I tried writing this as a snappy facebook status, but it ended up being too much to fit into a reasonably-sized status.
Today, the school nurse was giving all 5th graders their Diphtheria Tetanus Toxoid vaccines. The girls had been given consent forms for their parents to sign on Sunday. We had prepared for it and they had bombarded me with questions about it, for a week. Even this morning when I had before-school duty, 5th graders swarmed me and asked me last-minute questions about the dreaded shot that included (I kid you not) “Is it true that people are sick for 10-14 days after getting the injection?” and “Will there be fire coming out of the needle?” I know you’re not supposed to laugh at kids’ questions to their face, but, hahahahah, I did.
We had thirty minutes of English time before my homeroom had to get their doses of DPT vaccine. I had them make a web in their journals on the pros and cons of getting shots. Then, we went over their thoughts on vaccines as a class. I gave what I consider to have been a shining speech on how lucky they are to live in a time of advanced medical technology and have access to vaccines. I brought up the number of people who died because of these serious diseases in the past and even how some people in poorer countries still lack access to the immunizations and are at-risk. I tried to make them feel fortunate for being able to get a vaccine, not scared. In case they still felt nervous, however, I showed them a squishy heart ball I’d let them squeeze while getting the shot.
But, even the best laid plans can- and do- go awry.
Down at the nurse’s office, things were going alright. I instantly wished I would have had time and the foresight to get some copies of a worksheet in to the guy who does copies for us (and often takes up to four or five school days to do it) so that my students could have sat in the hallway and busied themselves in some way. Instead, they stood next to one another in a line against the wall whispering nervously in between my “shhh”s. The nurse hadn’t given us 5th grade teachers any special instructions, so we spent a little bit of time rearranging the girls and having them, not me, hold their parent consent forms.
Then, it began.
Dania was first. She definitely seemed nervous, but after she received the injection, she looked back at the class and shrugged as if to say “What shot?” I breathed a sigh of relief, and hoped that the other girls would do as well.
The mostly okay streak continued until we arrived at Jude. Poor Jude. I was outside in the hallway when she got her shot, so I’m not sure how she did while receiving the injection, but after she was done, she rested for a minute in the nurse’s office, then stood against the wall with her classmates.
I was telling some girls to be quiet when I heard a sea of gasps. I swiveled and looked at Jude, eyes rolling backwards, collapsing on the floor. She seemed to start convulsing, she wet herself, and I thought I saw foam on the floor- like she had foamed at the mouth. I’m so embarrassed at how uncool I was with the stress. I instantly thought that there had been a serious allergic reaction that had triggered a seizure. My mind went blank. While trying to get the girls to calm down (but being worked up myself) I walked into the nearest office, looking for someone to call an ambulance, then realized that duh the nurse was in the room right next to us. I frantically asked her to come out and check it out. She was, clearly, more level-headed.
Jude had just fainted. I’m not sure if the convulsing really happened. The “foam” was the cotton ball Jude had been holding on the shot-point… I took a moment to laugh at myself and wonder how on earth someone who had worked as camp waterfront coordinator and would have had the leadership role in the case of a waterfront emergency, someone who had read about and drilled how to respond in cases such as this, could have reacted the way I did.
Once Jude awoke, confused and embarrassed, she was ushered into a chair in the nurse’s office where she cried for a while (and threw up). My attention turned to the handful of students who still had to get their vaccines and now thought that the shots caused mortifying hallway calamities. There were also the girls who had already gotten their injections and were now hamming it up: “Miss, I feel weak…” “Miss, I don’t feel good either.” Eye roll.
Poor Saba, she is sensitive, was next to get her shot. She sat down in the chair of terror and burst into hysterical tears. The nurse, who I think was feeling the tension and was fed up with it, said “Fine! I can’t give you a shot when you’re acting like this. You can come back next week! NEXT!” and Saba stood up, staggered toward the hallway, and hugged me. The rest of the girls made it through somehow.
You’d think that the drama would have ended there, but no. A few of the 5th grade girls in other classes got sick, so all day long, girls all across the board were “faint” and “had headaches” and “felt nauseous.” Then, by the afternoon, they were experiencing pain in their shoulders and moaned and groaned about that. “Miss, I feel like my hand will fall off!”
I gave the other classes my speech too. Every time they complained, I said, “Well, an aching arm/ headache/ needle is a whole lot better than dying. Wouldn’t you agree?” Some said “NO!”