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Cause I Ain’t Got a Pencil

A Short Tale of How I Have Begun to Understand the Children

About this time during my first year as a school nurse, I had just finished working 78 days in a row without a day off. I thought being a school nurse would be great! But you know the old saying, “If it’s so great, why isn’t everyone doing it?” For people who aren’t school nurses, that “why” is usually income-related. For me to make ends meet, I worked another full-time job on the weekends as an on-call hospice nurse. I counted down those 78 days to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, all the while thinking, “This is just not for me.” Those kids drove me crazy…and the teachers…sending some of those kids down for the smallest things. Shame, shame, shame. And so by Thanksgiving, I was planning my job-interviewing strategy for May.

What changed, then? Why am I still a school nurse?

My principal sends out a daily bulletin. No, I don’t read them all (she knows this), but I do try to read the majority. One daily bulletin had an attachment that got my stinkin’ thinkin’ back on the right track. With eyes wide-opened, I started to actually “see” what many of the children come to see me for and why many of the teachers send them.

Cause I Ain’t Got a Pencil

I woke myself up

Because we ain’t got an alarm clock

Dug in the dirty-clothes basket,

Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform

Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,

Cause the lights ain’t on

Even got my baby sister ready,

Cause my mama wasn’t home.

Got us both to school on time,

To eat us a good breakfast.

Then when I got to class the teacher fussed

Cause I ain’t got no pencil.

— Joshua T. Dickerson

I love to sleep. Well, if I am tired I love to sleep in my soft, warm bed in my secure, comfortable home. Going to sleep after a long day and in such comfort (compared to many) is a very nice experience, indeed. I’ve been a terrible person who judges the world by a standard that many…just in my own small circle of influence…only dream of. In my life, I feel I still have much to be desired, yet others may only dream of what I have.

A child comes into my office and is dog-tired. The kid looks like he’d just come in from fighting a battle and could barely hold his eyes open. “My teacher said I needed to come down and rest.” So, after a quick assessment, I let him lie down. It wasn’t two seconds before that young-un’ was out…like a light. He slept through a screaming splinter extraction, an “I’ve been to the nurse most this year” argument between two little hypochondriacs, and the whole of the after-lunch-recess traumas coming in for Bandaids, ice packs, and inhalers. This child didn’t wake up at all. After a couple hours, I called his mother.

“Yea, that’s my fault.” She was very calm and polite as she continued, “We were at the emergency room all last night and didn’t get back home until after three.” She reported this in a matter-of-fact manner.

Hearing this caused me to turn my chair and take a second look at the sleeping boy. I hadn’t noticed any injuries; he didn’t have any symptoms of illness.

She continued, “My tongue stud got infected, and we all went to the emergency room; we waited forever! He watched the baby there at the ER.” Was I speechless? Not yet… “Thank you for letting him sleep. Also, could you do me a favor? Could you let him have a jacket; money’s kinda tight right now.” Now I was speechless.

My weekend job took most of the weekend hours away from me. Often I would have an admission on Friday night, calls and scheduled visits and admissions on Saturday, and the same for Sunday. Often, to top off a rough weekend, I’d get a call on Monday morning from those poor souls that just could not wait the next hour or so until their case manager returned to the job.

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