Besides tasks involving instruction, arbitration, and keeping a straight face, the job of a second-grade teacher also includes serving as an always available health care professional, kind of like staffing a Minute Clinic for short people. Seven- and eight-year-olds are at the stage, developmentally, when they discover both phlegm and the ability to share their medical fears. Complaints tend to fall into categories such as I can't sniff, I can't swallow, I itch, or I can't move my arms (legs, feet, fingers, elbows, ears). For the can't sniff variety, I advise nose blowing. For swallowing, it's a drink of water. If someone tells me he can't move his right arm, I tell him to use his left hand. If a kid can't walk on her left leg, I tell her to hop on her right. For itching, I have a special spray that causes tickles to (sometimes) go away. It's a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide, which, last I looked, has no anti-itch ingredients at all, but does fill the teacher attention void quite well.
Just a few weeks ago, one of my students came up during break to tell me she couldn't move either arm. Indeed, both appendages hung uselessly by her side. As we were discussing alternatives to arm use, including Riverdance and soccer, she stopped suddenly, pointing at me with a finger attached to one of the formerly non-functioning arms and said, "Did you know your shirt is on inside out?" I was pleased to realize that my inability to dress in the dark had come in handy in averting a medical emergency.
I don't want anyone to think I'm cavalier about the needs of my students. It's just that I'm constantly having to evaluate the seriousness of any malady or disorder before I send a child to our school nurse. Nurse Nancy is kind and pretty and she has soft hands and a warm heart, but she can't possibly see every child whose toe nail tingles. When someone does go see her, however, she is, indeed, a miracle worker. One of Nurse Nancy's greatest medical-miracle accoutrements is the ice bag, which can heal almost anything. Ice bags are so popular at our school that Nurse Nancy has put a fifteen minute limit on their use, giving the injured child the physical and psychological benefit of going to see Nurse Nancy TWICE, not only to get the ice bag but also to take it back.
My ability to ferret out the truly sick from the merely complaining is based not only on my many years as a teacher, but also as a mother. I'm proud to say I raised three children without a single stitch or broken bone, which probably had more to do with their inertia than with my parenting skills. Unless one of my kids had fallen off the couch during an episode of The A Team or Saved by the Bell, there was little chance of them getting hurt. In fact, the closest any of my children came to having a serious accident is when my oldest, Melissa, pulled a small TV down on top of herself, engraving Channel 11 into her forehead for several days.
My son, Billy, does propagate the notion that he is highly allergic to cats and, as a child, his eyes watered constantly and he couldn't breathe through his nose because of whichever cat we had around at the time. Either he is greatly exaggerating this allergy thing or maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention while I was busy brushing Fluffy. Although Melissa did call me from her UGA dorm room one time in the middle of the night to tell me she'd hit her head on her bunk bed, both my daughters are currently pretty stoic about their maladies. Molly is such a trooper, she dismissed her discomfort (not to mention her radioactive mustard hue) to the extent that she ended up with a five day Portland, Oregon hospital stay for an emergency gall bladder removal one hour after completing an eight hour cross country flight with a Vegas layover. She said the worst part of the entire ordeal wasn't the pain so severe she thought she was having a heart attack, but my need to hold her hand and generally get in the way any time medical professionals were trying to help her.
People with whom I work also rely on my medical expertise from time to time. After all, I am a doctor, although not the kind who helps people, according to an astute child a few years ago. I'm often involved in lunchtime faculty discussions having to do with topics like projectile vomiting, funky female problems, grotesque gastrointestinal catastrophes, and a few other things I can't relate here. My friend, Allie, once even asked my advice about her "walking pneumonia" and "death rattle" as she defended herself from my mirth with a tiny cough.
But my real talent lies in diagnosing and treating the minor ailments of children. For example, a couple of days ago, one of my boys came up and showed me a cut on his finger, asking for a band-aid. I looked and saw what appeared to be several days of healing and a few hours of grime on a paper cut, so I told him I thought he would be okay. Minutes later, I noticed he was holding tightly to the injured finger with the thumb and finger of his other hand. I made the mistake of asking him what he was doing, to which he said, "I'm making a tiny tourniquet with my finger to stop my heart from pumping the blood out of my cut." I gave him the blasted band-aid.