Monday, January 23, 2006


It was a teacher's birthday today. Another teacher brought a cake, and we all gathered in the teacher's room to "surprise" her, as is our wont to do. We were all sitting around the table chatting when another colleague - only recently returned from a serious brain injury and several surgeries - suddenly stiffened and fell sideways in his chair, having a major seizure. No one panicked. Some people froze. Those closest to him, myself and couple of others, lowered him from his chair onto the floor. We found something to put under his head. We held his hand. Others called for help - the school secretary, the school nurse, 911. We found his phone and looked for the number of his doctor. He was breathing hard, and had food in his mouth. I tried to remember what I learned in 11th grade Health about helping someone who is having a seizure: should we try to clear his mouth of food? Was it safe to put our fingers in his mouth with his jaw stiffening and head flailing? We did our best to clear his mouth and turned him on his side as we'd learned to do in college workshops on alcohol poisoning... The worst passed; he relaxed somewhat; we tried to talk to him, to ask him if he wanted water, to nod if he could hear us. The nurses finally came and took over. Those of us who had classes to pick up from lunch had to leave immediately. The others stayed to help out, answer the nurse's questions, clean up the room.

I arrived in the auditorium to get my class, to find my principal screaming at the students. The whole school. They had not been able to go outside because it had started raining during lunch, but they didn't have books with them because it had not been raining the period before lunch. I guess they'd been loud and disrespectful, and she just lost it. My AP was out sick, we'd called down with the news of the seizure, sometimes people just get really angry.

I felt battered, by the fifteen minutes spent kneeling on the floor trying to figure out how best to help, by watching a friend possessed by something so alien and powerful, by walking in on the end of a really angry outburst. The class I had to pick up was hurt and angry. We were all a little traumatized. How to be gentle with them? How to back up my principal 100% while removing myself from the hurtful, unjust parts of what she said? How to ask the kids to be gentle with me, to not take out their anger at the principal on me? How to communicate that something serious had happened and that I was upset, without telling them all the details? How to heal, from all of it?

Luckily, we were coloring. Quiet, focused, relaxing, something you can do while chatting in low voices with your friends. I taught them how to divide up a paper into thirds and fold it into a brochure; then they started making "foldables" or brochures about the three classes of levers. I passed out boxes of colored pencils. I took a few kids aside to talk to them about what had happened during lunch that had caused the principal to get so angry. They said they'd been loud, though they weren't sure they'd deserved the outburst. I asked a few kids if they'd ever been so angry that they'd exaggerated how they felt about something, said things harsher than they meant. They agreed that they had. I said they'd just have to let it go, everyone does it once in a while. I turned the focus back to their own behavior. And then I let it go, and they colored.

Another colleague, who had gone along to the hospital, called after school to let us know that our colleague was doing okay, was responding and talking and awake. She needed me to recall as many details as I could about the seizure to help the doctors. If you've ever tried to remember details after a traumatic event, you know that reality and memory are fickle. Don't trust witnesses, they can't remember. Or maybe it's just me.

Later, I went to a yoga class. I hadn't been planning to go, but I felt short of breath and wound up. My yoga teacher looked exhausted. She started class with a story. A close friend, a musician, was playing a concert very late. She had classes to teach the next morning and wasn't sure she could stay out that late, but she convinced herself to go, to be there to support him. The concert was delayed, delayed some more. She thought about going home, but stuck it out. The concert was great, but she didn't get home until after 4. When she got home, her block was full of fire trucks. During the night, the apartment immediately above hers had caught fire, burned up completely. Her apartment had been damaged by smoke and water. But she had not been home, had not been hurt, and her neighbors had also been away and were safe. Alive. She described the damage to her apartment: "The walls kind of needed to be repainted anyway. The floor needed to be redone soon. A crew with a water-vac is cleaning up the water right now..." The crack that the water had come through missed her bed by a few inches. It missed her altar by a few inches.

Her take on it was that we are here for a purpose, that life conspires to put us where we need to be when we need to be there. That a day can be as meaningful or meaningless as we choose to make it.


Blogger posthipchick said...

Ugh, I'm so sorry you had to deal with that.
Just a tip, if he is anything like me- my seizures gave me PTSD, and I couldn't even TALK about them afterwards. To this day, I still really struggle with it. I hope he's ok, and that you are too.


11:14 PM  
Blogger TEACHER SOL said...

What a day for you, Ms. Frizzle. Hang in there, "tough times never last but tough people do".

Thank you for the link here, let me link you too, 'ayt? Please feel free to react anytime about my entries. I hope you won't be intimidated by commenters from my country *wink. You're always welcome, and I'd feel honored to be visited by you.

12:24 AM  
Blogger Alexis Walker said...

My colleague with whom I share homeroom informed me this morning that this time of the year is the worst for depression and anxiety. I don't know if it's true, but I do notice that my colleagues suddenly seem testier, more fragile, more easily upset. Perhaps it's because the days are getting longer. (I have SAD and this year have started using a light box since the days grew dark, and notice that I, unlike my colleagues, am manic and full of energy right now.)

Since I'm the harassment counselor for my private school, I hope the season passes without incident.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Mr. Ben said...

Great blogging....

4:47 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Does all the teachers got a blog?

4:48 PM  
Blogger NYC Educator said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Katy said...

I'm taking my California teaching certification exams this summer.

Your blog is making me NOT want to study for them sometimes.


7:54 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

One of my students told me today-- before I burst into tears and had to go home for the day-- that today is the worst day statistically for depression.

I believe her.

But thank God you were all with the teacher who had the seizure, instead of the kids, who would have risen to the occasion but not without some hysteria.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Polski3 said...

Interesting Day you had. Coloring, yep, coloring is good. Hope your colleague recovers quickly. One of my colleagues has brain surgery a couple of years ago and have v e r y slowly regained some of his ability to remember things. Several of us telling him about the $20 bucks he "owed" us didn't work though. HEY! Tomorrow is a new day, eh!

11:55 PM  
Blogger Bananahead said...

Seizures can be VERY scary, my partner gets them ... all you can do is make sure they aren't hurting themselves on anything nearby and gently put them on their sides if they are having difficulty breathing ... Afterwards, they're exhausted & confused/scared, so being there to reassure them. It has always surprised me that every teacher isn't required to undergo first aid training ... What if it had been a student and the nurse wasn't readily available? Anyways, I hope the rest of your week goes better!

1:29 AM  

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