"Welcome, Sally, come on in-Iíve saved a seat for you." The teacher pointed to a desk right in front of her own in the very first row. As I closed the big door and walked across the room, I started to blush. I could feel my face turning bright pink, and I was sure that everybody was looking at me. Why couldn't I make myself invisible, like in the movies? It just wasn't fair. But I did as I was told, and as I slid down into that seat, on this fourth day of school, in Mrs. Prestonís third grade classroom, I tried hard to disappear.The room was big with lots of windows and lots of desks (the kind that open up), and an old fashion blackboard with everybodyís names written in script. The windows had little blinds in front of them, but you could still see outside if you looked hard, and outside, right across the street and behind some bushes, was the childrenís hospital.
I didnít go to school on opening day because I was in that hospital, on the fourth floor, in the green room with the television set and the two magic beds. I thought that the beds were magic because I could make mine go up and down, just by pushing a button. And when I pushed another button, a nurse would talk to me, right through the wall. I guess that button was part of a walky-talky, sort of like the one I got for Christmas last year. There were certainly many new things to learn about in that place. And at first I was afraid.
There was a lot to be scared about, too. All those doctors, and all that medicine, and my Mom and Dad looking like they were going to cry. And there were the strange feelings in my body, and the strange things that I saw in that hospital. It was so much for an eight-year-old to get used to. But I did, finally, and I even found some things about the hospital that were funny! Not funny enough to make me want to stay there, though. I was very happy on the day that I left that place. On the day that I got dressed up in my 101 Dalmations overalls, and said goodby to all the hospital people. So much had happened to me since I left my cabin at the camp. It was hard to believeÖ
But thatís not what I was thinking about right now. How could I, when I was absolutely sure that every kid in the room was staring at me? I'm just like everybody else, I kept thinking. Just like everybody else! It IS true that I like pizza, and jump rope, and going to the movies, like Amy, and Margaret, and Fred, and even Joshua (though he was terrible at jump rope). And it IS true that I love animals, especially wolves, and so does Stephanie. But it is also true that I, Sally Kathleen Preston, got sick and they didnít--at least not like I did. They didn't get the kind of sickness that just doesnít go away. The kind that I'll have to live with, from now on. From now on! At least that's what they told me. And it made me so sad.Hereís how it all began. I was eight years old on August 30th, and it was the last day of sleepover camp. Everybody came to my cabin in the morning to sing happy birthday and to bring me a big stack of pancakes. The pancakes were spectacular! "Sally" was written on the very top in purple frosting, exactly the color of my old Barney doll. And there were nine candles, too, one for each of my eight years, and an extra one for good luck. I was so excited and so surprised that I really didnít notice the weird feeling in my body! And after the cakes and the song, when I did pay attention to it, I tried my best not to think about how strange I felt.
I had never been eight before, after all, and I figured that maybe, getting older was supposed to be like this. I decided to think about Mom and Dad coming to pick me up, instead. They would want to know about all my amazing camp adventures. You see, this was my very first time away from home, and I had been at camp for six whole nights. I had so much to tell them that I tucked my body feelings away and concentrated on everything else. There's always a lot to do in a cabin the day that camp's over.
And that's what I was doing, concentrating hard, using all of my energy to pack my clothes. When I had stuffed half of them into my giant striped bag, this sickness pounced into my life like a mean tiger from a nightmare. Thatís how scary it seemed. All of a sudden I felt very tired, and very thirsty, and very hot, and so dizzy that the cabin began to spin around. And then my eyes slammed shut.
When I woke up, I was so confused--I didn't know where I was. I thought that I should still be in my cabin, but my Mom and Dad were both right here with me, holding my hand and smiling, telling me that I was in the hospital, and that I was OK. OK? I was scared to death! This was the second time I had ever been in a hospital, and the first time was terrible. That's the time I was visiting my Dad's Grandpa. He was very sick and he died the day after I went to see him. So when my mom said that I was in the hospital, I figured that I was stuck in the middle of a bad dream. I wondered if I would die, too...
