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Caring while camping

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Taking her skills out of the hospital setting, Anna Tailby cares for children at an activity camp

“He turned up at camp and completely kept to himself. He would barely say a word and didn’t want to participate at all. But, by the end of the week, he was unrecognisable.”

Anna Tailby, a nurse of five years and one of the medical volunteers at children’s charity Over the Wall, recalls Michael* from the first camp at which she ever volunteered.

“It wasn’t a bad attitude, he just wasn’t used to being in a group of people where he could have fun,” she adds.

Over the Wall is a free camp, staffed by volunteers, for children who have long-term illnesses. There are several locations that offer athletic and artistic activities, and its volunteers include chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings.

“It’s an opportunity for children to engage in activities they haven’t been able to do before and provides them with loads of confidence,” Ms Tailby says.

When she’s not at camp, she works at Birmingham Children’s Hospital as a site practitioner on the critical care outreach team. When volunteering for the charity, she serves as a medical team volunteer and clinical coordinator. Through her roles, she delivers home-from-home care to children with a range of needs including oral medications, intravenous medications, blood-sugar monitoring, total parenteral nutrition and maintenance chemotherapy. She has now been involved with the charity for three years but the memory of Michael from her first experience at the camp has stuck with her.

“At the end of the week, he was literally a different child,” she says. “It really impacted on me a lot because I knew how poorly he was and how difficult his life must have been. To see him have this week of fun was amazing.”

Ms Tailby says the camp is made to be fun for kids, but is also fun for the volunteers.

“It may sound corny, but it’s an amazing feeling unlike any other,” she says. “When times are hard, I think about camp and it keeps me going.”

It’s called the “Over the Wall bubble”: “You feel like you’re in a bubble,” Ms Tailby says. “It’s hard to explain, but everyone is cheerful and positive and you come back recharged and re-energised.”

She says there’s an incredible feeling of belonging and acceptance between all the children and volunteers that you just don’t find anywhere else.

“I hoped camp would be fun, but the huge energy and enthusiasm - and just plain silliness - was much more amazing than I was expecting,” Ms Tailby says.

It’s a change compared with her usual nursing role in a hospital setting because it reminds her that children with serious illnesses can still live a full life.

“Sometimes that can be easy to forget when you work in critical care and with long-term patients with poor outcomes,” she says.

Ms Tailby goes on to say how the experience has had a huge impact on her as a nurse, how it gives her a sense of achievement and makes it feel that going to nursing school was worth it.

“It’s given me the ability to use my skills outside of the hospital and gives me a renewed sense of wanting to be a nurse and a reinvigorated enthusiasm for my job.”

But the benefits haven’t all been about her as a professional: “I’ve made friends I will keep for life - both the children and the medical volunteers,” she says.

And the children, of course, have benefitted too. She says the biggest impact the camp has on them is that is makes them feel like their lives are valuable.

To volunteer at the camp, you must have 18 months’ experience. Ms Tailby says that although you have to be qualified, the nursing skills are those used by most nurses in their daily jobs.

Enthusiasm and a commitment to providing excellent home-from-home care for campers while maintaining a low profile are desired so campers forget about being ill and focus on having fun. How much time you commit is up to you, but you can attend a maximum of two camps per year lasting from 3-7 days each.

“We work as a team,” Ms Tailby says. “If nurses choose to volunteer they will be well supported. It’s pure fun for a week.”

Sara Barba

*Name has been changed for privacy

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