For my pediatric rotation, I had the privilege of volunteering at a Camp Twin Lakes-sponsored event for military veterans and their families through the Wounded Warrior’s Program. The point of this camp was to provide a weekend of time devoted to building relationships within families whom have had to deal with prolonged separation due to serving in the armed forces. For three days, a group of Emory students stayed at the Camp Twin Lakes site in Windsor, GA and were responsible for encouraging and facilitating activities that the families would participate in, ranging from scavenger hunts to Top Chef cooking battles.
I had been assigned to a family with a young girl who was the daughter of an injured veteran. In just the first few moments of meeting my assigned family, I felt so welcomed and accepted. They spared no time to make me feel as if I was a part of them and were eager to share their stories. For one of the first camp activities, we were asked to create a Native American tribal name that we would go by for the rest of the weekend. It was extremely interesting to see how creative the families were in coming up with some pretty interesting names. What I really enjoyed about the camp was finding myself being pushed beyond my comfort zone. I am the type of person who tends to stay quiet and withdraw into a crowd. But during my time at the camp I was actively involved in the activities and found myself doing things like karaoke in front of a large crowd of people.
The most somber part of the weekend, was when the parents and children were split into groups and asked what they wanted to tell each other about struggles that they were having from the pressure of military service. Some of the things that were noted were, “I want to spend more time with you,” “I feel alone in my own family,” “and you don’t understand what I am going through.” Being the daughter of a military veteran myself, the emotions that these families were experiencing really struck me. It reminded me how I felt growing up in a family where my father was never around due to deployment. These emotions became even more tangible as I watched fathers and children with tears in their eyes as they spoke about these hardships. It made me realize the true significance of the camp was in providing the time and space for families to truly open up to each other about how they were feeling and find ways to mend broken relationships and build stronger family bonds as a result.
In the beginning, I did not see how going to camp for weekend would make me a better nurse. From my time at Camp Twin Lakes, I learned that there are factors beyond what the health care provider sees in the hospital that affect the health and lifestyle of people, that are completely out of the patients control. The stress of potentially losing a loved one in combat or having to deal with the separation or constant changes in life, can have a negative effect in whatever population you are looking to serve. I believe it is important for nursing students to recognize that and find opportunities to volunteer for different programs that serve varying populations, in order to be more prepared and open minded when engaging patients in the clinical setting.