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Closure

I know some of my readers are old enough to remember the Loretta Young television show which aired between 1953 until 1961. That show presented all kinds of drama, some of which Loretta starred in herself. If you don’t remember it, you might want to search for the episodes on You Tube.  They are there, and guaranteed to bring some chuckles.  Our televisions were quite new household items then—with fuzzy pictures, wobbling musical scores, and black and white overly dramatic acting.  

Loretta Young became known for her famous entrances each week.  The double doors opened, anticipatory music played as she swooped through the doors in her flowing dresses—with confidence and stage presence—to greet each and every viewer.

Well, as I thought about Eleanor’s story to share today, I thought about Loretta’s memorable entrances. Eleanor however, provided a memorable EXIT—for me, her classroom teacher, and her friends.

That early afternoon I visited with the Pre-school/Kindergarten teacher at a corner table in the darkened classroom, as twenty-some children napped around us. The teacher and I glanced up when Eleanor’s father appeared at the open doorway.  He waved and the teacher moved to awaken Eleanor who glanced at her father, folded up her rug, retrieved her jacket, and walked to the doorway. Her father turned to leave but Eleanor turned instead toward the darkened classroom. She tossed her head and dark hair back as she swung around and did her best Loretta Young wave. Then she blew kisses in all directions as she loudly proclaimed, “Good-bye class!  I am sorry I am going to have to leave you now!  You see, I have to go to the dentist today.” Then she slowly turned and was on her way.

I remember the confidence that poured out of that four-year-old.  She knew she would be missed!  Her friends were important to her and she was sure she was important to them.  

Perhaps you remember Eleanor from my very first story.  As a first grader she told me “You have quite a business going in her, Nurse Flemr” as she glanced around my busy health office. She also made an offer to help me as I was trying to separate male and female hamsters!  Yes, Eleanor had the self-confidence—accompanied by kindness—that we would all aspire to.

And so, I close this series of blogs from the Malcolm Price Laboratory School and Northern University High School Health Office.  I thank each of you for reading these blogs and for your communication with me during this endeavor. For well over 30 years I wanted to revisit the happenings contained on many scraps of paper and always in my heart. I have enjoyed this so much.

I especially thank the teachers, aides, administrators and parents who welcomed me into classrooms and entrusted their precious children to this School Nurse.  

I turn now, wave my best Loretta (and Eleanor) wave….and blow kisses to each of you!  Happy day!

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Parents Write Excuse Notes?

Every school nurse must have a collection of questionably authentic notes from home. I saved a few over the 40 years since my days at MPLS and they still bring me laughter. I will provide translation as needed. As I look at each note, I picture the child standing at my desk, their faces filled with guilt and hope!

The above was signed , “ love, (her mother’s name)”

Translation: “Please excuse ……from chewing gum her doctor said it’s better if you chew speramint or cimmon gum if you have a cold. From (her mother)

Finally…a favorite. I guess Mom was having trouble spelling “sc/krewed” in describing the injury.



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Buyer Beware

On her way to an after school teachers’ meeting, Meg stopped me in the hall to set a time to discuss her health concerns for a student.  We talked only a few minutes, but I was immediately aware of the strong odor of garlic coming from her breath. I thought perhaps she had enjoyed a nice Italian meal recently.

The next day Meg arrived in my office at the arranged time. As soon as she appeared in the doorway I again noticed the smell of garlic.  We discussed her concerns about the student and made a decision for me to call his parent. The odor in my office lingered, even after she left the room. I thought perhaps she had enjoyed the left-overs!

The following day I made the call to the parent, decided on followup, and went to share the plan with Meg. A substitute teacher was there, so I decided to return the next morning before school.

On my way through the classroom door the next morning,  I was greeted once more by an even stronger smell of garlic as I approached Meg’s desk. As we talked, I knew I just HAD to let her know about this. This was unusual for Meg.

Well . . . That afternoon I wrote a brief note to Meg.  Yes, I truly was “chicken” about the whole thing. And, putting a bottle of SCOPE in a locker doesn’t work for a teacher!  In my note I asked whether she might be having some digestive problems.  I told her that as a nurse I had been trained to notice breath odors and I was detecting a “slight odor.” (Oh sure! What an understatement!) I delivered the note to her before her class the next day.

Meg walked into my office that afternoon laughing heartily as she thanked me for the note.  “Oh, I am SO glad you said something.  I have to confess to the nurse. You see, I have been taking several garlic tablets each day for a week or so, as I read they could help prevent colds. I thought I would get a good start on the winter season coming up. It says on the bottle that the brand does NOT cause garlic breath—but I guess it does.”  I confirmed, as diplomatically as possible, that it definitely did.

Then she proceeded to tell me the worst of the situation. The day before she had traveled in a small car to and from Des Moines—with three colleagues. She suddenly realized what an ambience she had provided for them— and for others at the meeting. I tried to comfort her by saying, “well, it really is not THAT bad.” 

Nurses always try to soften the bad news, you know.

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Crazy English

Vision checks were a routine fall activity. They also occurred throughout the year when a teacher noticed a student who squinted while looking at the board. This was the case when Quy was sent from his 6th grade classroom to see me. Quy was part of a new family in the community and had recently immigrated from Vietnam. He confirmed he did have a problem seeing the front of the room from his desk. 

