Recent news stories about life for students with diabetes in California have me thinking about my time living there. Most of my life with diabetes was spent in Florida after I moved there for a job, but I was actually raised in Southern California (after my family moved from New York).
Other than a year of my undergraduate college education and two years of graduate school, most of my education was also done without diabetes. I was in public school for part of first grade when we first moved there, went to the private school my mom taught at until 8th grade, and then went to public high school.
My elementary school and middle school each had about 400 kids in them but I don’t remember one single child with diabetes. My mom has taught at that same school for about 25 years now and I asked her recently if she can remember any kids with diabetes who have attended there. In all that time, there has only been one diabetic at her school.
In a circumstance that I don’t think is that strange for a private school, there isn’t a nurse employed by the school. Any time we felt sick one of the secretaries would take our temperature and if we had one, or faked sick well enough (cough), they would call a parent to pick us up.
I still didn’t know anyone with diabetes in high school. It is possible that there was one there, but at that point if it didn’t involve my group of friends I probably did not know about it.
It wasn’t until one day during my senior year that I even became aware of the situation of school nurses in California schools. I was sitting at one of those desks where the chair is connected and reached toward the front of the desk to readjust it. My hand caught on a rough spot on the desk and a large splinter was suddenly embedded in my finger.
The splinter was in deep enough that trying to get it out myself in class did not produce any productive results. The teacher sent me up to the office to see the nurse to have her take it out. When I reached the office I told the lady at the front desk that I was there to see the nurse and explained why I needed to see her. She told me that the nurse was not there that day, she only spent one day each week at each high school in the district and it was not our turn. She grabbed her notepad to begin to write the note to excuse me from the rest of the day of classes. Without the nurse there, the receptionist explained, there was no one there to help me with my injury. Any of the employees in the office would get in trouble for helping me. There was nothing she could do.
I could not believe how ridiculous the whole situation was – I just wanted to get the splinter out of my finger and to get back to class! I was finally able to get her to hypothetically tell me where the tweezers were kept in the nurse’s office and turn her head as I walked into the room by myself. A few minutes later I was headed back to class with nothing more than a small band-aid.
If the California school system is unable to deal with students with splinters, how in the world can they be prepared to handle students with diabetes?
I don’t know what the best solution is in this case. Can the state afford to hire a nurse to be in each school full time? What about the nurses who protest that only an educated professional is trained enough to dose insulin in the schools? What do they think we all do at home? The kid with diabetes that attended my former school had his mom show up every day at lunch until he was old enough to operate his pump for himself. What about the families where both parents work and that is not an option? It seems like the children with diabetes are facing the consequences of being caught in the middle as both sides debate the best solution.