The USDA needs your name

Let's feed the future right.



Yesterday I made my first CPS report for an incident of physical abuse a student reported to me. I don't know how I've avoided it for so long, I think I've always had teachers volunteer to report whatever we had together witnessed. Anyway, the computers were down in the afternoon, so I had to painstakingly look the number up in the yellow pages - the real yellow pages - and call them up. The lady who answered the phone sounded giddy, which was not what I was expecting for someone who works for a 24 hour child welfare hotline. We're going through the report, answering demographic questions, and she asked if I knew if the child had any siblings. When I said yes, and was even able to say what school he attends, as she filled in whatever she was filling in on her end of the phone line, I heard a mumbled, but very clearly this word, "Awesome." WTF? I thought for a moment I was on the phone with the enthusiastic car insurance represantive I'd talked to weeks earlier while I was getting ready to purchase a new policy. 

Being right never felt so bad

The aftermath of the wild Tuesday I had continued through yesterday.

Yakkity yak

An irate teenager handed me the phone yesterday to talk to her grandfather about the condition of her foot. Apparently she had stitches in it a month ago after stepping on something sharp, and now, weeks later and stitches closed, her foot was painful and swollen. I took her word for it on the pain, and I looked at her feet and confirmed the swelling. On the phone, the grandfather yakked at me about the fact that he was not going to come pick her up because if she came home, her foot would still be swollen, and better for it to be swollen at school. Because, you know, if she came home, she would just eat and get "even fatter." [This girl was significantly taller than my own 5' 7", and while perhaps slightly overweight, she was by no means obese.] Not in the mood to deal with this kind of guardian, I said "I understand" and tried to get off the phone. Instead, he very suddenly took the offensive route: "How do you know it's swollen? Her feet are so big and she's such a big girl, how can you even tell such a thing?" 

Being that it's halfway into my second semester of this, and long ago vowed to not let such talk get to me - or at least would not let it appear on the surface that it had, because it's hard not to let it get to me just a little bit, later - I had the guts to snap back at him: "I'm the nurse. I assessed her." 

That shut him up, at least, and he asked to talk to his granddaughter again.  

For realz

A month ago, during scoliosis screening, one of the nurses I was working with commented on a yard duty they saw: "That guy looks like he could work at Walmart." She likely said that - reading my own thoughts - because of his baggy jeans, oversized camouflage colored sweatshirt, neon orange vest, and for lack of a kinder description, his underachieving posture. I can vouch for the status she accurately pegged him at: I often see him around, doing absolutely nothing, and have heard from others that he never answers his walkie-talkie, and lets kids run away at their own pleasure. I'm pretty sure the only reason he has the job is because his dad is a custodian at the school, but unfortunately for us, like father, like son. Getting a paper towel replacement in my office can take a very long time sometimes. Fast forward to yesterday in the back of the office, where the attendance clerk was once again griping about the kid's seemingly lack of ability to do anything. Ever. A secretary responded, "Yeah, maybe he should just stay at Walmart. He's a greeter there too, you know?" 

So he actually does work at Walmart. Too perfect. 


Caught in the act

I was reading I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb over lunch at my desk on Wednesday. My lunch was visibly over - tupperware clicked closed, lunch box zipped up - when a teacher walked in to get into the refrigerator that sits behind my desk. She commented on the sight: "Reading big books to fill your time?" Even though the book was closed, in a time of pink slips being slipped to many (including a false notice for myself), I was so embarrassed I could hardly speak. To answer her question, honestly, I'd have said: sometimes. Sometimes I just don't feel like doing outreach for parents who yell at me when I call them, and sometimes I just don't feel like double documenting everything because it's a waste of time. Sometimes I wait for the action to come to me, rather than seek it out. Instead, I told her it was a book I started over lunch (true) and we laughed about the lack of ice - thankfully, this was the teacher that had gone out of her way to thank me earlier in the week, and I know she knows I do work.

And really, I do work. That's how it came to be that I was on the phone for work related reasons last night at 11 pm - I'm usually asleep by then - and how it is that I'm about to write my first CPS report as I tune into March Madness at home.

It's been quite a week, and I hope to be coherent enough to write a recap tomorrow.



I think everyone at work should just start calling me Pig-Pen, because I feel like I'm always surrounded by a cloud of chaos. Read more, below, but at your own risk: it's long. 

