Retired Burnaby nurse Lois Budd had decades of experience caring for kids burned by fire before she first volunteered at Burn Camp when she was 50 years old.
As a nurse and then manager at Vancouver General Hospital’s burn unit, she had witnessed up close the devastating physical and psychological damage fire can inflict.
“It’s a horrific injury,” she says.
When hiring nurses for the unit, she says she always looked for people who were resilient and able to take care of themselves as well as their patients.
“You can end up being traumatized yourself,” Budd says. “Watching someone in pain and not being able to always control it; having to inflict pain when you do treatments; listening to people’s stories and helping them get through it, especially if they start having post-traumatic symptoms; losing patients; having patients who don’t do well – all of those things can be very traumatizing.”
In 2000, at Burn Camp, however, Budd discovered an antidote – vicarious healing to soothe the vicarious hurt.
The weeklong summer camp at the Cheakamus Centre near Squamish gives young burn survivors a chance to swim, hike, kayak, raft, waterski and bond with other kids who’ve lived through the same trauma and carry the same scars.
It’s great for the kids, but it’s also good for those whose regular job it is to deal with the injuries at their worst, not knowing what the outcome will be.
“To be able to go and spend time with burn survivors that you’re seeing healthy and well again and doing well and having fun, it’s indescribable,” Budd says. “I find it’s the same for the firefighters too, that they come full circle.”
Budd has volunteered at Burn Camp for nearly 20 years, first as a counsellor, then as camp nurse and finally as the medical director on the camp committee.
Along the way, she’s also earned titles like “camp mom” and “camp fuzziotherapist,” from her practice of prescribing stuffies to campers suffering everything from skinned knees to homesickness.
After two decades, Budd retired from her work at the camp this summer.
She says she has too many favourite memories to pick just one, but she’s grateful for the transformations she’s been privileged to witness.
“I’ve seen some incredible turnarounds in children that are having a hard time, because some of them get bullied at school, especially if they have facial burns, and some of them feel isolated,” Budd says. “I remember one mother phoning and saying, ‘What did you do to my son? Because I have a stranger that came home to me. He’s so happy and outgoing and cheerful.’”
Without the camp, most young burn survivors might never meet another survivor, Budd says.
Once a year at Cheakamus, though, they’re just one of the gang, and many make lifelong friendships that support them throughout the year.
“It is very healing for them,” Budd says.
Budd’s contributions to Burn Camp were recognized this summer at the 26th annual camp, attended by more than 1,000 young burn survivors aged six to 18.
The camp is free for kids, with the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund covering the cost of travel, accommodation and the running of the camp. (The total comes to about $2,900 per camper.)
The Burnaby firefighters’ union, Local 323, pitched in $21,000 this year.
And firefighters also volunteer as counsellors.
Burnaby acting Lt. Jodi Kabernick has gone for the past 12 years, spending 10 summers as a counsellor and three on the camp committee.
Kabernick says Budd will be missed.
“She’s amazing. She’s dedicated. She’s loving. She is a very special person,” she said. “She would make up goodie bags for every kid at camp, and she did it on her own. It’s amazing. Who does that for over 20 years?”
Like Budd, Kabernick says Burn Camp is a place unlike any other.
“The kids draw you back every year,” she said. “I feel that I take more away from camp than I give at camp. It’s a special place.”
For more information about Burn Camp, visit burnfund.org/camp-for-young-burn-survivors.