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.”   

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.” 

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!

“. . . so prepared. . .”

Monday morning was off to a harried start in the health office. Four students sat in the waiting area.  I stood at my desk and phoned a parent to come for her first grade daughter who had a fever and now sat on the couch, huddled with her backpack. The other end of that couch held a seventh grade boy soaking an infected toe in a basin of warm sudsy water.  I would need to call his parents to suggest a doctor visit.  On a small chair a second grade boy waited after he had explained he was sure he had “the flu” and should be excused from swimming.  I would check his temperature and then chat a bit about his fear of swimming (a recent issue). Finally, there was the 5th grade girl who had a note from home with a request for a vision check.

Into this mix burst 2nd grader, Eleanor! She raced to my desk with her dark brown hair flying and her large brown eyes full of desperation, and began to explain her dilemma.  I motioned her to wait as I quickly wrapped up my phone call.  

“Now tell me Eleanor, how may I help you?”  

She held out her hand to show me the evidence…a metal clip. “You won’t believe what just happened, nurse.  I sat down at my desk and this came off my jeans.  It holds them shut.”  I sat down at my desk and opened the drawer for my assortment of safety pins.  As I began to look for just the right one she continued, “Oh, I hope you don’t  plan to pin it closed.  I need you to SEW this back on, PLEASE?”  I sighed and asked hopefully, “Don’t you think a pin would work just for today, Eleanor?”  She replied adamantly, “Oh no, Nurse Flemr.”  

From the back of my drawer I lifted out the small sewing kit I never used.  I  knew attaching the metal clip onto the denim would be a challenge.  Seeming to sense my reluctance, Eleanor patted my arm gently, and with sincere encouragement exclaimed, “Oh, Nurse Flemr, you are so prepared!”

As I began the arduous task I decided that Eleanor might be a counselor someday!  

Epilogue: The task completed, Eleanor now stood ready to return to class. She glanced around at the other waiting students (now increased in number by two), once more patted my arm, and with a wide smile conspiratorially said, “Nurse Flemr, you run quite a business in here!”  

Eleanor now probably works in national diplomatic services….