Coming soon...

This morning I started off the day in a fantastic mood due to one of the nicest emails I'd received in awhile from a teacher in response to something I'd sent her about one of her students: "Thanks for your help. Eyes and throwing up children!...I love having you as our nurse." I needed those good spirits to get me through the rest of the day as 9-1-1 call number three in my short career happened. Yes, while most other nurses barely get one call a year, I've now had three. The coordinator said it best when I called her to confirm my assessment: "Jesus Christ, the s***storm really follows you, doesn't it?"

More later.


Impeccable timing

I tested a boy's vision at the request of his teacher and mother, and was returning the first grader to the computer lab where his class was working. Just as I walked in I heard, "Alexis threw up." The teacher and I look over to see the tiniest little boy trembling in a sea of puke. He'd spewed all over the computer,and there was vomit both down the front and back of his shirt and pants. I tried to keep him from crying as I took him back to my office while the teacher dealt with the ailing computer. As I was wiping him down, he told me he had eaten too much and I asked what had been for breakfast. There were bright pink and red flakes in the goo, which made it look like he'd eaten a whole bag of frosted animal crackers - and I know they don't serve that in the cafeteria. "No," he said, as he looked down at himself, "This is yesterday's food." It smelled so bad I excused myself to go exchange an audiometer hours earlier than I had originally arranged.


They're not all punks

This morning I found on my desk a picture colored for me, complete with a full rainbow colored set of flowers. On the back: "You rock." I recognize the student's name but (sadly) can't place her; regardless, it's pretty sweet to walk into that on my desk rather than the usual pile of "Check ------'s eyes" notes.

Later, two second graders came into my office asking for ice packs. I commented that they looked very much in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day with all their green, and they asked if I was "doing Leprechaun, I mean St. Patrick's Day." I told them I'm the nurse and I need to work in my office, and they both simultaneously tore off some long green ribbons they were wearing around their necks that their teacher had given them. They told me to have it since I couldn't celebrate in a classroom, and despite my attempts at refusal - admittedly weak with appreciation and surprise at the gesture - insisted I keep them.


You're invited!

After spending three hours - THREE HOURS - trapped in my office yesterday with a child I despise more than any other child at any of my schools, and listening to him sing/rap for most of that time, today was just what I needed.

Before I even arrived at my office, a teacher stopped to tell me that some of my habitual lice hosts, two sisters, had been sent home for lice again yesterday. Reportedly, they were totally loaded with live lice. There were two very fantastic things about this: one, the school didn't call me to have me drive over and check the girls; they actually listened when I designated and trained the ever-present crossing guard to do that job! Success! Second, something totally unheard of, the prinicipal made a Healthy Start referral for the family. What?! The principal. This guy is awesome. I was even more blown away when the sisters showed up to school today - and passed my lice check. I will admit I spent awhile pulling the last few nits out of each, but they were so close to being clean that I just didn't have the heart to turn them back home. To be loaded with lice one day, back at school the next - someone is finally getting the message. Too fantastic for words.

I stayed "late" and was rewarded with an invitation to be a guest speaker during Career Month at Kids Corner, the after school program on school grounds that many, many kids attend. How fun! They rehearsed their speech to invite me, and even colored me a pretty invitation too. How super sweet.


Dear Parent:

From all my favorite parental encounters, I've been compiling a list of helpful tips for parents. I'm not one myself, but these all seem as though they should be common sense for anyone responsible for a child. 

1. If your child has an allergy, let the nurse know to what, and what kind of reaction. Do not yell at the nurse for interrupting your day when she calls to clarify an allergy that you listed on the emergency card.

2. If your child has epilepsy, be able to tell the nurse what kind of seizures she has and what medication she is on. If you can't even venture a guess to either of those things, you're probably not in a position to tell me I don't have the experience required to care for your daughter.

3. When you fill out the emergency card, actually fill it out. If you take the time to write down emergency contacts, don't give the same single phone number for every contact. If you don't keep up-to-date phone numbers and emergency contacts, don't go complaining to the office that the nurse didn't call you; I can't leave a message if the phone number has been disconnected.

4. Don't send your child to school just to get rid of them for the day. Some examples of good, excusable reasons for keeping your child home are a 102 degree fever or a scalp covered in live lice.