The next thing I did was to open my eyes really wide and look around. There were people with blue and green clothes on like pajamas, and the room I was in was big and noisy with beds everywhere, and mystery sounds all around, and television screens hanging from the ceiling. If it weren't for my Mom and Dad, I know that I would have screamed. Just then my Dad reached over to give me a big hug. That's when I felt the tube attached to my arm, and thatís when I saw it, and thatís when I began to cry.
Thatís what I felt like doing right now, too, right in front of Mrs. Preston and all the children in that third grade classroom. Even though I saw some of the children smiling at me when I sat down, I could see that Peter was not. In fact, he was sticking his tongue out at me and scrunching up his face in the ugliest way. I didnít want to cry, but thatís what was beginning to happen. Crying is a babyish thing to do, I kept telling myself. So although everyone knows that itís hard to squeeze tears back in when they make up their minds to swim out, I tried to do just that.
And it worked, too, until I heard Nina whisper to the new boy sitting next to her, "look at that baby. I bet sheís going to start crying any minute!" Well, thatís exactly what happened next. I was horrified! As the tears wiggled down my cheeks, I covered my face with my hands and pretended that I was invisible. That used to work when I was a little girl--If I couldnít see anyone, then I thought that no-one could see me. Presto! Magic! But no such luck today.
Abby was sitting in the desk next to me, and when she saw what was happening, she raised her hand and asked Mrs. Preston if the two of us could be excused to go to the bathroom. Abby was such a nice friend, and she knew just what would make me feel better. She gave me a big hug when we got into the hall, and told me that Nina was a meanie. Then we held hands all the way to the girlís bathroom. When we got there, Abby turned the cold water on and rolled out some paper towel. I made a cup out of my hands, filled it with water, and took a giant drink. Lots of the water escaped onto my face, and some of it stayed on my eyelashes, but it sure made me feel better!
"I was so scared that everyone would tease me because of this stupid sickness, Abby. I hate it!" I was about to cry again because I was feeling so sorry for myself, but instead I swallowed hard and turned my mouth rightside-up, into a smile instead. "Thank you for being my friend", I said. "If you can keep a secret, Iíll tell you all about what happened, but you have to promise not to tell anybody, not even your sister."
When Mrs. Preston came in to see what was going on, she found us sitting on the floor of the bathroom, giggling. I had told Abby everything about the hospital, and about my medical problem, and the medicine that I'd have to take forever. And Abby didnít make fun of me. Not at all. So next I told her about the funny clothes that everyone wore, and about the trick that I played on my nurse, and about the magic bed and the walky-talky. Everything seemed so much better now.
Mrs. Preston took one look at the two of us, and she started to smile. "Sally", she said, "It looks like you had a tough time in the classroom. I'm happy that you're feeling better now. This year we will be doing a new activity in the third-grade. I think that it will be a lot of fun, and will help us to learn about one another. I call it, Ďthis is my lifeí. Every Friday, one of the children will get to be the star for the day. Everyone who wants to will have a turn. The stars will get to decorate the bulletin board with photographs of their life, and with anything else that they'd like to tell the class about... Would either of you like to go first?" Well, I looked at Abby, whose eyes were big and sparkly, and whose smile told me that she thought it was the greatest idea.
I wasn't so sure. " I just came out of the hospital, Mrs. Preston, and I don't think I want anyone but Abby to know. What if the kids laugh at me or treat me like I'm special? I'd hate that! I want to be like everyone else." "Special? I think that each one of the children in third grade is special," Mrs. Preston said. "And as for laughing, well, I think that kids laugh mostly when they donít understand, and when theyíre afraid"... I thought of the way that I had giggled when I first saw Heather in the hospital, and I knew that what Mrs. Preston said was true.
Heather was a girl that I met in the hospital who didnít have any hair. What she did have was a baseball cap, so without any hair, she looked a little bit like a boy. That was certainly confusing to me. I thought that I might catch whatever it was that made all the hair fall out. People would think that I was a boy, too. Yuck! So hereís what I did.
