When the call came, my hands were buried in the dirt of Shamrock Gardens Elementary’s butterfly garden. It was Alfea Gibson, the nurse at Randolph Middle School. My son, Parker, was having trouble breathing. She thought I ought to come.
Parker has always had bad seasonal allergies, so it didn’t sound alarming. I suggested that if he rested, he might feel better. Somewhat reluctantly, she hung up. I stuck my hands back in the dirt.
Then the phone rang again. Parker wasn’t getting better, she said. Someone needed to come.
It wasn’t a seasonal allergy. It was a sudden, possibly life-threatening attack. He’d never had anything like that before. We still don’t know what caused it.
When my husband reached the school, a fire engine sat out front. Parker had an oxygen mask over his face. His skin had turned bright red, and his blood pressure was low.
An ambulance arrived. Paramedics swooped in, added a shot of Benadryl to the epinephrine Ms. Gibson had already administered, and rolled him out on a gurney. By the time he reached the emergency room, the worst had passed.
Philadelphia student Laporshia Massey was not so lucky. A week before Parker’s attack, Laporshia’s father got a call that she was having trouble breathing. Like me, he didn’t realize how serious it was.
Laporshia’s school had no nurse that day. Philadelphia’s school emergency policy states that staff should call 911 only in especially serious situations. Apparently, to untrained eyes, Laporshia’s didn’t seem to qualify.
When Laporshia got home, her father realized how sick she really was, and rushed her to the car. She collapsed on the way to the hospital. Soon after, she took her final, labored breath. She was 12 years old, just like Parker.
My child was rescued by a village.
First, by the people who cared for him that day: Ms. Gibson, the firemen, the paramedics, the emergency room staff.
Second, by the people who have spent years lobbying Mecklenburg County commissioners to increase the number of nurses in our schools.
Third, by everyone who pays city and county taxes, which fund ambulances, fire departments and school nurses.
Thank you, all of you, for being there when my son needed you. I only wish you could have been there for Laporshia too.
I don’t know what would have happened if a nurse hadn’t been at Randolph the day Parker had his attack. I do know we were lucky Ms. Gibson was there. Last year, Randolph had a nurse only three days a week. Many CMS schools are in the same situation.
Each day, when parents send children off to school, we have to trust that measures are in place to keep them safe. The unspeakable tragedies of school shootings have led to the purchase of cameras, locks and fencing, and sparked the suggestion that all schools should employ armed security officers.
Given the choice, I would trade all that for a full-time nurse. The teeming world of microbes is far larger and far more ruthless than the small pool of human beings sick enough to harm children at school.
State legislators, county commissioners, parents, community members, I urge all of you to keep working to increase funding for school nurses. We need to learn from the tragedy of Laporshia Massey, not repeat it.
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