I set up the vision chart and had Quy sit at the proper distance. Handing him the eye shield, I explained he should cover his left eye and read the chart with his right eye first. He correctly covered his left eye and it was apparent his English skills were coming along well. 

I pointed to the large E at the very top of the chart.  He laughed and said, “I not that bad! I see E.” I laughed too and asked,  “Well, how about this one down here, Quy—can you read it?” He squinted, wrinkled his brow and replied after quite a few seconds, “I sorry nurse, I see it starts with ‘Ed,’ but I never saw the rest of that word!”

It was then I realized my instructions lacked quite a bit as I had not told him to read one letter at a time. We had another good laugh as I tried to give better instructions!

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The Letter

Holly limped through the door holding the hand of a kindergarten teacher’s assistant. She cried out, “Nurse, I got a bad ouchie on my knee.”  I took her hand and led her to the treatment area.  We faced one another on small but sturdy chairs while I cleansed her knee, and made an effort to keep her distracted from the uncomfortable process. I asked what they were doing in her class that day.

Her tears stopped as she told me “We are thinking about different letters. We take the first letter of our first name and try to think of a word that starts with the same letter. It should be something we think we are.”  “Oh tell me about your letter, Holly,” I encouraged as I continued my task.

“My name starts with H…and it makes the the sound Hhhhhhh. And, I chose the word ‘happy’—because I usually am”. She smiled at her own joke and I giggled with her.

“My first name starts with the letter S,” I offered, as I saw her attention back on her knee. “Do you know the sound of that letter, Holly?”  She quickly responded. “Oh, yes! It sounds like a snake and goes Sssssss.”  “You are right, Holly.  I wonder what word I should pick?” (I was nearly ready to apply the band-aid!)

Holly reached out her finger and pushed it into my slacks-covered thigh in front of her. “Well, I think you should pick the word ‘SOFT.’”  We giggled together again. 

I didn’t tell her I had hoped for “smart” or perhaps “sweet.”  

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A Perfect Definition

It was time for the first grade wellness class and oh, how I treasured those remarkable times!  There were always fun comments made by children who enthusiastically participated in the discussions.

 I planned to talk about STRESS that day, and how it effects our bodily functions.  The kids were going to learn to take their own pulse, and then run in place to see how their pulse rate increased. Then I would ask them just think about a scenario where they were running from something—to show how the thought alone would do the same thing.

To begin the discussion I asked if anyone could tell me if they knew what the word “stress” meant.   Julie raised her hand and said, “I really don’t know what it is—but my Mom says she has it.”  I responded that most everyone feels that way sometimes.  

Jack raised his hand and proclaimed, “Well, I know EXACTLY what it is, nurse.  Stress is what I FEEL when my mother tells me the school bus is out there and I can only find one shoe!”

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Body Awareness

If I had to classify these brief vignettes as humor or pathos, I would be hard put to do so! Exchanges like these over my ten years in the Price Laboratory School Health office were always memorable. I have chosen just a few to share, so you might experience with me the bittersweet moments of childhood concern over changing bodies.

Steven, a small-for-his-age eighth grader, closed my office door and quietly asked, “I don’t have any hair under my arms and my best friend has three hairs under one arm. Do I need hormones or something?”

Jenny, a quiet fourth grader, asked if she could have a diet to lose weight because she weighed four pounds more than any other girl in her class. She was 2” taller than the tallest classmate, but hadn’t made that connection. She told me “I just can’t be fat, nurse.” Jenny was just the youngest of many kids who came in worried about the need to lose weight.

Karen sobbed behind my closed office door as she told me that she was the only girl in sixth grade not wearing a bra. “Could you please call my Mom and tell her I need a bra, even though I really don’t?”

There was the fifth grade boy who was still wetting his bed and asked if I had medicine that he could take to stop it.

And, the tenth grade girl who was the only girl in her class who had not begun to menstruate—and she was embarrassed to have friends know this.

The fourth grade boy who vomited every time there was a math test to take and told me he was sure it was something that “numbers did to his brain.” (Our great counselor worked with us on this problem!)

The ninth grade girl who thought she had a sexually transmitted disease because she had burning when she went to the bathroom. A friend told her that was a symptom of STD. She asked, “Could I have gotten it from a toilet?  I have never had sex. I don’t even have a boyfriend.” (It turned out she had a urinary tract infection)

Incidents that still make me smile—with a simultaneous aching heart as I remember the pain—the emotional pain of kids as they compare their bodies with others, or attempt to figure out the functions or malfunctions of those bodies. 

You and I each know that pain, don’t we?

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“ . . . Let’s Pretend. . .”

I sat in a circle of eager four and five-year-olds on their classroom floor (this was forty years ago when I could do such things!). In the center of the circle I had placed a a basin of cool water and a towel.

My first-aid lesson would use my version of the Hot Potato Game to teach putting a burned hand under cool water.  I explained to the kids that we would pass the potato around the circle and we would PRETEND the potato was very hot, so we would move it quickly from one person to the next. The teacher assisted by playing music on the boom box and would abruptly stop. The child caught with the “hot potato” would put it down and run to the basin where they would cool their hands, dry them, and return to their place to resume the passing when the music began.

Oh, the kids seemed to enjoy the game and followed the directions well. We made about four passes with the potato and there was much laughter when the music stopped each time and the child ran to the center.  

