I got my hands on a hard copy of the latest edition of the FREE magazine (a youth magazine published by the Free Church) which includes an article that Flora (my friend who I went to Italy with) and I wrote about a camp we were at in 2002. It has notoriously been known as the ‘Oswestry Sick Camp’ because we were in a place called Oswestry on borders between England and Wales for the camp, and at least half the camp became sick with a vomiting bug! Lovely, eh?! Well, it turned out to be one of the best camps we ever attended- even as Flora’s first camp, it didn’t put her off, we went back the following years! 2010 saw the 50th anniversary of Free Church Youth Camps and we wrote of our experience as part of the memories and celebration. (There’s a celebratory Camps tea towel available to buy if anybody is interested! Just let me know.) Thought I’d share our combined effort with you all in case you can’t get a copy. It will bring some smiles anyway, but beware, it may change your appreciation of sticky toffee pudding forever more!
Oswestry ‘Sick Camp’ 2002: entitled ‘Don’t blame the Sticky Toffee Pudding’ by FREE
After years of attending Free Church Youth Camps, one extraordinary year stands out for us. How could ending up in a Welsh hospital with half of your camp not stick in your memory?! The Oswestry ‘Sick-Camp’ in 2002 was not exactly the camp we all anticipated.
None of us could quite believe it when a wave of winter vomiting virus (not food poisoning as many were led to believe) hit the camp during the second night. About half of the campers and leaders suffered from the, shall we say, less than attractive, never-ending vomiting. Our lucky friend Eilidh was the first one to make a scene, and introduce us to what would almost ruin our holiday. We were happily wolfing down our dinner when, drama queen that she is, all of a sudden she jumped to her feet and bolted out of the room, clutching her mouth. Cruel though it may seem, we thought nothing of it: trust Eilidh to disagree with camp food (how could anyone disagree with camp food?!)! Slightly concerned, though mostly unperturbed, we calmly shared her Sticky Toffee Pudding between us.
It wasn’t until a few hours later that I (Flora) began to suspect something terrible was afoot. Some more people had been sick, but I just attributed it to the chip-eating competitions at dinnertime. However, by about half-past ten I myself was beginning to feel distinctly queasy. Peigi was next to flee to the sink, and was shortly followed by yours truly – you realise this is the expurgated version, sparing you the stomach-churning details. The next couple of hours saw the sickness spread to half the camp. The rumour of ambulances and flashing lights in the distance brought some helpful distraction. That is, until we were summoned to the meeting room. The paramedics were there to examine us!
The deliberation felt like it took hours. Were we ill enough to go to hospital? The fact that we were in the midst of a youth camp of around 40 young people, with no parents; and another camp in the building next door, clinched it. They decided to admit the worst cases into hospital. It was not a pleasant drive in the Ambulance minibus, which positively crawled the eighteen long, nauseous miles to Wrexham Maelor Hospital. On arrival, there were more not so pleasant surprises. ‘Mind the blood there…someone’s been stabbed…’ was one comment that made us wonder where on earth were we going?! We were given injections to stop the vomiting and ease the pain, before we were wheeled into the hastily evacuated Bright Ward. A lot of the following six hours are a blur to us, but there are some hilarious memories that stand out, all the more hilarious in light of high-temperature induced hallucination! Each camper and leader experienced mind-boggling cross-examinations about ourselves- not so fun or easy when you can’t think straight and all you want to do is sleep. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to spell your name when you have a high temperature! The endless night passed into early Sunday, with the Wrexham staff diligently watching the temperatures of their charges and keeping them hydrated with the most foul-tasting concoction of sugar and salt.
On Monday, after a very long time in bed, we began to feel better, and were longing to move about. Once the nausea retreats everything changes. Personality comes to life again; activity can resume. Thus we discovered just how much fun isolation can be, when a group of children and youthful leaders have a ward to themselves, with free meals and nurses to wait on them. We discovered the sliding properties of hospital blankets combined with shiny floors, and had great fun with our ‘danger of infection’ stickers, (we still have ours!). After a day of fun and games, we were finally kicked out.
Because it was such a severe bug, the medical experts were expecting a second wave to hit the camp, affecting those who hadn’t caught it the first time round. But we did what we could at the Quinta Centre, with separate dorms, toilets and showers for those ‘infected’. And everybody prayed. To the amazement of the doctors, no second wave hit during the rest of our time in Oswestry. The week passed by, albeit a little subdued, with the planned activities. The incident might have been expected to completely ruin Camp, but, surprisingly enough, it didn’t. For those of us who had been in hospital, the sickness meant we were freed from all chores for the rest of the week! We left on the Thursday, a day earlier than planned, in order to allow for the decontamination of the Quinta before the next group arrived.
What an eventful week! But what a great time we had. We’ve never known a camp family to grow so close in so short a time, and the reality of God’s presence was so special throughout the week. Those of us who had spent so long in such close proximity to one another became much closer than would otherwise have been the case (an unexpected ‘bonding’ experience) and we got to keep our hospital wristbands as ‘souvenirs’. Our week at camp taught us many life and faith lessons, and, perhaps we can now empathise more readily with others in the grip of sickness.
Many thanks are due to the leaders who kept us afloat, the medical staff at Wrexham Hospital, and to all the folk back home who prayed. This review is a reminder to all of how great God is. We had such an amazing week, but I (Peigi) hope it doesn’t happen again! Now, as a camp leader, I appreciate the dread of such a nightmare scenario. However, blessing upon blessing was poured upon us, and the good memories have proved to be far more enduring than the quickly forgotten nausea.
By Flora Imrie and Peigi MacLeod 2009-10