When I was a kid, the school nurse at Albany Avenue Elementary School was a nice woman named Ms. O’Donnell. I remember she had curly hair, big black shoes, and, apparently, hated using the phone. It seemed that no matter how horrible the ailment, Ms. O’Donnell would not call to send you home.
Instead, she would direct you to a bouncy green “couch” in the next room. These plastic-like bounce house pieces were vaguely shaped like something you could lie on, but were really just giant Barbie Doll furniture. When you’d climb to the top, it was lying laying on an overfilled raft. Still, you’d lounge back, delicately balance, and wait to feel better.
Sometimes you waited ten minutes, sometimes an hour, and sometimes the whole afternoon. We’d miss class parties and important assemblies just so we could lie still in the nurse’s office staring at the posters on the wall.
I’m not being dramatic here. I stared at those posters so long that I even memorized a poem on one. To this day, it still randomly pops into my head. Complete with cartoon illustrations, this cardboard PSA warned of a dangerous threat to my nine year old head.
Share a song. Share a ride. Share a feeling deep inside.
But never share a hat or comb. Or Lice will make your head…their home!
Yes, it was a terrifying afternoon on many levels. On top of the monotony, these four hour power non-naps were sprinkled with the anxiety of knowing you’d have to return home and be asked what you did at school. Your answer would bring the inevitable:
What?! Why would she have you lay down all day?!
The Ms. O’Donnell days are now over. Since preschool, the nurses servicing my kids have pretty much had us on speed dial. No matter the nurse and no matter the problem, they all begin the same way. It’s like getting a call from the frantic public relations person of a company on the verge of collapse.
Hello? Mr. Guttman?
Hello? Hi. Yes. Everything is OK. Nothing is wrong. This is the school nurse over at Lucas’s school. Everything is fine.
What is going on?
Nothing is wrong.
Yes. OK. Nothing to worry about. I have Lucas here and it appears he’s sick.
This isn’t an exaggeration. This is the exact format of nearly every call. It must be in a handbook. I get at least five separate assurances that nothing is wrong followed by something that is wrong. I mean, she’s the school nurse. The “something wrong” I assumed was that my kid was sick. I didn’t think she was calling to tell me that stock market crashed.
While I’ve dealt with my fair share of calls from nurses about my daughter, it’s my non-verbal son who invites the best calls from school. Since he’s unable to say how or even if he might not feel well, Lucas finds himself in the nurse’s office based usually on observation alone. When she calls, she sometimes has no idea what to tell me.
Hi? Mr. Guttman. Yes. Nothing is wrong. I have Lucas here. He’s with the aid. She says he’s just not himself today. Just lethargic. Did he have a rough weekend?
I usually say “no, he seemed fine at home” because, well, he seemed fine at home. Although, I always have to fight the urge to say, “He lost some money at the dogtrack. That might be it.”
My favorite calls would come from his preschool nurse, who always wanted me to come and get him. I sometimes felt like they made a commission off of getting students out of the building early. She was like a telemarketer trying to close the deal at the end of every sentence. The most memorable call I ever had went like this.
Hi. Mr. Guttman? This is the school nurse. Nothing is wrong. Everything is fine.
Hi. Everything is good here. Lucas is here. He seems to not have an appetite. I’m not saying you have to come get him, but there were other children in his class this week who felt the same way. Their parents came and picked them up. Soooooooooooo….
That “so” went on for a while.
You’re saying he doesn’t feel well?
I’m not sure. He’s just a bit lethargic and some of the other parents had picked up their children this week when they felt the same way soooooooo…
I didn’t forget punctuation before that “so”. It came in such rapid succession that I thought she was joking.
Soooo…I should maybe come get him then?
Yes. Hello? OK. You don’t have to come and get him but we will be waiting for you. See you soon. K’bye.
I was dizzy by the end of that conversation. I told my wife I was going to pick him up and when she asked why, I told her it was because other parents did. She had no idea what I was talking about. Neither did I.
I guess this is the part where we all wring our hands and complain that kids are “too soft” today. We wear our 1980s broken bones and bloody knees like badges of honor. That’s not the point I’m making though. Whatever my stance is on kids getting banged up on the playground, my stance on the school nurse is independent of that. Compared to my “good ol’ days”, this is better. I’m actually glad she calls so much.
Sure, I’m not glad if there’s pressure to pick them up or mandates to get a doctor’s note for something that I, as the parent, know is simply a cold going around the house. I am, however, glad to know as much information as my children as possible. It makes me a better father and lets them know that I am aware of what goes on in their days. Big picture things like that are important.
As for small picture things, I’m also glad that my kids aren’t spending their school days lounging on puffy couches and staring at poems about lice. I’ll take a hundred “everything is fine” phone calls over that option anytime.