Suddenly, Mary called out as another child cooled their hands.  “Nurse Flemr . . . I have a better idea—let’s pretend the potato is cold—then we won’t have to keep running to the water and drying our hands and all that BORING stuff. It will be much more fun to just keep going with a cold potato!”

Lesson plan revision needed. 

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Be Calm!

Recess ended just as Johnny’s face collided with the metal monkey bar.  As blood dripped from his nose, he immediately climbed down, sat in the sand, and held his nose in a firm grasp.  When the teacher asked him to join the others in line to return to the building where he could visit the nurse, he said, “Please bring the nurse here. I can’t move.”  

I was summoned to the playground by one of his classmates who rushed into the health office yelling, “Please come to the playground, Nurse Flemr.  Johnny is under the monkey bars and can’t move!” With a rapidly increasing heart rate—and trying not to appear alarmed as I passed other students—I rushed down the hall and outside. There I found Johnny sitting in the sand with his teacher close by. He sat cross-legged, his eyes closed, and his nose firmly pinched.

“Are you OK, Johnny?” I asked as I squatted down in the sand.  He replied without opening his eyes, “Yes. I am just TRYING to be calm. This is what you said to do when we get a nose bleed.  First . . . sit down right away. Then . . . Pinch your nose on the soft part with your thumb and finger.  Then . . . Bend your head forward just a little and MOST of all BE CALM. . .AND do not move for 10 minutes.”

I was awestruck by his first aid class recall and told him so. He replied, “Well, what’s the good of learning first aid if you don’t do it?”

When his ten minutes of pinching ended he reminded me I also said not to move quickly for a little while. So, we slowly returned to my office to take a cool rag to his no longer bleeding nose. And I tried to BE CALM.

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A Mother’s Nightmare

It was pre-school registration day. Dressed in an exercise outfit, a gym bag in one hand and a bouncing red-headed 4-year-old girl on the other, a trim, frazzled mother burst through the office door.  “Oh, I am sorry I’m late—my exercise class ran long—you must be the nurse. I am Mrs. Anderson and this is Kristin. I guess I have to fill out her health forms for pre-school.”

No problem. Have a seat and I’ll get them for you. Kristin, maybe you would like to sit on the couch. I have a book you might like.”  I retrieved the forms. Mrs. Anderson grabbed them from my hand, stood at the counter, threw her gym bag down, took a pen from me, and started to write. “I hope I can do this quickly, nurse.  I have a hair appointment at 11:00.” I assured her there wasn’t much information needed.

  I sat on the couch with Kristin and handed her a book. She put the book down and proceeded to remove her white sandal. “Nurse, I need to show you my ouchie.”  She placed her bare foot on my lap and pointed to a small blister where a strap had rubbed. I looked at it and asked, “Maybe I should fix that up for you, do you think? Would that be all right with you, Mrs. Anderson?”  Distracted briefly from the forms Mom looked up and nodded.  I cleansed the blistered area and applied a colorful band-aid.

 Kristin said, “Thank you, nurse. You are so nice—even if you are fat.”

  Immediately, Mom—who looked panic-stricken—lifted her head and shouted, “Kristin!”
Hurriedly I said,“Oh, Mrs. Anderson. That’s OK. Kristin just made an observation.”

Mom looked back at the forms and I returned my attention to Kristin who looked up at me with a serious and curious expression. I knew she wasn’t ready to leave the topic.

 “Nurse . . . just WHY are you fat?” 

Mrs. Anderson put down the pen, picked up her gym bag, stuffed the forms in a pocket, and looked even more flustered.  She waited as I answered, “Well Kristin, when we eat more than our body uses up, we hang onto that food as fat (I patted my tummy). This is what happened to me. I have eaten more food than my body uses.
Kristin nodded, “Yes! I guess you did, nurse!”

By that time, Mrs. Anderson, with Kristin in tow, ran for the door as she called back, “I’ll bring these forms with her on the first day, nurse.”

“See you then,” I called as Kristin turned around to smile and wave.

I laughed as I made my way across the hall to share the happening with the school counselor. We rejoiced together in the honesty of little ones—confrontational sometimes, but beautiful.

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It STILL hurts!

Gary limped through the door with his arm over the shoulder of a friend. He moaned as he flopped down on the couch in the health office waiting room. This lanky 14-year-old had made his way from the gym where he had turned his ankle during a basketball game. 

Gary’s friend headed back to class and I asked Gary to elevate his leg on the couch, told him to leave his shoe on, and I retrieved ice packs. After a quick examination of the ankle which had begun to swell, I told him I thought it was sprained, but felt it should be checked by his doctor since he was unable to put any weight on it. I suggested it would most likely need the R.I.C.E prescription . . . rest, ice, compression and elevation. When Gary’s mother arrived I sent him off with a pair of crutches we kept for such happenings.

The next school day Gary arrived in the office with his foot wrapped and a report from his visit to the doctor.  “At first he thought it was broken, but then an x-ray showed it wasn’t.  He told me to go home and do the R.I.C.E. thing. He also told me to take aspirin. So, that is what I did.  The problem is—it didn’t work, nurse. It STILL hurts.”

I told Gary I was sorry, and suggested maybe he should have a day at home.  Obviously frustrated he emphatically said , “But I did the stuff you and the doctor said, and it didn’t work! What are you going to do, nurse?”

