Monday, February 12, 2018

Campers Shower Each Other with Patience and Laughter

Monica Vest Wheeler
Staff Volunteer   
Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp

(This article appeared in the most recent Stroke Camp newsletter.)

You can run, but you cannot hide or avoid personal transformation when you’re caught up in an unlikely vortex of humidity ... humility ... humanity ... and heroes.

My classroom of life was filled with extremes this summer at Stroke Camp as I discovered new levels of my own physical and emotional limitations AND strengths ... and sent some fears careening into distant memories. And that doesn't even begin to describe how I was affected by everyone around me.

As I shared three days with stroke survivors, caregivers, and volunteers at the first of our two
annual Rockford, IL area Stroke Camps, it’s safe to say we were deeply humbled by the loss of
something we all take for granted: running water. Yes, there was bottled water to drink, but all
the toilets and faucets could not muster a trickle. We human beings were no match for Friday night’s relentless rainfall, swift and vicious lightning, and electrical disruptions that apparently fried the camp printer among other things...and more important, the generator that powered the entire campsite, particularly its water pump system. We witnessed one of the those events known as an act of Nature...or where Mother Nature reminded us how tiny and defenseless we can be against her mighty forces.

The backup generators kept the lights and air conditioning on during what was a very humid spell. The campsite crew tried to flush toilets as often as possible in the camper rooms by pouring in gallons of water, but they couldn’t be maintained in the main buildings, so we simply shut the doors. We made sure everyone stayed hydrated on the inside even if we were showerless.

However, we were never  “powerless." It wasn’t flippable power that was electrifying. It was the spark of human compassion, cooperation and steady streams of laughter. Our camp director that weekend was our founder, Marylee Nunley. She will be quite humble and said she didn’t do anything extraordinary, but her leadership to remain calm and “just camp” kept all of us going emotionally and physically while we awaited water updates. We still did all the crafts, zipline, pampering, meals, games, the Saturday Night show and even the camp photo...less than perfect hair and all. And the deodorant jokes flew like crazy…

We held out hope for running water revival by Saturday evening, until word came in that water wouldn’t be restored until later Sunday. It was suggested we break camp after Sunday morning breakfast.. Marylee put it to a vote, and everyone reluctantly agreed. We may have been exhausted , but those good-bye hugs were extra sweet and sentimental.

Even after a hot shower at home, I didn’t not sleep much that night because I was so overcome with emotion at what I had witnessed that weekend...and maybe even more by what I did NOT hear or see. I did not hear the complaints you often hear when someone is inconvenienced by poor service or being stuck in traffic or when someone rains on their parade. And these were stroke survivors and caregivers who have had more than their share of washed out parades.

Yes, it was a royal pain and inconvenient and uncomfortable at moments, but everyone at this camp was a real trooper, a team player, a comedian, a cheerleader, a comfort, a friend ... and more important, a human being in a shared experience. That weekend floods my memory every time I need a reminder of the real core of humanity and humility ... and reaffirms the heart and soul of Stroke Camp, the opportunity to connect at the most basic human level ... friendship and love.


  1. Thank you for posting this, Monica. I wish everyone could experience one of theses camps. I never realized, until I spent a weekend at one, how wonderful, fullfilling and beneficial they are to everyone there. And the fact that almost all of the survivors come back the next year and the next year and the next year.

  2. Great article, Monica. I'm late to the discussion, but I couldn't resist commenting, that the loss of power at the Rockford camp was, to me, a metaphor for the stroke experience. It's about losing something vital, but making the best of what you're left with. (I wish every survivor could experience camp.) Your telling of the story of the weekend caused me react with both sympathy and smiles! A salute to you and all the campers for your carry on spirit and sense of humor, even in your title, I bet a few "shower" jokes made the rounds!


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