“Ms. D, can I have a pass to the nurse?” Sometimes the voice is deliberately distant, punctuated by panting. Creative kids add a sniffle or a rasp for good measure. Some clutch their guts and buckle at the knees, while rolling their eyes. All in all, the effort is admirable.
Over the years, I am sure I have been scammed by legions of kids who just desperately want to put off a vocabulary quiz or avoid writing a critical lens essay.
But be honest. When they are standing in front of your desk, giving you an award winning imitation of post-apocalyptic survivors, you never know, right? You never know which kids are legit: who is really about to puke or otherwise combust, who has a rash, a migraine, athletes’ foot. So you write the pass. But you don’t always know what happens after they gather their things and head down the hall.
We don’t always know how often and how well our school nurses patch up our kids.
Too often, we take the nurse’s office for granted. The daily attendance goes through here. Cutters get a comeuppance here. The nurse applies ice and gives out band-aids and takes temperatures. She examines eyes for conjunctivitis and heads for lice. In extreme moments, she calls 911. For most kids, though, a trip to the nurse is a one-time deal. They get to school, and feel sick. They go to the nurse, call home and get better and come back to school in a day or two.
But for other kids, the nurse’s office is a refuge, a sanctuary where someone actually listens to them, where someone serves them the breakfast they didn’t get at home. The nurse has stickers for scared kids or lonely kids or kids who are having a really bad day. The nurse has beds for kids who need a nap, blankets for kids who need to wrap themselves up to feel safe and the nurse has the patience to deal with so many patients.
Every year, our 8th graders write thank you letters as part of their autobiography projects and every year a couple of kids choose to write to the nurse. Every year. They thank her for supporting them while their parents split up. They thank her for helping them through tough times in the cafeteria or on the bus. They thank her for making them feel special. They thank her for things she doesn’t always even remember doing. Every year.
When one of our families fell on hard economic times, our nurse solicited the staff for donations so the kids would have food. She orchestrated faculty support for another school family facing a baby’s terminal leukemia diagnosis, making sure that the school age kids had Christmas gifts and the family had meals while dealing with the tragic loss of a child. Her heart spoke again when our cafeteria manager had a fire in her apartment and lost almost everything. Our school nurse found time to take up a collection for gift cards for clothing and basic household supplies. It is little wonder that kids write her thank you letters every year.
So when I heard last week that our school nurse is retiring after nineteen years with us, my head ached and my knees buckled. I guess I needed a pass to the nurse myself. Though I am happy she will now have her days free to spend time with her husband and lavish attention on her grandson, I also selfishly know we will miss her TLC and her 41 years of medical expertise.
A pass to the nurse? Just this once, OK?