As I talked with Gary about the slow and somewhat painful healing of a sprain, I remembered my first sprained ankle at about the same age. It was an experience when I began to learn we don’t always have painless instant cures.

May we all wait with hope as we wait for all kinds of healing in these slowly resolving and painful days.

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Oh, So Bright

It was time for first graders’ wellness lunch, and I so looked forward to those weekly events. I joined them in a circle of desks—some lunches in bags from home and some on school trays.  Each of us explained how our particular lunch fulfilled the goal of containing all four food groups.  (This was before the food pyramid!)

In the circle of energy-filled and hungry students sat Albert, who was 6 or 7 going on at least 30-years-of age.  He was a constant challenge and delight to his teacher who arranged opportunities to expand his curriculum—such as sending him to the sixth grade class for computer instruction.

When it was Albert’s turn to dissect his lunch, he sat up straight and held out each item as he spoke:

“Well, first you can all see I have this peanut butter sandwich. I hope you remember peanut butter comes from the meat or protein group.  And, the bread, of course, is from the bread group. You see here my pear—it is from the fruit and vegetable group, of course.”

He paused and then continued, “Now—I suppose you are all asking yourselves, ‘where is his milk group?’ Well, I don’t have the milk group because I am allergic to milk.”

Albert paused again, leaned forward, looked at me down the circle and said, “Nurse Flemr, I am sure you will pleased to know I had my two calcium tablets this morning.”

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Healing

The school day had ended and the hall outside my office was quiet. I made notes at my desk and became aware of a small person standing in front of me. I looked up into the face of Betsy, a second grader who stood with her backpack in place, her rather expressionless face surrounded by wisps of blond hair, and her arm stretched toward me with her index finger extended.

I smiled and asked, “How may I help you, Betsy?”  She spoke quietly, “I wanted to see you about this finger. I was going to come after lunch but my teacher thought it looked all right and I could see you after school.”

Taking her finger in my hands I examined it gently. Not seeing any visible injury, having her bend it in all directions, I asked, “Did you injure your finger?”  She removed her back pack, placed it on the chair near my desk and answered, “Yes, nurse. I hurt it yesterday at home.” 

“Maybe you could tell me about that,” I suggested. She took a deep breath and spoke with more animation. “Well, it happened when I was playing in the front yard with a bunch of kids and we started to play on our porch railing—we were going to walk on it. I had done that before—and I told them I had. The older kids laughed and said they bet I couldn’t do it. So, I tried to show them—but this time I fell off, landed on my finger, and it really hurt!” There was a long pause before she added, “All the kids laughed at me.”

“Oh, I am so sorry that happened, Betsy.”  She nodded. I continued, “Well, I am glad to see it is healing so well.”

With the beginning of a smile Betsy replied, “Yes it is . . . but I just thought you would want to know.”

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The Yellow Sweater

If you’ve ever taught an excited group of young children, you will understand the dilemma. Your lesson plan is moving along nicely, however, interruptions from the raised hands of kids with comments and questions are coming frequently. Should you tell the kids, “No more hands until I finish up here”—thereby dampening their enthusiasm—or face the need to save part of the lesson until the next time?

That was my situation with first graders and the wellness curriculum one day.  I can’t remember the topic, but I do remember the pressure I felt as I approached the designated class end time. I finally explained, “You have been great participants! Now I will ask that you NOT raise your hands until I finish.”

All was quiet as I continued, but in a matter of seconds Brian thrust his hand in the air and waved it back and forth.  His red hair and freckled face bobbed up and down as he rose partway in his desk.  I tried my best to ignore him as I felt my impatience grow and I thought, “Didn’t he hear what I just said? Why can’t he control himself?”

I continued the lesson and ignored Brian. My irritation mounted as his hand waving and bobbing became more pronounced. Finally, in subdued tone I asked, “Brian—what is it that you have to say?”

Brian lowered his hand, sat back down, and said, “Nurse Flemr, I just have to tell you how beautiful you look today in that yellow sweater.”

40 years later, though rarely worn, the sweater is a sweet reminder of the lesson I learned.

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Three Brief Encounters with Embarrassed Boys

High school boys seldom frequented the health office. When they did come in it was usually with an immediate need and some embarrassment.

The school day was over and the hallway outside the health office quieted. As I finished up paper work, a high school freshman, with tousled hair and desperate expression came through the door. He held out his left arm over which he had draped his jacket. With a grimace verging on tears he said, “Nurse, look under there. Do you think I hurt my arm?” Since he was beginning to look pale, I had him sit down, lifted his jacket and found an oddly bent lower arm.  “I can’t believe this! We were just playing tag football—but I tripped!” he lamented, as I splinted his arm and called his father. 

It was that same time of day when another young man ran through the door, headed into the rest room, leaned over the sink, and vigorously washed out his mouth.  When he finally raised his head, I handed him a towel and he cried, “ I was just siphoning gas out of a friend’s car and got some in my mouth. Am I going to die, nurse? I asked him if he had swallowed any gas and he assured me he had not. He sat by my desk as I made a quick check with the poison control center, and then we chatted a bit about the dangers of siphoning gas.

Dragged into the health office by his coach, a young man needed a nursing assessment and then a trip to the hospital for stitches on a part of the body that involved removal of his underwear.  His concerned coach reassured him, “Nurse Flemr has raised two sons!  Don’t be so embarrassed.” However, he was definitely embarrassed!  After immediate first aid and his parent’s arrival to take him to the hospital, I asked that he let me know how his treatment went.  

