South Charlotte

Camp nurse is ready for anything

This is part of an occasional series on summer camp scenes throughout the southern Mecklenburg area. This week's installment profiles the head nurse at a sleepaway camp.

Darlene Berry works in her dream job every day, wearing shorts and flip flops, with a view of a lake and huge water slide from her office window.

Well, there is the occasional medical drama – so the work isn't all fun and games.

But mostly Berry's work involves standard first-aid fare at Camp Thunderbird, where she's spending her first year as head nurse. It's her sixth year as a staff nurse there.

During the rest of the year Berry, 47, doubles as school nurse at Southwest Middle School.

Another big plus for someone who enjoys working with kids.

“You just can't beat it – it's so much fun,” Berry said.

She's on site 24-7 during each two-week session at the sleepaway camp. Campers from south Charlotte and the region swim, ride horses, play a multitude of sports, and do crafts on the camp's spacious grounds on Lake Wylie.

A “typical” day means dealing with just about anything, Berry said. Broken arms, sprains, asthmatics, routine dispensing of children's prescriptions at meals and bedtime. She has also worked with newly diagnosed diabetics and a camper who required tube feedings.

And then there's that easy-to-diagnose ailment: homesickness.

“The kids will usually come in complaining, ‘My stomach hurts.'” Then the crying starts.

“We'll talk with them,” Berry said. “Some kids get homesick every year.”

Berry's former specialty was orthopedic nursing, but the night shifts meant too much time away from her newborn son. She switched to a day shift at an urgent care in Steele Creek, and to school nursing 11 years ago.

“I felt like I was finally home.”

Then the summer camp nursing option came up. Berry thought she would try it, knowing her two children could come too. Maybe it would be fun for them, she thought.

Now daughter Maggie, 10, and son Marshall, 14, consider Camp Thunderbird home. Berry has two nieces and a nephew from Chicago who come every year, too, so the cousins can spend time together.

While facing medical unknowns daily doesn't scare Berry, she admits having a “What-did-I-get-myself-into?” moment on one of her very first camp days.

On Fourth of July night, as kids celebrated with glow sticks, one spirited boy snapped his in half. Some of the stick's contents flew into his eye.

“We put him down on a picnic table and flushed his eye over and over,” Berry said. Turns out the product was nontoxic, and the boy was fine.

On opening day this summer, Berry and the medical staff faced a first in the 73-year history of the camp, she said. A parent, experiencing a heart episode, collapsed.

She and the team of nurses and a doctor snapped into action. They called Medic, performed CPR, and used an automatic external defibrillator on the woman.

Later that week, the mom came back to camp to thank the staff for saving her.

“It made us all feel really good,” Berry said.

“When I say we see a little bit of everything, we really have.”

This is part of an occasional series on summer camp scenes throughout the southern Mecklenburg area. This week's installment profiles the head nurse at a sleepaway camp.

Darlene Berry works in her dream job every day, wearing shorts and flip flops, with a view of a lake and huge water slide from her office window.

Well, there is the occasional medical drama – so the work isn't all fun and games.

But mostly Berry's work involves standard first-aid fare at Camp Thunderbird, where she's spending her first year as head nurse. It's her sixth year as a staff nurse there.

During the rest of the year Berry, 47, doubles as school nurse at Southwest Middle School.

Another big plus for someone who enjoys working with kids.

“You just can't beat it – it's so much fun,” Berry said.

She's on site 24-7 during each two-week session at the sleepaway camp. Campers from south Charlotte and the region swim, ride horses, play a multitude of sports, and do crafts on the camp's spacious grounds on Lake Wylie.

A “typical” day means dealing with just about anything, Berry said. Broken arms, sprains, asthmatics, routine dispensing of children's prescriptions at meals and bedtime. She has also worked with newly diagnosed diabetics and a camper who required tube feedings.

And then there's that easy-to-diagnose ailment: homesickness.

“The kids will usually come in complaining, ‘My stomach hurts.'” Then the crying starts.

“We'll talk with them,” Berry said. “Some kids get homesick every year.”

Berry's former specialty was orthopedic nursing, but the night shifts meant too much time away from her newborn son. She switched to a day shift at an urgent care in Steele Creek, and to school nursing 11 years ago.

“I felt like I was finally home.”

Then the summer camp nursing option came up. Berry thought she would try it, knowing her two children could come too. Maybe it would be fun for them, she thought.

Now daughter Maggie, 10, and son Marshall, 14, consider Camp Thunderbird home. Berry has two nieces and a nephew from Chicago who come every year, too, so the cousins can spend time together.

While facing medical unknowns daily doesn't scare Berry, she admits having a “What-did-I-get-myself-into?” moment on one of her very first camp days.

On Fourth of July night, as kids celebrated with glow sticks, one spirited boy snapped his in half. Some of the stick's contents flew into his eye.

“We put him down on a picnic table and flushed his eye over and over,” Berry said. Turns out the product was nontoxic, and the boy was fine.

On opening day this summer, Berry and the medical staff faced a first in the 73-year history of the camp, she said. A parent, experiencing a heart episode, collapsed.

She and the team of nurses and a doctor snapped into action. They called Medic, performed CPR, and used an automatic external defibrillator on the woman.

Later that week, the mom came back to camp to thank the staff for saving her.

“It made us all feel really good,” Berry said.

“When I say we see a little bit of everything, we really have.”

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