Growing up and going to school, I never really noticed a school nurse around, and I would have been the person to notice one. I would try to get out of school all the time. I would fake stomach aches, have the mysterious "I just don't feel good" symptoms and, at times, fake a fever. And these things would happen at school because I knew my mom would never, ever keep me home from school unless an actual fever or vomit was produced.
If there had been a school nurse around, I would have been her worst nightmare. Fast forward 20 or 30-something years, and now I'm a school nurse.
I do all the normal school nurse things. I clean boo-boos, put on tons of bandages and take lots of temperatures. I set up first aid kits for the classrooms, make lots of phone calls to parents and give out more ice bags than I care to count. I give out daily medications at lunchtime, pull teeth and dose out lots of pain relievers for headaches and muscle aches. I slather on hydrocortisone cream, pour soda in cups for kids to sip and pass kids tissues for their bloody noses. I hand buckets for kids to vomit into, call parents to check out sick children and rub the backs of feverish kids while waiting for their parents to pick them up. But I, also, give out lots of hugs and reassurance to kids, which is my favorite part.
Like myself growing up, the biggest complaint I see most days is the "mysterious stomach ache." Kids come in my office, looking perfectly normal, complaining of a stomach ache. I’ll ask how it hurts and they almost always say, "I don’t know; it just hurts." So, I’ll start at square one with asking them to show me where it hurts, above the belt or below the belt and go from there. I honestly have to say, most of the time, kids can’t even tell me where -- they just draw the imaginary circle all around the abdomen. I know, it was my favorite, too! Most of the time, it’s just nerves that a little sip of soda or an antacid tablet will fix right up.
Of course, along with the "mysterious stomach ache" there’s the general, "I just don’t feel so good" situation. I love that one! Sometimes it’s the stomach, sometimes it’s the head, then there’s the "I’m just cold; maybe I have a fever" situation where they’re holding themselves and shaking. That’s when I feel the head, the back and take a temperature just to appease them. When I tell them they don’t have a fever, I try my hardest to reassure the child that they’re able to stay at school. But sometimes that just doesn’t work, so I have to pick up the phone and give the parent a call, which is actually the worst part of my job.
What the kids don’t know, is that I was a faker, too ... I know all the tricks, and just like my teachers and office staff did, you’re not going home unless you have to. I try my best to keep kids who are actually well at school. Sick kids can go right along home. We don’t want your germs in the building.
When I have to call a parent, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the student needs to go home. Most of the time, it’s just to let the parent know that their child is in my office and maybe the parent can talk their child off the ledge of "I need to go home." And when the nurse does call, please, do me a favor and don’t say, "Oh, no. What’s wrong?" because for the most part, nothing is wrong; we just need an answer or I may need a little back up so that they will be okay with staying at school. Oh, and don’t ever be afraid to ask if you need to come pick up. That is so much easier on the school nurse than for us to say in front of the child, "He (or she) doesn’t need to go home, but I’m at my rope’s end and can’t get your non-sick kid back to class." Unless you want me to call a kid a "faker" right there on the phone. Yeah, that’s not cool, huh?
"Happy Hour in the Health Room," as I refer it, is the busiest time of day because that is the time all of my daily people come in for their lunchtime dose of medication and it’s also recess with lots of scrapes and bumps. Any prescription medication I dose during the day needs a state medication form signed by the doctor. For the most part, this is done at the beginning of the year. This form is for my protection as well at the student and the parent. Because it’s from the doctor, I have the information I need about the medicine: dosage, time to dispense (both of these are on the prescription bottle too and have to match the form) and who to call if there are any issues.
What about over-the-counter medicine, you ask? Can I give that out? Yes, I can. Because we are a private school, I am allowed to dose out non-prescription medicine with the parent signature on the heath card I have for each student. Of course, I always call to see if it’s all right to give the child the medicine, signature or not. I’d like to know if my child needed medication at school. But remember, this can vary from school to school, so don’t assume that your school can give out over-the-counter medication. Be smart and find out what the rule is for your school.
My medicine cabinet is well-stocked with the bottles and boxes of candy-flavored pain relievers. I don’t carry decongestants or multi-symptom cold or cough medicine on hand -- those have to come from the parent. My office is not a drug store! Send that kind of stuff to school, but only what is needed for the day. Honestly, from a school nurse stand-point, there are just too many multi-symptom choices out there. I’d be afraid to make that call for a child that isn’t mine, wouldn’t you? I do have that allergy medicine on hand that puts you to sleep, mainly for reactions, not for runny noses.
School nurses really do some hard work. It’s not easy telling a faker to get back to class. It’s not fun getting thrown up on. And it’s certainly not a pleasure calling parents to come pick up sick kids. But it’s a fun, rewarding job ... just like being a mom.
Susan Ward writes SueMac on the Run
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