The next day in the hallway I saw him approach with a group of his friends. I knew that was not the time to ask him about his hospital visit. He saw me coming, looked worried that I would approach him, and when I didn’t, he leaned sideways toward me as he quickly passed and whispered, “20 stitches.”

  I was grateful for the report!

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“ . . . for Scott . . .”

His diagnosis saddened the entire school. A third grade boy had a medical disorder which would require chemotherapy.  After a period of time he was able to return to his classroom, with many safety precautions in place due to his lowered immunity.

I completed sessions with his classmates on proper hand washing before his return and these were reinforced throughout the year. His classroom teachers were diligent in allowing the children time to practice their hand washing several times a day. Extra cleaning was done of the desks and commonly used objects each day. All families were asked to make certain no child came to school with any sign of illness.

I’ve thought about Scott and his classmates many times over these past few months.  I can still picture them as they left the restrooms on their way to lunch, their hands held up in front of them—looking like a group of surgeons all scrubbed in for an operation!

One day I encountered such a group and commented about what a great job they were doing. One smiling, freckle-faced boy replied, “I don’t really like to do it Nurse Flemr, but I just keep telling myself that I am doing it for Scott, and that makes me wash them better.” 

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“Hot?”

For over 50 years I have treasured the voices of two sons who have called me “Mommy,” “Mom,” or “Mommy dear.” I will always love being called those names.

About 35 years ago on Valentines Day, a kindergarten teacher walked into the health office with a five-year-old little girl in tow. “Nurse Flemr, Maya has a special card she made for you and she wanted to bring it herself.” Little Maya reached out and proudly smiled as she handed me this memorable card.

Never before, and never again have I been called this name.

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Sex Ed Questions!

 

It became quickly apparent that fifth grade girls and boys, gathered in the same room for human sexuality lessons, were not going to feel free to ask questions. So, I  decided I would leave a box in their room after each session, and at the beginning of the next class I would read out loud and answer any questions they had placed there.

My first experience with this method produced five written questions. My confidence grew as I found them to be fairly simple to answer directly—things like, “How old are you when you can’t have babies any longer?” Easy to handle. However, I paused and swallowed as I unfolded the final slip of paper and read, “What is a one night stand?”

I do remember I remained calm, serious, and “nurse-like” as I addressed the question. I cannot, however, tell you a thing I said! I also remember the two fifth grade teachers sitting in the back of the room, who looked up from grading papers to smile at me as they watched and listened. I knew they were thinking, “OK, Nurse Flemr, let’s see you handle this one!”

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“Oh, my gosh!”

Sixth grade boys can be lively, challenging, wonderful creatures.  The one who ran through the health office door that morning was such a student. He was all arms and legs, quite tall for his age—what we would call “lanky.”  Normally, this young man wore a huge smile, but that morning he bounded up to my desk and with serious concern and announced, “Nurse Flemr, I’ve lost the hearing in my right ear.”  

Hank answered my questions, “Yes, it just started this morning . . .  yea, it was very sudden . . .no pain.” I asked him to have a seat in the exam area and I joined him there with my otoscope. He looked up at the instrument, covered his ear and asked, “You goin’ look in there? Will it hurt?” I reassured him it would be painless. 

He removed his hand so I might peer into his ear. The scope’s light reflected off a bright chartreuse object down in the canal. It appeared round, smooth, and definitely non-organic! I asked Hank if he had put something in his ear. He adamantly replied, “Oh, no!  I would NEVER do that, nurse!”

I retrieved a blunt-nosed forceps and gently reached into the ear. When I pulled out the good-sized neon plastic pop bead—the kind we used to make bracelets and necklaces in the 1950’s—wide-eyed Hank exclaimed,”Oh, my gosh!  How did that ever get in there?” He did a good job of appearing to be seeing the object for the first time!

As I went to the sink, washed the bead, and handed it to Hank,  I talked a bit about the danger of putting things into the ear canal. He quickly interrupted me, “Oh! You know what? I think I know how it got there! I was sleeping on my left side last night and it must have just fallen right in there when my sister walked by.” 

So imaginative, wasn’t he?

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I was sorry to say, “No, you can’t.”

It was time for my introductory session on human reproduction with the 4th graders. At this grade level I met with the boys and girls separately, to reduce the inevitable embarrassment as puberty and bodily changes were discussed.

On this particular day I presented to the girls the entire topic of menstruation. They were quite attentive as they looked at the visual aids I provided and listened to my explanation of the physical process. However, I did notice one student near the front of the room whose eyes were getting bigger and more fear-filled as the class moved along. When I finished, she closed her eyes and her blond curls bobbed as she turned her head repeatedly side to side with a definite “No!”

I invited questions, and saw several girls working up courage to speak. When none of them did so, I called on the dismayed little girl. “Do you have something you would like to ask . . . some concern?” She hesitated just a moment and then spoke, “Nurse Flemr . . . what I want to know is this . . . If this whole business does have to get started . . . well . . . can I just go to the doctor and ask them to just stop it for me for a while?  I mean…you know…I REALLY don’t want to do this . . . and I don’t need to have kids yet.”

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LIFE RETURNS . . . “from a 14-year-old “kid,” . . .”