5. Monkey see, monkey do. Don't come to the office screaming and slapping your child when you have to pick him up after he's bullied too many kids, and then wonder where he learned such behavior. Take a look in the mirror.

6. If your child has asthma, bring an inhaler to keep in the office. If for some reason you're too lazy, incompetent, or have some legitimate reason for not doing so, you better have a phone with which the school can reach you at all times, and you better not venture outside a five minute radius from the school. Whatever you do, do not be the parent that I hear arguing with their child about not wanting to bring the inhaler in when you're sitting on your butt watching daytime soap operas at home while your child is having trouble breathing. Please take it from someone who needs one: just bring the inhaler in, preferably before it is needed.

In the words of a license plate holder, "I'm a nurse. I'm trained to save your a**, not kiss it." Chew on that before chewing me out; it may very well be I'm taking better care of your kid than you are.

I've only been at work for a couple of hours and have had my patience tested by the kids "working on their tests" in my office (i.e. purposefully annoying the heck out of the nurse) and had my hand on the phone for a 911 call for an asthma attack when mom arrived just in time. Thank goodness for minimum days!


Our schools need more money...

Because there is nothing to make the school nurse feel too heavy like a chair that continuously sinks all day. All day long, -sink--sink-sink-, all day long, I stand up and pull on the lever to raise it again. At another school, the chair doesn't sit flat, so I sit on a stool. At least it's even, and maybe it'll strengthen my back muscles having to sit up straight all day. No rest for the weary. 

Ignorance was bliss, part II

Friday couldn't come soon enough...


Overheard in the nurse's office:

A girl came in to ask for an ice pack and as I turned around to get it:
"Who do your hair?"
"I do it myself..."
"WHAAAAAAAAT?!! How you do that?! How do you get back there?!"

The smallest (or seemingly longest, when it comes to braids) things can impress kids.

Also, to the boys who got off the bus this morning and then took off for the mall instead of coming to school: thanks for helping me get a good laugh this morning. And for the kid who tried to explain it saying the bus had run out of gas and they were just walking through the mall on the way to school: points for creativity.


For better or worse...

...There's only one of me. I have three school sites, you do the math: I can't be everywhere at once, and even when I am someplace, my mind is often on whatever issue is most pressing, not necessarily at the particular site I am present in. I am also very aware of the reputation of school nurses: we're lazy people with boring jobs and don't ever do anything. So when something dramatic happens at one of my schools that I was not present for, I tend to feel terrible: my opportunity to refute the stereotype of the school nurse, to show my stuff, to prove I have a job for a reason, missed. I don't just feel a little terrible, I feel a lot terrible. I know I can't be everywhere at once, but now twice in the last few weeks I've missed a 9-1-1 call at a school site whose day it was for me to be there. This time, I had to leave early to meet a nurse at a different school to exchange audiometers, and I missed a first-time seizure by a paraeducator by minutes. If we hadn't chosen to meet at that particular time, I might have been able to contribute something; instead, I have now missed every one of the three 9-1-1 calls that have happened this school year, and feel like a worthless nincompoop because of it.

Also, in defense of school nurses: yes, I don't have angry doctors breathing down my neck, yes, I don't have the stress hospital nurses do. However, school nurses have a different kind of stress: the always on-call, have to be prepared for anything, I have no one to turn to if something happens kind. Maybe it gets less stressful as one gains experience, and probably not everyone has the guilty conscience I do when it comes to being absent during serious incidents, but this job is not stress-less. Take my word for it or do it yourself.


You're using my oxygen

This job can be a real test of patience sometimes, and even more so when I'm feeling even the slightest bit under the weather - a relatively normal occurrence these days thanks to the kids coming in and coughing all over me. I have a short rope on these kinds of days, and the Nurse Ratched in me comes out... No, kid, your mom's phone number isn't "4" and Granny's isn't "2." That would be speed dial, but you can't understand that, much less your own name... Or for the kid yesterday who was in the bathroom and the automtic lights went off because he was in there, still, for so long, and he started screaming, "THE LIGHT WENT OFF" but he had locked himself in there so I couldn't help him - that's called karma for lying to me when I asked if a grown up had told you if it was okay for you to use that bathroom... Or for the kid who crumbles into tears when I so much as look at him, if you don't buck up and grow up soon you're going to be eaten alive when you get to middle school. Quit your whining and get studying like the rest of your classmates. 

