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|How to Teach First Aid at Girls Camp aka How to Create Hysteria in the Wilderness|
Jun. 13th, 2013 at 9:21 pm
In honor of the beginning of girls camp season, I am telling the true story of the time I was assigned to teach first aid for girls camp. When I was a teenager, months ahead of camp we had a Saturday camp day at the church. Everyone going to camp was required to attend and we had lectures on what to take to camp, with specific attention paid to no shorts above the knee, no cutoff jeans, no sleeveless tops and absolutely, 100% no Walkman radios/cassette players. We also did a round robin first aid clinic in the cultural hall, going from station to station while we were lectured on bandaging, tourniquets, shock, CPR, the Heimlich maneuver and whatever is important for emergency care. I don’t remember the details because I was so bored I slept walked through the whole thing. It was artificial, tedious and in no way translated to real life.
As a mother of two young women going to camp, it was inevitable I would be tapped for adult camp duty. I accepted it gracefully, knowing that was my time to serve. Among my duties of taking care of the girls in my ward, kitchen duty and other minor chores, I was asked to be in charge of teaching the required yearly first aid class. I could have repeated how I was taught first aid in the cultural hall, but decided it was time to make first aid relevant. I figured the girls would someday be mothers or teachers or in someway involved in the care of others and they needed to have real experience with handling emergency care. The stake girls camp leaders had no problem with my idea on how to teach first aid, probably because I was enthusiastic and purposefully vague. I had learned through years of church service that it is always better to beg forgiveness afterward than beg permission beforehand. Usually.
My plan worked beautifully. I enlisted the senior youth camp leaders to be my actors and a couple of other women to help with breaking the girls into small groups. Each small group of fewer than 10 girls was sent to different locations within the camp. Either on the way to or at their destination, the girls happened upon a surprise medical emergency. In the shower room, an actor covered in blood (because head wounds bleed profusely) had slipped and fallen, knocking herself unconscious. In the kitchen, another actor had a third degree burn. On the trail to the lake, an actor fell and had a compound arm fracture, with the bone sticking out through the skin. Another girl actor had a serious allergic reaction to a bee sting. Lastly, a near drowning at the lake.
Because I hadn’t told the girls this was our first aid training, their reactions to the first staged traumas were real. And that is when the wheels came off the bus. I had no idea that girls could be so hysterical. I also hadn’t considered how a first year camper might reaction upon finding her beloved older sister unconscious in a pool of fake blood. I also had no idea I had a natural gift for fake wounds and graphic trauma symptoms. I did this way before the internet would make it easy. It all came out of my own creativity, which it turns out, can be quite twisted. And I don’t even like horror movies. I am still afraid of The Wizard of Oz movie. The flying monkeys and the green-face witch are just not right.
As the screaming, inconsolable girls (mainly first year 12-13 year old girls away from home for the first time) came running to us leaders hanging out in the lodge, I realized I might have overdone my assignment. The girls were crying, clinging to each other and in general feeding each others terror. Oops. I ended up spending the next four hours rubbing girls backs, explaining to the adults what exactly I did at each staged scene and talking to a couple of parents on the phone when their daughters begged to go home RIGHT NOW. The camp director and her assistant didn’t make eye contact with me. I had purposefully done the worse thing possible, I stirred up young girl’s emotions.
I was too afraid to ask if anyone actually liked my first aid clinic. It didn’t seem the right time to fish for compliments. My two daughters, my own flesh and blood, avoided me the rest of camp. I had no choice but to pretend absolutely nothing went wrong. I couldn’t wait to get back home to tell my husband what a mess I created. He would appreciate the hours of planning and trial and error in the kitchen that I put in to make my disaster scenes as realistic as possible, using a budget of $20 and whatever I had in my cupboards. He would comfort me and tell me it was going to be ok. And he did just that, after he laughed himself silly as his daughters described in detail what I did at girl’s camp. I wasn’t asked back to camp the next year.
A couple of years later, we moved to a new state and once again, I was asked to go to girls camp and surprise, surprise, was asked to be in charge of the first aid clinic again. And I was specifically asked to make first aid training hands on and useful. Okaaaaayyyyy…..I said. Was I really being asked to recreate my previous first aid accidents? I explained what I had done before and the camp director thought it sounded perfect. She wanted the girls to know how adrenaline kicks in during emergencies. She was a no-nonsense feminist college professor in real life and camp was not just about singing silly songs and playing games. The girls were going to learn real things, preferably involving surviving in the wilderness.
The morning of my first aid traumas, I made a point of talking at the staff meeting about what I was going to do, and I warned all the adults to expect girls to be hysterical and scared. No one seemed concerned. Actually, they seemed blasé about the whole thing. I was nervous. On the one hand, I didn’t want any girls to be upset but on the other, I wanted the adults to know my clinic was awesome. Yes, I admit – my need for validation was present.
Exactly what you would expect happened once again. Because I make such convincing wounds, a horde of girls made a beeline for the adults, crying, screaming and wanting to go home. The camp director was shocked. She had no idea girls could fall apart like that. We both talked to parents on the phone and one girl did go home that night. Camp was just a bit too real for her taste.
Are you surprised to know I have never been asked back to girls camp? I’m not.