My father was dying.

I returned to work after an out-of-state trip to assist my mother with his care. There was no doubt in my mind that I had made the last visit before his death.

I moved forward into the day, numb in spirit. While hanging up my jacket I spotted a note clipped to the message board on my office door. At that same moment children arrived in the health office for various reasons. I grabbed the note, placed it on my desk, and tried to pry myself out of myself, to deal with the needs of the kids.

An hour passed before I could return to my desk and open the neatly folded and carefully inscribed piece of notebook paper.  The letter began, “Dear Mrs. Flemr, I realize this may sound odd coming from a 14-year-old ‘kid’, but I think I can understand your feelings now.”  The note continued to offer assistance in listening to my grief at that difficult time, and a reminder that this would be available whenever needed. This caring young woman also wrote she would understand if I thought her too young, but assured me she wanted to be of help.

Several bottled-up tears rolled down my cheeks as I refolded the note and tucked it in my pocket. There was a palpable lessening of the ache in my chest and a deep breath was finally possible.

Dear friends, that was an Easter moment—when the extended love of another brought NEW LIFE.

May each of us rejoice in those moments when love extended unconditionally brings us comfort—and the ability to breathe deeply once more. And, may we have courage to reach out with the life-giving love—even when we fear someone might think it “odd.”

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A Girl? Or A Boy?

 The phone rang early on Monday morning. “Nurse Flemr, please come to the kindergarten when you can. It is not urgent, but we have a situation with the hamster!” 

Fueled by curiosity, I walked to the classroom and found 4 and 5-year-olds gathered around the hamster cage. Over the weekend Oliver (who had been sold to the teacher as a male) had given birth to a litter of eleven. That day Oliver became Olive.

Someone familiar with hamster care advised the teacher to separate the male and female babies since hamsters reproduce at a young age. My job—to “sex” the babies. 

My knowledge of hamster anatomy was zilch! Nevertheless, I sat down with a nest of eleven, one inch long, pink, wriggling critters on the table in front of me.  I immediately became discouraged with their diminutive physical structures and my face must have shown it.

That was when 4-year-old Eleanor joined me at the table. (You might remember her from my first tale). She always brought brightness, energy, and articulate conversation to any situation. Eleanor placed her hand on my arm and said, “Nurse . . . I can help you . . . I know the difference between girls and boys! You see, nurse . . . boys have . . .uhh . . . boys have . . . uhh . . . . well, uhh. . . . Short hair!”

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His Eyes

Shorter than the window of my inner office, he approached unnoticed.  It wasn’t until a 2nd grade hand placed a uniquely fashioned small piece of paper on my desk that I looked up from my work. There I found a boy’s unsmiling face, furrowed brows above large dark eyes. Displayed in his eyes—was it worry or fear—or both?

“Well, good-morning, friend,” I ventured. He did not respond—only slid the note closer to me. I glanced at the note and asked if it came from his father (whose name was Roy) and he simply nodded. I asked if he could tell me why he couldn’t swim, and he only shook his head.  I suggested, “Maybe I should give your Dad a call and see if he can tell me about this?” He shook his head again, turned, and hurriedly left my office. I thought he had decided his self-written excuse was not going to work, and he would have to go swimming after all.

School nurses receive many student composed notes with attempts to be excused from various classes, but this was just about the cutest one I had ever been given. It brought much laughter as I shared it with his teacher and family. It was a note I kept in my collection to remind me of that amusing time. 

Years later I had occasion to visit with a sister of this young man and we recalled the happening. I gave her the little note to pass along to her now grown brother. In our conversation I learned that her little brother had an experience with water that left him terrified. The experience lay behind his note writing. 

Suddenly, I knew “the rest of the story!” The note that brought much laughter had deeper significance. I wish I could go back 35 years and talk with that precious child again. His note continues to teach, when I am quick to judge behavior without taking a good look at what might lie behind it.

A perfect “bittersweet” story…of laughter AND poignancy, as well.

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Charlie

 Arachnophobes Warning: possible trigger ☹️

School Nurses often extend their care to classroom pets. I look forward to sharing a couple of those critter happenings.

One such memorable encounter happened with Charlie, the beloved tarantula, on loan to the third grade classroom. Charlie was a lovely, big (3-4 inch),black, and quite furry spider . . . I don’t know which species of tarantula.  The children learned about spiders as they watched Charlie crawl around among rocks and plants that filled his aquarium. They helped feed him crickets. 

Early one Monday morning a student teacher appeared at my office door and asked for my help. “Nurse Flemr, it looks like over the weekend Charlie the spider died. He is curled up in a corner and isn’t moving.  Would you come and uh—maybe remove him—and uh— talk with the kids about his death for a little while?”  

I finished hanging up my coat and walked with her to the classroom.  Children were arriving and gathered around the aquarium as word of Charlie’s demise spread. I told them I was sorry to hear about his death and that perhaps we could take him out, look closely at the wonderful creature Charlie had been, and could talk about what we enjoyed about Charlie.

I removed the top screen, swallowed my own trepidation, and slowly reached down toward the motionless body.  As my hand approached Charlie, Teddy, standing next to me, called out as he pointed toward the other corner of the aquarium, “Hey nurse, Charlie is alive!”  ( I can’t find words to describe how quickly I removed my hand.)

