the phone calls). How disappointing.

  2. This is Miriam (not Aaron) It's also my understanding that this summer gig was the nurse's very first nursing job. I feel so bad for you guys. My brother went to Camp Superkids in St. Paul, MN, which is a sleep-away asthma camp and he had a great time, but it's only for a week. Hopefully you won't have to make the choice between a Jewish camp and one that actually keeps him breathing appropriately. Let us know what you find out.

  3. How awful! What should have been a fun experience turned into something so harrowing. I can't even believe the lack of ownership on the part of the camp. Ridiculous! On the bright side, Josh wasn't completely traumatized by the whole ordeal, and he wants to go to camp again! I think that's great.

  4. What a terrifying experience. You just never really know what goes on at overnight camp. Thank goodness you rescued him in time. Thanks for writing about this.