Camping

By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.

This past weekend was another adventure with my youngest son and his Boy Scout troop. We went camping at a friend’s ranch. It was a large crowd, with 16 boys and 15 adults. Our friend’s ranch includes a large lake, stocked with fish, which our friend asks us to fish and prepare the catch for Saturday night dinner.

While the boys are partaking in their activities, many of the adults have the chance to sit around and get to know each other. Having been active in my sons’ Boy Scouts for over 20 years, I have found this part of the camping to be my favorite aspect. I grew up in New York City and did not participate in Scouts until my oldest started in Cub Scouts.

When he began, I didn’t even know which end of a sleeping bag to enter. Good friends, with their “gentle” encouragement, guided and educated me in the ways of Scouting.

I have now been tent camping for a while; I make coffee, help set up the fires and generally provide enough assistance that it’s a fun experience for everyone.

Back to the adults sitting around part. So, after coffee and breakfast, after the boys were well on their way to various activities, this past Saturday, about seven adults had a chance to sit in a circle and chat.

Two adults were relatively new and some others had not been camping in a while, so it was a great chance to get to know new people. For me, that’s one of the best aspects of this organization. My membership in our local shul provides me with a similar opportunity, which is to meet people that I might not otherwise encounter.

Here, there are men and women of all backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and ages. I have had many discussions with other adults who are Christian, asking me sincere questions about Judaism. Just yesterday, after making particularly robust coffee, I clinked mugs with another Jewish dad and said, “L’chaim!” My Christian friend asked me the difference between l’chaim and mazel tov; after I explained, he was appreciative.

After we had all sat down, three of the parents began to discuss the medications their children were taking. They were all taking various medications for ADHD. I sat silently, wondering how this would play out. Since I do this for a living and actually teach a class at the medical school about this, I feel qualified to answer questions, but nobody looked at me.

I listened to the parents discuss various medicines, how their children didn’t “need” the medicines while camping or on the weekends or at summer camp and the like. It was a bit difficult for me to sit quietly, but I managed.

After a while, one of the moms looked at me and said, “You do this for a living, don’t you?” I said, yes, I did, and the other men asked me what I did. After that, we spent the next two hours having an impromptu group discussion about the various treatments for ADHD, autism, depression, PTSD and the like.

This is relatively typical of what individuals tend to do when they discover what I do for a living, but this was the first time it happened in a group setting, outdoors, in beautiful surroundings.

It was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had camping. These men and women listened carefully to the information I shared; they asked endless questions about side effects, drug holidays, withdrawals from stopping medications and general recommendations.

As I come from a family of teachers and am one myself, I found this to be an amazing experience. People asking me sincere questions, wanting to learn, watching them absorb new information and looking forward to helping their children receive better care.

Parents often have relevant, important questions that deserve answering and I was honored that they trusted me to help me help their children.

“Ask Dr. K” took a new turn.

Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at akoenigsberg@mac.com.

Leave a Reply