Sure enough, there was Charlie—or his twin—crawling out from behind a rock. There was a collective “WOW” at that moment.

That was the day I learned how tarantulas shed their exoskeleton!

Memorial service cancelled!

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“. . . I peed . . .”

I felt happy that day in my brand new outfit . . . so nurse-like and professional . . .

But then, she burst through the office door—a short round bundle of wet, wrinkled, sand-covered clothes. Her face was sweaty, her hair damp and tangled, her nose runny and her red-rimmed eyes streaming. As I turned in my chair to greet her, she launched her 5-year-old body into my lap. Between sobs she managed to say, “I fell off the monkey bars . . . I peed.”

As Lizzie settled in, I felt the wetness through my lightweight navy slacks. Her sandy arms and wet face pressed against my crisp white blouse. The odor of urine was strong.

A confession: At that moment I did not feel caring concern! I actually felt the urge to push her off my lap. Lizzie needed my arms around her in comfort, my encouragement to tell her story, my help in bathing and selecting some clean donated clothing from my closet. She needed a fresh start to her day.

Oh, I’d like to tell you it was my compassion that led me to do the things Lizzie needed—but, in my confession I must tell you—it was the universal love you and I share in this world. It is a powerful unconditional love, which strengthens us as we care for one another, when we feel inadequate or even repulsed.

Held for a while on my lap, bathed and dressed in fresh clothes, hair combed, Lizzie smiled broadly, ran out the door and yelled back, “Thanks, Nurse Flemr.”

I too needed some cleaning up as I reflected upon the morning miracle.

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“Now, take a breath. . .”

Ah!  On that day I happily anticipated a wellness class with the first graders.  I would address a favorite topic and share the technique of abdominal breathing for total relaxation. This would occur during their rest time which followed lunch and recess.

Picture this with me—a slightly darkened classroom where I stood amidst twenty some little ones stretched out on their backs.  Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata playing softly. (The first grade teacher had a marvelous practice of introducing her students to a “Composer of the Month.”). I thought she made a perfect choice for this occasion.

I began, “When you need to relax, you can do this with a special breath. First I want you to close your eyes. Listen to the piano playing. Now, just take a slow deep breath in through your nose. When you do that, make your tummy puff up like a ballon. That’s right! Good job. Now, breathe out slowly through your mouth. Do this again and again—in through your nose, tummy up, and then out through your mouth, tummy down.” I watched them take intentionally slow breaths, as Beethoven soothed us all.

“Pretty soon your arms and legs will be all loose like a bowl of spaghetti,” I continued. I felt affirmed by Stephanie, right in front of me as she sighed, “Oh nurse, this is nice.”  Next to her, Jody whispered, “Oh, this is SO relaxing.”

There was a brief pause—when a short distance away I saw Jason’s whole body suddenly tighten—his fisted hands and straight arms down at his sides, his legs stiffened, his face grimaced with eyes squeezed shut as he loudly proclaimed—“This is RIDICULOUS!”

That is the day Jason taught me humility about the universal effect of my beloved relaxation methods!

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Phew!

She didn’t make frequent visits to the nurse, so I was surprised to look up from my desk and see second grader Beth limping through the door. Her disheveled long black hair framed a  worried face with tear filled dark eyes. She held her skirt above one knee, exposing a bloody scrape. I led her to a small chair and gathered my supplies. Beth described her fall, her pain, and her need for immediate nursing care with dramatic detail and concluded, “Oh, Nurse Flemr, I do hope you can help me. I am afraid I might have cinders in my scrape.” I assured her I would carefully remove any found.

I pulled up another small chair (In those days, I took pride in being able to fold my six-foot frame into the small, but sturdy chair). I used gauze and warm sudsy water to gently clean the scrape. As I worked, Beth’s tears subsided and I did my best to distract her with mutual chatter.

After a few minutes, Beth asked, “Nurse Flemr . . . could you please tell me how you get that very white hair all mixed in there with the black hair?’  I realized she was looking at the top of my head as I bent over her knee.  I explained, “Well, it just grows in there like that, Beth. As I am getting older I get a few more each year.” 

Beth’s reply is one which will forever cause me to laugh out loud.  “That is SO NEAT, Nurse Flemr . . . it is JUST like a skunk!”  

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“… kind of tummy ache…”

The early Monday morning rush in the Health Office was over. I escaped to the faculty lounge and grabbed a cup of coffee. Mug in hand, I returned to my office and found 3rd grader Sandy on the couch. She sat with knees pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped around her legs, head bent over as light brown hair covered her face.  I heard quiet sniffling from under the curtain of hair as I came through the door.

Putting my coffee on my desk, I sat down next to her. “Sandy, do you want to tell me why you are crying?” It was a couple of minutes before she raised her head for me to see red-rimmed blue eyes, full of tears and pain. “I need to go home right now, Nurse Flemr—right now.”  I patted her shoulder and asked, “Can you tell me why you need to go home?”  She whimpered, “I need to go home because I have a bad tummy ache.” 

The usual questions for such occasions about eating breakfast, going to the bathroom, along with taking her temperature revealed nothing out of the ordinary.  I asked, “You know, Sandy, I am not sure what is causing your tummy ache. Do you have any idea?”  

Sandy looked up and replied, “Nurse, you see . . . I don’t think this tummy ache is the kind that causes a fever. I think it is the kind of tummy ache because my cat Buffy died on Saturday.”

