Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Everyday Crises We Can't Prevent

Yesterday afternoon we had a perfect storm at my school.  The secretary was out sick.  The clerk is in China.  The lead teacher was out of the building.  The nurse and all of the special education staff were in a meeting.  One of the teacher's assistants, the one who works with our most medically fragile students, was picking up her ill child from another school.  I was in my office with my boss having my evaluation conference.  It's hard to imagine a worse time for a student to have a seizure in the lunch room.

In all likelihood, there were probably a total of 90 seconds between the start of the seizure and when I got there.  The nurse was 30 seconds behind me.  In this day and age, we were lucky she was even in the building -- she is only there one and a half days a week.  Had everyone been in their usual places, it might have shaved 30 seconds off the entire thing.  Those extra 30 seconds, of course, felt like an eternity to the lunchroom staff, and probably sounded like an eternity to the family when we spoke to them.

This child has a known seizure disorder and a written plan for what to do.  I won't say my adrenalin didn't kick in at all when I started heading for the lunch room, but I will say I wasn't scared.  We had a plan, the nurse was on her way, and I knew this child was susceptible to seizures.  Stuff happens.

Once the nurse had taken over, I looked around at the lunchroom staff and realized that my reaction was not the same as theirs.  The one who had first noticed the student seizing was beside herself wondering if she had done the right thing.  Another one told me her brother, who died a couple of years ago, had died during a seizure.  Most of them just were not at all convinced that this child was going to be ok.  They work at the school 2 hours a day.  They've never encountered this child having a seizure before, and it triggered all sorts of emotions for them, as you might expect.  Those of us who have seen this before felt much better than they did.

I went back to my office and called the family.  Then I returned to my evaluation conference, and joked with my boss that there must be somewhere on that evaluation form to notate that in fact that had gone pretty well.

We spend a lot of time and energy preventing things from happening in schools, from shootings to fires to kids tripping over their shoelaces.  At the end of the day, however, you can't prevent everything.  And while we couldn't prevent this seizure, we could make sure we were ready, and we can go back and review how everything unfolded and tweak our procedures.  But even with these relatively "little" incidents, it's important to remember that, to someone on staff, this may not be little at all.  Someone's brother died.  Someone felt incompetent.  When it's over, it's important to support them, too, and review to see how you might have protected them from the trauma -- with a small "t."


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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