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  • danielle cohen

My Tribute to Cabin 6: 7 Years Later

I’m going to get pretty honest and vulnerable here, but first, let’s flashback to 7 years ago…

I was here at camp with no worries in the world. I was ten. My biggest concern was the camp dance and the evening program that my cabin was planning for that night. The day started so normally, until it took a wild turn.

It was rest period on July 1st, 2016. I was in cabin 6, passing notes with a friend from my

top bunk, when suddenly I had a seizure. I was rushed to Levine’s Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina and I went through all the emergency room motions. I couldn’t speak for hours and hours. It’s all a little blurry but at the same time so clear and fresh in my mind.

It was a life-altering event, and something I could never share electronically on this day because I’ve always been at camp, without a computer. For the past 7 years I have written my thoughts and feelings on this topic in a journal or on a piece of paper. This year I can share it. The question is, how much do I share?

I’ve thought about this a lot, written drafts, and spent hours upon hours deciding what could be better, and how vulnerable should I be? So here I am trying to write this for the third time.

Fair warning: it’s a long one. But first, let’s go back to that dreadful night after the seizure.

We stayed in the hospital that night for scans and tests to figure out what happened My mom drove up from Atlanta and stayed with me that night.

The doctors didn’t know what was wrong. They told us they thought I was dehydrated and sent me back to camp with a specific amount of water to drink every hour of every day.

I was only ten but over the years, Camp Thunderbird had become my summer home, and I was with my people and didn’t want to leave. So, I drank every sip of water.

The night I came back to camp, I was scared to go to sleep. I was afraid that something would happen again because last time I was tired and was laying in my bed, disaster unfolded. I sat out on the porch with my counselors for at least an hour while they sorted through the candy bin trying to figure out what they could take without us campers noticing.

Finally, they said they thought I should try and go to bed. I knew I was so exhausted but at the same time terrified that if I got back in my bed, the same terrifying kind of seizure I that happened the day before would happen again. Going to sleep was inevitable, though, so I walked into the cabin, got in bed and fell asleep.

I wish I could say all was fine and it turned out okay, but I wouldn’t be me today if that’s how it went. It happened again. I was out and woke up on the health center couch. I was in the health center until the ambulance came and then we went through everything again. I rode with my head counselor to emergency room.

We went through all the same motions as we had the day before. I couldn’t speak, nobody understood what was happening. My mom had been home in Atlanta for less than 12 hours, but she drove the 4 hours up to Charlotte again in the middle of the night with my grandfather. The rest of that night was crazy once again.

After a week in the hospital, I was diagnosed with Epilepsy. I couldn’t go back to camp.

Epilepsy affects 1 in 26 people, so it’s extremely common, but that doesn’t make the diagnosis any easier.

With the news, the doctors give you a list of things that can cause seizures. Contemplating this list felt so deflating because it’s basically everything: sleep deprivation, stress, certain over-the-counter medications, 3D movies & strobe lights, rollercoasters, hormones, and maybe even a virus. The list is practically never ending.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that getting a list like that, and not knowing what triggers your symptoms, makes living kind of scary.

I learned a lot that year. For a while, anytime I felt tired, we wondered if it could be the onset of a seizure. Every time I went to bed late, we didn’t know how my body would react.

The beginning of Bar/Bat Mitzvah season was the definition of stress. Of course, I wanted to go to the parties, but would the lights trigger me? Concerts were also a big unknown, and I remember vividly the fear of not knowing if the strobe lights at Taylor Swift’s Reputation concert would cause a seizure.

Epilepsy makes everything stressful up until a certain point when you know your triggers or at least have a lose idea.

I’ve been tested and challenged a lot since being diagnosed, and I’ve learned a lot from that. I’ve had to turn down events and stand up for myself in situations that I know could trigger a seizure, which is hard because no one wants to be different in that way.

But on the flip side, I’ve learned to be grateful for my life and for the fact that my Epilepsy is manageable, especially compared to many others with the same diagnosis. I’ve learned that even though I always want to loosen up on the rules, I always need to abide by the precautions.

So I choose to turn a big negative into a big positive. That dreadful week single handedly brought some of the most important people into my life. It changed my outlook on life. The people who supported me through this journey at camp all hold a huge place in my heart, and camp is so much more special because of all the unique history I have there.

(Spoiler alert: the medical issues and major life events that have happened there don’t end here).

The memories from that crazy week, that year after it, and my camp family who supported me through it have made me who I am. Collectively, these experiences welcomed me into the arms of counselors and CITs that changed my life. They created friendships that I will never forget, and they have given me memories to last many lifetimes.

Camp Thunderbird is home. It’s where I’ve spent nine summers and to get the chance to now be on staff is beyond mind blowing. Exactly seven years ago I would have never imagined this.

I think that’s why everything at camp is magnified by a million, and all the small moments there mean so much. Watching others smile makes me so happy because I know there is no other joy like camp. The sunrises at camp make me feel something I’ve never felt. Conversations suddenly mean more. People mean more. Everything at camp is magic and joy.

The staff shirts this year are purple, which happens to be the color associated with Epilepsy awareness. When I picked up the shirt for the very first time, it felt like a sign. A sign of what? I don’t know, but oddly connected in a way that is so small but to me felt so much bigger.

Pulling it all together, it’s my first year on staff, it’s my 7-year Epilepsy diagnosis anniversary,

and the shirts are purple. They’ve been blue for as long as I’ve been at camp, so I guess it just feels weird that they suddenly switched. Pure coincidence, but maybe not.

I never imagined growing up to be a counselor in cabin seven, the cabin right next to the cabin that changed my life. But here I am, and I get to make a difference for kids who are just like me. This year, camp is not a place where people change my life, but a place where it’s my job to change lives of other kids. There’s something really special about that.

Cabin 6, you challenged me, and you changed me. You tested me, you broke me, and you showed me that I have the power to put myself back together and stand strong. I have replaced those terrifying memories with ones of love and hope for the future, and I think that’s why I can speak so openly and honestly about that summer.

To cabin 6 and Camp Thunderbird, I owe a lot of who I am to you. I will never forget you as long as I live, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

With love


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