After I swallowed hard and told her how sorry I was, I confirmed she was probably right about the cause of her tummy ache. Sandy and I talked a while about Buffy. She told me her parents got Buffy before she was born, but Buffy had been her kitty for eight years. She giggled as she told me about the tricks Buffy had done and how she slept with her every night. Sandy eventually returned to class having told me her tummy was getting better.

Oh, why is this simple story significant to me? Because I need, and perhaps you do too, the occasional reminder that our emotional pain often “comes out” in so many different bodily aches. May we each find courage to acknowledge and speak of the pain.

Thank you, Sandy.

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What Would You Do?

A wellness curriculum for 1st graders was developed by their teacher to include the Chair of Physical Education Department, the Guidance Counselor, and myself. Each of us took part in presenting classes throughout the school year. From time to time I will enjoy sharing a funny or poignant story from those experiences.

Part of my responsibility was to eat lunch with the 1st graders to discuss healthy eating.  I would bring my sack lunch (carefully planned, of course!) and join them in their room where we sat in a circle to eat and dissect our meals. Some of the students brought lunch trays up from the cafeteria and some had lunch bags or boxes from home.

Do you remember the “Four Food Groups?”  This was the emphasis before the “Food Pyramid” appeared on the nutrition scene.  For several Wednesdays we examined our lunches to see how we did or did not meet the recommendations.

On such a day, I stepped inside the entrance to the classroom area and saw Jenny running toward me, her blond pony tail flying, her cheeks bright pink above her broad grin as she held out her lunch bag. She stopped in front of me, looked up, and sputtered, “Oh, Nurse Flemr . . . I’ve got such exciting news to tell you. You are not going to believe this!  My mother got ALL FOUR FOOD GROUPS in ONE SANDWICH!  She has bread from the grain group . . . ham from the meat group . . . lettuce from the fruit and vegetable group . . . and, uh . . . cheese from the dairy group! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?”  

Before I could respond, Jenny reached into the bag, pulled out a cellophane wrapped delight, and plaintively declared, “But, Nurse Flemr . . . I just don’t know WHAT to do with these Twinkies.”   

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Dangerous Activity

As I looked up from my desk, a teacher assisted an 8th grade boy  through the health office doorway.  The student slumped against the teacher, his arm draped over her shoulder—the other arm had a towel wrapped around his hand. Tears streamed down his face, which was pale, and his black rimmed glasses slid down his nose. He called out, “Nurse Flemr, I think I am going to faint.” 

 I joined the pair as they made their way into the adjacent room where Edward collapsed upon a bed . . . and did indeed faint! I grabbed an ammonia capsule from a nearby cabinet, broke it near his nose, and he began to revive. The teacher unwrapped his hand, where I saw a large gauge needle protruding from his index finger.  She explained that in sewing class Edward got his finger stuck under the machine’s needle. She had removed the needle from the machine, hoping to avoid any further damage to his finger.

Fortunately, the needle was not imbedded deeply, and fell out as I began to examine his finger.  Before I could offer reassurance with a good prognosis, Edward (still crying) asked, “Oh, Nurse Flemr, why did I choose such a dangerous activity? . . . I should just stick with Origami.” 

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X-Rated – “Do I have this right?”

There were many great things about being school nurse at Price Lab—well trained, motivated, caring faculty and administration, student teachers and classroom assistants who were part of the College of Education at UNI, a broad age range of students from pre-kindergarten through senior high, diversity in socio-economic and racial backgrounds, and for me. . .being welcomed into classrooms to teach health related topics.

As you might imagine, Sex Education was one of the topics I taught.  As you might also imagine, from those classes I gathered many a tale and will share some of those in the weeks ahead. The classes I taught at the 4th and 5th grade levels were continued in 7th grade. I guess if I were speaking educational language I would say it was “vertically integrated curriculum.” (Is that correct, teachers?) Anyway, my story today comes from the first of twelve sessions I had each September with the 7th graders as a part of their health classes.

 I stood before 20 some students, many of whom looked embarrassed already.  I told them I knew they were uncomfortable with the topic and in their discomfort they might feel like laughing when they heard words they were unaccustomed to hearing in a classroom.

The first order of business was to tell them I expected them to be the mature students I knew them to be. Any laughter was going to be done in the first few minutes. Then, I would expect them to treat the topic with the seriousness I knew they could show.

I proceeded to hand out the schedule of topics for the next eleven sessions.  I read the schedule, including the anatomical vocabulary on the sheet. The anticipated giggles occurred and at some point I told them the time for giggles was over.  It remained quiet as we finished up. Once again I said I knew they would give this topic its deserved SERIOUS attention.  The class ended and they filed out (I am sure many giggling once they reached the hallway).

From the back of the room came Jim, a small (could he really be in 7th grade?) lad with large round glasses.  He walked up to me with his clipboard in hand, glanced down at the schedule he had placed there, looked up at me with all SERIOUSNESS in his big dark eyes, and asked, “Now do I have this right, Nurse Flemr?  I am going to have sex with you every Tuesday and Thursday from now until Christmas?”  

I bit the inside of my mouth as I nodded my head and said, “Yes, Jim, that is right.” He said “thanks” and left.

I actually made it back to the health office bathroom before I let my laughter out! And then I reflected upon the precious innocence of a child trying to be serious and responsible!