It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back to School

The school year in Israel starts on Monday.  After a decade of working in the school system, I've been having a very hard time feeling motivated to go back. 

It's not just that I work in a hospital, with very sick kids, and I hate seeing them and their families suffer.  And it's not just the heavy contrast between summer vacation, when our hospital school is no longer in session during August, and the intensity of the school year. 

Being a school system within a medical system, there is the added challenge of fitting into a system that runs 24/7, 365, when we have to follow the school calendar year and take our vacations all at once, just when the children need us most, over holidays and school vacations. 

The medical establishment does not fully understand the education model, and I hate some of the comments medical staff in other departments offer our teaching staff when we return to work every September.  Oh, how was your vacation?  they ask, in a tone that insinuates that we really didn't deserve one.  I am relieved that after many years, the staff of my department asks the question out of real interest.  They really care, and they understand all too well that when you're given a break from Pediatric Oncology, you take it. Even if that break makes it much harder to return afterwards.
And so we return, to all the things we missed, and now it is urgent, and they just won't wait: We introduce ourselves to all the new kids who were diagnosed over the summer, getting to know who they are, what they like, what they dislike.  What scares them, and what motivates them. What hurts them.  What their schools know about their illness, and whether their friends are in touch with them or not.  Whether they themselves want to learn more about their illness, or just pretend it isn't happening.  

We begin to re-establish a connection with all the kids we've already been working with throughout the school year, hearing how they spent their time over the summer.  Did they get to go home?  Did they have to suffer through an unidentified infection?  An unexpectedly long hospitalization?  A few days or weeks in the ICU?  Or did they get a break from it all and go to traveling abroad, or to summer camp, or just home for the first time in months.

And then there's the icy splash.  Hearing which kids are no longer with us.  That initial feeling of Well, it was expected, mixed with I just can't believe it.  Trying to get a few details out of the nursing staff, without expecting them to live through the pain of the news all over again.  Wondering whether to contact their parents, four weeks after the shiva. Going through their artwork, worksheets, photos.  Agonizing over feelings of relief torn through with sadness, anger, and bewilderment.  

After all these years, you might think I'd know how to go back in there.  But I don't.

Keep the Balance,



muse said...

It sounds so difficult. Yaasher koach.

frumhouse said...

I can only imagine how difficult and rewarding your job must be. You must be a strong and amazing person to do it.

Anonymous said...

Your job souns tough. I also wrote about going back but my job looks easy in comparison.

A Living Nadneyda said...

M, FH -- You're right about the difficulties. The rewards often come in proportion, and that keeps me going.

ID -- Actually I have no idea how teachers in the "regular" system do it. Teaching junior high girls, or high school boys, seems like an impossible task

The kids we work with are often very happy to have an alternative to sitting around feeling awful, and we encounter almost no discipline problems. They're too tired and sick to act out, and they have nothing to prove, social status-wise. Their anger is directed toward other things, and we try to work with them to express it in ways that do not threaten them.

(Ok, there was that time a seven-year-old kid with ADHD got angry when I told him we were closing the computers, and he picked up a metal chair and threw it at me. To this day I'm not sure how, but I stuck my arm and caught the thing midair, spraining my wrist. Then I recalled all those stories I'd heard about classroom violence, and I was so thankful I work in the hospital!

We all have our challenges, and the biggest one is to live up to all the other ones.

ProfK said...

From what you write, I'm glad that you are the one coming back to these children. Tough? Yes, but you sound like you have the requisite dedication, empathy and determination. If these children can be termed "lucky," they are lucky to have you.

A Living Nadneyda said...

ProfK - Thanks. I feel very lucky to "have" them, but the feeling is exceedingly mixed, since there's only one reason I have this opportunity to meet them, and it's never positive.