They march into my heart like little soldiers. There are lads and lassies, rich and poor, sporting bling and brawn. Sometimes they leave the bus and walk into my office as soon as they get in the front door. The litany continues daily.
“I don’t feel good.”
“My stomach hurts.”
My responses follow the pattern.
“Did you tell your parents you didn’t feel good?”
“Did you eat breakfast?”
“Were you up late last night?”
The thermometer comes out. Triage begins. Some came in under the power of suggestion.
“My mother said if I didn’t feel good to come to the nurse’s office.”
Children always think that’s a free ticket to get out of the remaining school day. The sick ones are directed to cots in the back part of the office. Some will rest awhile. Some will have crackers or granola bars to offset the empty stomach they came to school with. Charts come out. The search begins. Some phone numbers are accurate, and parents can be reached. Some, sadly, can’t be contacted. The phone messages become trite.
“The person at this number is not taking calls now.”
“This number is no longer in use.”
I have to put my Sherlock hat on. I search all sources to see if there is a parent or relative who can come and pick up their child per protocol because they just vomited and can’t stay in school.
There are all kinds of issues.
“I heard a crack,” I’m told after one bumps his arm. I assess it. There’s no reason for a crack to have been heard. His imagination heard a crack. Range of motion and circulation are intact. By the time I ask him to copy me and do the chicken with his arm, he’s laughing. The crack is no longer justified.
Ice packs and Band-Aids have miraculous powers. Sometimes I pass out what I call “psychological ice packs.” Medically speaking, they will do nothing for the conjured pain. Amazingly, these cases return to the health office in five minutes. I smile. Another miracle has taken place.
“I’m bleeding.” They whine, holding up the right pinkie finger.
“I need my magnifying glass to see that!” Pulled cuticle causes a pinprick-sized spot of blood, barely visible to the human eye. They need a Band-Aid. Some are on the verge of calling 911 for their minuscule display of oxygenated blood cells. I cave in and give them a Band-Aid. Off they go, skipping back to class.
The back of the office is beige and boring. The air doesn’t circulate. Cots are not comfortable. I have magazines there. When I suspect that Johnny is not really sick, but is dealing with lack of sleep or home issues, I divert his attention to Zoobooks. Eagerly, he embraces the opportunity. The magazine serves its purpose of distraction from the supposed health crisis and Johnny is at my desk. He’s better and wants to go back to class.
There are bona fide sicknesses, sometimes accompanied by vomiting and fevers. A fine line delineates whether Suzy is going to be sent home or stay in school. “I just threw up in my mouth.” This frequent excuse doesn’t count as a legitimate excuse to go home. I tell them this doesn’t count and teach them about acid reflux.
There are those who come in from recess, covered in mud. Pants and sneakers are swollen with the plague of playground puddles. One day seven kindergartners come in doused in the clay of the school’s backyard. I have to call parents. We don’t have enough donated clothes or footwear to dress them.
Every year there are new stories. One teacher calls ahead.
“I’m sending Ernie down. I think he pulled the skin on his nail. His finger is bleeding.”
When he arrives, I question the little tyrant who trashed his classroom the week before. I smile and put my arm around him.
“What did you do now?”
“I put my finger in the pencil sharpener. It was the only one that would fit.”
“I guess you’re not going to do that again!” He nods his head and goes back to class, sporting his new Band-Aid.
Children have a unique way of expressing their issues. It sounds far out, but when you take the time to think, it makes complete sense.
“I can’t jump because I get tornadoes in my head.” After some scrutinizing, I’m able to find out that this means “I’m dizzy.”
Seasons change. Immunization requirements must be met. Mandatory physicals must be recorded. There are flu seasons and stomach bugs. One day at a time morphs into a total school year. The next year, the children have grown. They change. Eventually they fly off to junior high school. I look back into kindergarten, recalling their naive innocence. My heart whimpers, like it did when my nest became empty. Their voices are forever heard in the halls of my memory.
By Frances Hansen, BSN, RN. The author recently retired after 41 years in a variety of nursing roles. Most recently, she worked as an elementary school nurse for five years in Auburn, New York.