Sunday, April 7, 2013

I'm Going to Marry Jeff, & We're Going to Get a Poodle!

        I had two young children of my own when Wendy was in my class. Her name and her personality reminded me of the mother in Peter Pan. My Wendy was a responsible, older-soul type of "mother hen" student. If you are a teacher, you know the kind. They want to make everything OK for everyone, all the time. You always get to check the boxes on their progress report:  "good relationships with peers" and "good relationships with adults". Except for Wendy's significant intellectual challenges, I might have hired her to babysit for my kids.
         Wendy did not look like a special education student in any way. She was average height and weight. She had medium length, curly brown hair and brown eyes. If you had seen her on the street, you would never have suspected she had serious mental challenges. She had a sprinkle of freckles on her full pink cheeks and a few across her nose...she was a pretty girl.
         If she had been a regular high school girl, Wendy would have been an honor student, a cheerleader, and on the student council. In addition to all that, she probably would have played a sport or two and been in the band; probably a volunteer at the local nursing home, also. Wendy was high energy and all smiles. This made it all the more difficult when she would slam down on the floor in a full-blown grand mal seizure.
         More than a few students at Emerson School had epilepsy. In this special school, I would estimate about 10-15% of the student  body had this condition. Most had it pretty much under control. Now, in the 21st century, the field of medicine has improved medication tremendously and has even developed surgery that can help. Wendy's epilepsy was not very well controlled. She usually had one or two seizures every week. She did not like to wear the standard helmet to protect her skull, but knew it was the rule, so she followed it. My classroom was on the third floor and I was always afraid she might have a seizure while we were on the stairs, so I stayed close to her on the way up and down.
         Wendy was a good student. I taught her how to count money, make change, write her name in cursive, and how to tell time. She made a bed like a professional maid and did as well in woodshop class as any of the boys. She excelled in the home economics program; at the age of sixteen she was allowed to help the school cooks as a "kitchen intern". Wendy would not need to be in a sheltered workshop the rest of her life. She was headed toward a career in a minimally-supervised normal work situation.  She always said she wanted to get married, and had even picked out her man, another student named Jeff. They rode the same yellow bus and Jeff liked her, too. Wendy hoped they could have a nice apartment and get a poodle. 
        Sadly, none of this was meant to be. I am putting all the blame on epilepsy. Not a happy ending. Sudden and abrupt. Wendy's not at school today. Principal called me to the office. No more Wendy. She had a seizure in her sleep. It couldn't be helped. No one was with her. Wendy choked and died. I went back to class.    
       When one of your young students dies, a teacher is devastated. There is nothing the teacher could have done to prevent it. It is terribly sad, and frustrating, and the loss is felt for a long time. As one of "your" students, they become a part of your life. You mourn, but you must carry on for your other students. You never forget them. When I think about Wendy, with her story cut so short, I'm still so very sad.