Lesson 42 on How even the boldest spirits have their limits
The school nurse and I were next to each other just off the main corridor. The only other room off our short hallway was the Sick Room. This had two single beds, with cosy red blankets, on either side of a small bedside table. It was never short of occupants.
The trouble was that Nurse didn’t come in till 10am, so until then I had to hold the fort sickness-wise. The first thing I had to do when I arrived in the morning was check the Sick Room. You could pretty well guarantee somebody would be in there waiting. One winter morning, when colds and coughs were circulating, I found eight of them, two sitting up at each end of the beds, the red blankets tucked around them.
“What on earth are you all doing here! Why didn’t you just stay at home to be ill?”
But it was a rhetorical question. We all knew why they were there. They wanted Nurse to listen to their symptoms, then either tell them not to be silly and send them back to class, or make them a cup of tea and let them stay in the comfy warmth of the Sick Room for an hour or so.
One of Nurse’s most regular clients was Glenice, who regarded Nurse as her personal physician. Given her circumstances, Glenice was remarkably healthy, but if she had a scratch, or a headache or a pain in her stomach, she was round to Nurse’s office in a nanosecond demanding attention. In the case of minor injury, a plaster and a smudge of antiseptic cream usually sent her away happy, while a mug of warm Ribena sorted out most other ailments.
About half-way through the Autumn term, however, Glenice and Nurse had a major falling out. One of Nurse’s many duties was looking after the lost property box. Glenice had mislaid her school jersey, so had come flying round to Nurse to find it. She could have dropped it anywhere, but she had made up her mind that it must be in school because then Nurse would magic it back for her.
When this didn’t happen, she bullied somebody into writing a note to Nurse, saying she wouldn’t find Glenice’s jersey, because she was racist. Nurse was very very hurt and took umbrage.
Upsetting Nurse was a serious matter. Even Josephine wouldn’t help. Josephine had long since recognised Nurse as a useful ally in making Glenice do things she didn’t like.
At this low point in relations, Glenice got toothache. Everybody knew about it. She sat in class and cried, loudly. In the end Mr Deputy succeeded in bringing about a truce. Glenice said she was sorry, and Nurse told her how hurt she had been, then agreed to let her back into the Sick Room and give everybody else some peace.
But this was far from the end of the matter. Glenice stubbornly refused to be convinced that toothache wouldn’t respond to warm Ribena treatment, no matter how tightly she wrapped herself up in red blankets. She had determinedly disregarded the many repeated warnings of the school dentist (who still visited regularly in those days). She did not want to go now.
We had to suffer more days of moaning and sobbing before she finally admitted that Nurse was right and she would have to go to the dentist.
The problem then arose as to who could take her. Her parents were as elusive as ever. Josephine was too young. Nurse was willing to accompany her, but when they went down to negotiate an urgent appointment, the surgery took one horrified look at who it was and refused to even glance in her mouth without a parent, social worker, or other delegated adult, present.
I didn’t blame them. I wouldn’t have gone near a bad tooth of Glenice’s unless she was under general anaesthetic.
Social Work were suddenly impossibly overburdened with urgent appointments when Nurse tried to twist their arm. They had given up on any cooperation from the entire family years ago.
While all these negotiations dragged on, Glenice continued to wail and groan in the Sick Room.
Of course you can guess who had to bring about the solution.
The following Monday Josephine came into school with a signed letter of authority from her parents to say Nurse could take Glenice to the dentist. Nurse marched her down there. Even lion-hearted Glenice was so fed up by this time that she behaved like a little lamb.
Three teeth less, (the dentist wasn’t taking any chances), she returned to school and cheered up – fit and ready to resume her volatile progress through education.
The letter of authority was carefully filed away for the future, just in case.