Shortness of breath, cold sweat, clammy palms, and dizziness were the symptoms my students were experiencing one morning a couple of weeks ago. Eyes were wild and darted around the room looking for a quick escape option. Comforting hands were plied to backs and consoling words were spoken.
It was vaccination day.
I felt bad for them and searched for words to comfort them. No words came. What good things can be said about getting a needle? (I guess in hindsight, I could have mentioned that it would most likely prevent them from getting a disease).
One student raised his hand.
“Does getting the needle hurt?”
“Well, it won’t be too bad. Your arm will feel like you have been punched or had a bad Charlie horse.” I replied matter-of-factually.
A student in the front row let out an unearthly groan and put his head down in despair.
“My mom told me it would tickle!” said one student.
“My mom told me I wouldn’t even feel it!” countered someone else.
Our discussion of pain was interrupted by a knock on the door. I opened the classroom door to find a nurse in floral scrubs waiting outside. She handed me a list of students who were getting the injection and in what order they should come.
It was at that point that I knew that my lesson had no chance of competing with needles.
“It’s time.” I said gravely. All of the students knew what I was referring too.
I pointed to the first two students on the list and told them to make their way to the make-shift nurses’ station in the kitchen. Some of the remaining students solemnly waved goodbye. Others silently mouthed ‘goodbye’ or ‘you were a good friend’ or ‘can I have your sparkly pencil if you don’t come back?’
The first two students bravely stood up, took a deep breath, braced themselves, and strode out of the room.
After about five minutes one of the students returned – alone. The students anxiously asked him where the other student was.
“He fainted in the hallway. I tried to catch him, but I dropped him.”
I jumped up and ran to the hallway, but was relieved to see the nurses helping the student back to the kitchen.
“Who’s next?” I asked the class. The students sank lower in their desks, avoided all eye contact and suddenly seemed very interested in the weave of the carpet.
I selected two more students. They solemnly left the room and headed for the kitchen. I and the rest of the students were relieved to see them return after a few minutes. Their arms were tender, but they seemed okay. The next two were sent.
To my dismay, only one returned.
“What happened?” I asked exasperatedly.
“She fainted in the kitchen and threw up.” replied her partner. More anguished groans from the class.
This was getting intense. That kitchen was quickly turning into a triage unit.
I turned to the class and addressed them in a Churchillian manner. “I am sure she will be okay. Just relax and take a deep breath. You’ll be just fine.”
“My mom said that this morning too!” said one student accusingly.
The needles continued, and were done by the morning. Our casualty rate climbed to three. Two students went home early to recover from the effects.
My mantra “never a dull moment as a teacher” was never truer then that fall morning. I haven’t had the heart yet to tell the class that the nurses will be back in April for round two. Stay tuned...