It was a 603 number, and the caller ID read, “Merrimack Valley YMCA.” My heart dropped. My 13-year-old son had been at a YMCA sleepaway camp in New Hampshire for a little over a week, and he still had six days to go. The only contact we’d had so far was a form postcard the camp clearly forced him to send: “Dear Family,” it read. “I arrived at camp. This week I am taking…” then in his barely legible scrawl, “basketball, fishing, riflery, archery and campcraft. I miss you and hope your [sic] having fun,” it went on. Before signing his name, he had crossed out the “From” printed on the card and scribbled “Love,” beside what looked suspiciously like a heart. I tried desperately to read between the lines, but the visibility was poor.
So now I was certain the camp was calling with bad news: he was miserably homesick, or–more likely–he was being difficult, mean, obnoxious or uncooperative, and we needed to come pick him up right away. Maybe he’d snuck over to the girls’ camp after taps, or taken a kayak without permission, or duct-taped the counselor’s mouth shut. The possibilities were endless. “It’s the camp nurse,” the voice said. I felt instant relief: so it was only appendicitis or a broken collar bone! At least he wasn’t getting booted for bad behavior. “Unfortunately we’ve had an outbreak of duckage,” she said, “and he’s one of the unlucky ones.” “Of what?” I asked. “Duckage,” I heard her say. “It’s a parasite they get from the lake.” “Intestinal?” I asked in dread. “No, it creates a histamine reaction in the body.” “Respiratory?” I wondered. “No,” she said, “it causes itchy red bumps on the skin.” She had buried the lead: he had a rash. “We’re treating it with Zyrtec and hydrocortisone cream. Look it up on Wikipedia; they have a great entry.”
All in good time; now that I had someone on the phone who had actually seen my son in the past 24 hours, I wasn’t about to let her go so quickly. “So, how is he doing?” I asked with forced nonchalance. She didn’t hesitate for a second: “Fabulous!” she said. “They are having the world’s greatest time. Space aliens ‘invaded’ camp last night, and tonight they are having a social with the girls’ camp.” I wanted to kiss her. That was more information than I was ever going to get from the source. Never in my life have I been so happy to have a “rashy kid,” as our pediatrician once called him after treating one of his many outbreaks of poison ivy, some of them self-inflicted (see my brother’s humorous recollection at Globalfit.com).
I got off the phone, still beaming, and typed “Duckage” into the Wikipedia search box. Nothing. So I Googled it–still nothing. Puzzled, I Googled “itchy rash caused by swimming in lake” and there it was: duck itch. A rash caused by duck poop. Oh, happy day!