I'm not always heartless, but on occasion these kids make me want to call in sick for the rest of the year. It's probably just jealousy, because I can't just call someone and have them pick me up, take me home, put me in front of the television, and serve my every need... Not that these kids do, but it's what I dream about when I have the standard headache and sore throat complaint.

Another kid came in with a stomachache at 10:30 am: she was hungry. I keep forgetting to bring crackers to this site, and I feel terrible about it.


One More

Last week, I met a girl in my middle school in the midst of a pregnancy scare. Her period was late, she thought she was pregnant, and scared out of her mind. The talk we had was completely by the seat of my pants on my part, and she seemed too distraught to absorb any of what I was saying. 

I called her back to my office this week during her least favorite class period, science, to check in. She came in with a grin wide enough to inform me without words that she was not pregnant, but as I'd warned her the week earlier, that didn't mean we didn't need to talk.

Rarely have I had a student open up to me like she did, and the words didn't stop. I shared with her the brochures I had picked up at the local Planned Parenthood in anticipation of this meeting, and tried to implore the seriousness of her situation without making her feel guilty or otherwise shutdown.

The girl left my office promising to call Planned Parenthood after school that day and said she couldn't even tell me how helpful I had been. It may be too premature to call it a success; only time will tell that. Both her sisters and mother dropped out of high school after becoming teenage mothers, and she promised me she didn't want that for herself. She asked how old I was and seemed shocked I didn't have children given my ancient age of 25; I assured her there is all the time in the world to have kids, but there is not all the time in the world to be one. Somehow I managed to connect with her, and I actually do believe - or maybe just want to believe - left a very heavy impact on her. It's not often I find myself at a loss for words, but I can't find a way to describe this conversation: "good" is just terribly insufficient.

These are the kinds of things that make me love what I do. Happy Friday.


Tip for Parents:

Do not send your child to school with a 102.5 degree fever.


The Great Divide

I have commented on this before but it still boggles my mind: a freeway divides the district, and schools within a single district are so different. Monday I was covering for a nurse on "the other side of the tracks" and before I even walked inside, differences were glaringly obvious. The school looks freshly painted and separate "staff" parking spaces (one of her schools even has a "nurse" parking space) allows for some breathing room away from the mothers in their vans. Walking inside, I was forced into the office because of some high-tech automatic gate - no intruders will be walking around their schools. Inside the comfortably warm nurse's office, there's space to put my purse down - what a concept! There's a small ice machine for making ice bags, separate from the small refrigerator to hold medications. Cabinets open and close with ease, the small flatscreen monitor leaves plenty of desk space, and there is a separate phone number just for the nurse's office. A handicap accessible bathroom, complete with a ventilation system, is connected to the office. The main office itself appeared similar: overwhelmingly spacious, bright, and with clean windows. As per protocol, I texted the mother of the diabetic student I was helping to inform her of his blood sugar and insulin dose; she charts it daily.

Meanwhile, back on the other side of the freeway... One school in particular has such a poorly functioning heating system that it is very nearly inside whatever temperature it is outside, because the office is open to the hallway, which have single pane windows and no heating. This means I have learned to study the weather forecast carefully, wearing long underwear in the winter, and being prepared to sweat in the heat. There's a bathroom connected to my office, as mandated by law, that is so small that parents have to leave the door open if their child needs help changing out of muddy clothes. There is zero ventilation in the bathroom, which not only allows for whatever aroma to remain as long as possible, but also allows the slightest noise to escape into my ears; zero ventilation is also true of another one of my office's bathrooms, which continues to release the odor of dead animals. We can barely keep some, and sometimes many, of the kids clothed and fed, much less learning - no wonder they are such low performing schools.

I don't understand why some schools earned the money to have such spacious offices while others literally have paint peeling off the walls, but I suppose that's why I work in the school rather than the district office.


The phone number you have dialed is no longer in service.

It's a response I get all too often trying to reach emergency contact numbers, but the first grader trying to go home sick didn't recognize it as that: "It's not working so she must not be home. Oh yeah, we're out of food so she must be out shopping. Or maybe she's out looking for a job because she doesn't have one right now and we're low on money."