I pretended not to look at Heather, even though we were both in the play room. Maybe, I hoped, if I donít look at her, sheíll go away. Just when I was about to sneak a glance to see if the trick worked, a nurse appeared, and said, "oh, here you are, Sally. Have you two met one another?" I just giggled (thatís what I always did when I was nervous), and I started to leave the room when Heather said, "Nope, I just came in today." Before I could escape to my own room, the nurse, whose name was Tanya, introduced the two of us to one another, and Heather reached out to shake my hand. That's right, to shake my hand! I was so scared, thinking that I would turn bald any minute, but what could I do? Well, I did what I learned to do when I was younger, I went ahead and shook Heather's hand, and when Heather said, "nice to meet you", I stopped giggling long enough to say, "nice to meet you, too".
Thatís how our friendship started, and for the rest of my time in the hospital, the two of us were always together, like ketchup and french-fries. My hair didnít disappear, either! When I learned that Heather had a different kind of medical problem, and that her hair fell out because of the strong medicines that she needed to take, and that she was still nine year old Heather--funny,friendly Heather, then I relaxed, and I wasnít afraid of her any more.
Because of Heather I got to meet other kids who were sick. I'm shy, so there's no way that I would have met anybody by myself. With her, it was easy, and it was fun. She'd just knock on a door, say, "hi, how come you're in the hospital?", and the next thing I'd know, we'd be all watching a video together. Everybody had a story to tell, and I learned about all of the kids, and a little about the diseases that they had to put up with. What I learned most was that the diseases and the kids were not the same thing. Just like me. I've got something called diabetes. It's a problem that I'll just have to get used to. But it's not who I am. And believe me, there's a big difference!
I met so many children, and made so many friends while I was in the hospital.
You can meet some, too
and find out what makes them tick. They'll tell you about the hospital, and about some of the medical problems that they're stuck with.
I was still thinking about Heather and the hospital and this diabetes thing--and I was still sitting on the floor of the bathroom with Abby. Mrs. Preston was standing next to us, real nice, waiting to see if one of us would like to be star for the day. I just couldn't decide what to do. Mom said I didn't need to tell anybody about what happened, if I didn't want to. She said that it may might make me feel better if I told my favorite friends, though, because then they would understand if have to leave the class to go to the nurse. Dad said that talking about things that bothered him always helped him to feel better, and that it might help me, too...I didn't have to worry about what to do right away, because Abby beat me to it, and said that she'd like to be the star this Friday--that she wanted to tell everybody about the new bike she got for her birthday, and about her baby brother who fell down and cut his lip last week.
The three of us walked back to the classroom, and the rest of the morning was much better. I knew that I'd have to go to the nurse to test my blood every day at lunch time. That's what you have to do if you have this type of problem. The test checks how much sugar is in the blood. If there's too much sugar, then I need to get a shot of some medicine called Insulin. I hate the blood test, and I hate the Insulin, too, even though it made me feel better in the hospital. I certainly do NOT want to get sick like that again, so I guess I'll just have to put up with the finger pokes and the Insulin. The neat thing is that I'm learning to do the test, and the Insulin, all by myself. That does make me feel sort of important. Eight year-olds aren't babies any more, you know! In the hospital, Tanya told me that if I eat healthy foods and check my blood when I'm supposed to, I'll feel great. She said that I can still jump rope and camp out and play video games and paint wolf pictures. So that's good. I'll still be Sally Kathleen Preston, just like before this whole thing started!
Ms. Hall was the school nurse, and when I went to the health office, there she was. She was new this year, and she looked like a grandmother. She had orange curly hair, and her dress was the same color of lavender that was in a box of Crayons. She had a voice that purred a little bit when she talked, and a way about her that was so comfortable.She made me feel happy, and she made me feel calm. When I told her how Peter and Tina made fun of me, she had the best idea. She told Mrs. Preston about it, and I soon learned that her plan would make my life in school so much happier. Can you guess what it was? One of the ladybugs will take you to her!
This ladybug will carry
a note from you to me
Fly away home Onward to visit the nurse Joan Fleitas Doctoral Candidate, T.C.,Columbia university Asst. Professor, Fairfield University School of Nursing Fairfield, Connecticut 06430 Last updated December 12, 1997