Last year, Wendy was starting Middle School. We made an appointment with the school nurse ahead of time, so that we could talk to her about Wendy’s medical needs. We had a written medical history outlining the eight years of medical care she had received. We had her orders both from her endocrinologist and her nephrologist. We had a box of medications and diabetic supplies, some fast acting carbs, some slow acting carbs, some chocolate milks that gave both carbs and protein, and some “lockdown bags” all neatly labelled.
We sat down with the nurse, clearly nervous. Wendy is a complex case, and we are passing off her medical care to a new person, someone who will see her for most of her waking hours. She will be switching classes, with teachers who don’t know her yet, and we wanted to just talk to the nurse to give her a sense of the whole situation.
What she said nearly floored us.
“I have over a thousand students in this school, ” she said, “And I can’t hold hands. She is not the first diabetic I’ve ever had, and I know how to do this.”
You may have had diabetics, but maybe not one who has spent 200 days in the hospital. You may have had diabetics, but you might not have had one who also had a kidney transplant. You may have had diabetics, but probably haven’t had one who is also immune compromised. You may have had diabetics, but not one who has high blood pressure. You may have had diabetics, but not one who has to go in the hospital as soon as she has a stomach virus or a fever over 101.
In short, you haven’t had my daughter.
Part of me gets it. It’s the way the middle school has to cut the apron strings, ground the helicopter parent, give the child more responsibility. The nurse has to exert her dominance, show she is the running the show.
She just could have done it so much better. Building trust does not come from saying, basically, that I worry too much and she’s got this. That’s bravado. That hubris. That’s lack of compassion.
It’s a rookie move.
I left that meeting angry and scared. I took Wendy aside and told her that she’s on her own for the first few days, that she will have to be very clear about advocating for herself, and if she can’t get the medical attention she needs, she needs to call me. This isn’t what I usually say. I usually say we are all part of a team, we work together. But this situation made me think that maybe we weren’t all starting on the same team.
And didn’t the poor kid have enough to worry about? Middle school might be the most awkward years of anyone’s life, and now she not only had to worry about her locker combination, not getting lost, getting used to the schedule, finding her old friends and making new ones, but now she had to make sure that her voice was heard, that her needs were met, but by the school nurse.
I couldn’t believe that this was how we were starting her middle school years. I didn’t know who was more nervous on the first day of school, Wendy or me.
The first few days went by. I emailed Wendy’s morning glucose reading to the nurse. I informed her if Wendy had a doctor’s appointment. She emailed me back with the last reading of the day.
There were many phone calls back and forth, making decisions on sugars and blood pressures.
As the year continued Wendy did become a good advocate. The nurse did her job and it was efficient. The nurse was good at communicating with me about Wendy, sometimes even calling if Wendy “just seemed off.” The nurse over the year complimented me on Wendy, how she is such a delightful presence, how she is so well spoken, how she is light hearted and sweet. I know these things, but they are still nice to hear, and nice to know that the nurse has taken an interest in her.
At the end of the year, I got a call from the nurse, who still calls me “mom” which I hate, and have asked her to call me “Darcy” many times instead. When she calls she still identifies herself as Mrs. So-and-so. She makes it clear that we are not close, but maybe we’re closer to being on the same team. She calls me this time because it’s Field Day, and the kids have the opportunity to buy ice cream, but Wendy doesn’t have any money. She’s calling to ask me if it’s ok if she (the nurse) buys this special treat for her.
In that moment, I know that she’s looking out for Wendy, wants her to be a normal happy kid, but our relationship as parent and provider won’t get much warmer over the next two years.
And so, we begin again.