Camp Letters From Famous Doctors

By Howard J. Bennett, MD

In a remarkable discovery, Hector Prince, a janitor at the National Library of Medicine, found a collection of letters that famous doctors wrote to their parents while they were at sleep-away camp as children.

To Mr. and Mrs. Fleming (July 12, 1890)

Dear Mom and Dad,

I know you taught me to be optimistic, but I don’t see how I can have fun at this place. The bunks are filthy, the food tastes horrible, and the bread is moldy. The only interesting thing I’ve noticed is that one of my bunkmates consumes more cheese sandwiches in a day than is humanly possible. You’d think he would be in the infirmary given his gluttony, but the funny thing is, this boy is healthier than anyone else and most of the camp is down with terrible sore throats.

Your loving son,


To Mr. and Mrs. Heimlich (June 14, 1930)

Dear Mom and Dad,

I got into a lot of trouble yesterday. One of the older boys showed us how we could “get high” by quickly breathing in and out and then holding our breath while someone squeezed our chest. I was doing this maneuver on my friend Karl as the camp director walked in.

Karl gasped when he saw the director and started to choke on a piece of gum he’d been chewing. I had already started to squeeze Karl’s chest and the wad of gum shot right out of his mouth and flew into the director’s beard.

I’m grounded for the next two days and have to clean the bathroom floor with a toothbrush. When will I learn to follow the rules?

Your son,


To Mr. and Mrs. DeBakey (June 18, 1922)

Dear Mom and Dad,

My bunkmates and I played doctor today. I announced that I should be the surgeon since it was my idea to play doctor in the first place. Everyone agreed, but turf battles cropped up faster than you can say postop infection. Billy is the youngest one in our cabin so he was the patient. I filled him in on the signs and symptoms of an acute appendicitis. He did a good job pretending to be nauseous and somehow managed to convincingly throw up his lunch.

I was just about to call in anesthesia when Sam, Billy’s internist, suggested that it might be the stomach flu. He said we should wait for the lab results before taking Billy to the operating room. Sam went on about cost containment and unexpected complications and such. I started to pull rank when Tommy, Billy’s nurse, said he wasn’t sure the HMO would approve surgery without a second opinion. Things were starting to get ugly when our counselor came in with a tray of milk and cookies.

To make a long story short, we had our snack and decided to take a hike in the woods. Billy’s surgery was rescheduled for tomorrow morning.



To Mr. and Mrs. Kubler-Ross (July 10, 1938)

Dear Mom and Dad,

• I can’t believe you sent me to this stupid camp.

• I’m really angry that you didn’t let me choose what I did this summer.

• If you let me come home, I promise to help around the house and keep my room as clean as a whistle.

• This place is the pits, I’ll never have any fun.

• Things aren’t as bad as I thought. Yesterday I won a belching contest.



To Mr. and Mrs. Semmelweis (July 6, 1828)

Dear Mom and Dad,

I know you thought camp would be good for me, but the people here are really gross. We play outside for most of the day, and there are no bathrooms around where we can wash up. In fact, the counselors are so steeped in medical conservatism that we eat lunch in the same room where we dissect frogs!

Do you have any chlorine solution that you could send with my next “care” package? If you don’t, I may go crazy before the summer is over.



To Mr. and Mrs. Koch (June 30, 1850)

Dear Mom and Dad,

The children at this camp are such dolts! Yesterday we were playing with some salamanders that we found in the forest. One of the animals wouldn’t go through a maze we fashioned out of rocks and sticks. So this older boy, Marlin, said the experiment proved that salamanders aren’t as smart as cockroaches. (We had done a similar trial the day before with roaches and they easily went through the maze.)

I tried to explain the scientific method to this nincompoop, but he couldn’t understand that causality isn’t proved simply because one thing follows another. Instead of being grateful, the big bully punched me in the nose.

All my love,


© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

First published in Stitches, The Journal of Medical Humor July 2005.

For more articles and other information,
please visit Dr. B’s website at