School nurse: Put kids needs first

Recently a parent stopped by my office to thank me for taking care of her daughter while she was a student at the school where I work as a school nurse. Her daughter graduated in June and is now a college student.

As a little girl of about five, this young woman was diagnosed with a rare heart condition in which the electrical pathways of the heart are disturbed. Rather than beating at a steady, regular rate of around 80 beats a minute, her heart rate can go up as high as 250 beats a minute.

This is an extremely dangerous condition and, if not treated, can result in death. Also, at this rate, the heart is a very inefficient pump, and the individual can become confused, disoriented and combative because of decreased blood flow and a resulting decrease in oxygen to the brain. A person in such a disoriented state would have great difficulty contacting and obtaining emergency services.

As her school nurse, I made sure this student had an elevator pass and an excuse from gym class to avoid any activities that would increase her heart rate. I made sure her teachers knew that they were to call my office any time she requested my assistance. When she discovered one day that she had forgotten to take the medication that keeps her heart beating normally, I got in touch with her mother, who brought the medicine to school, and she took the missed dose. I educated her about the importance of wearing a Medic-Alert necklace or bracelet, so that she could obtain the proper care should she be rendered unable to explain her medical condition and needs to emergency caregivers. I am supposed to address the health care needs of all students and did not feel any particular thanks or recognition by her mother was necessary.

Although I did the best I could for this student, I know that there is no such thing as a healthcare “system” in this country, that I might have to rely on the paramedics getting to school – hopefully they would not be caught in traffic and there would not be other critically ill patients competing for the too few paramedic units in our city.

As soon as they came on the market, I started trying to think of ways to get a defibrillator (a machine that restores the heart beat, should the heart stop) for my school, something I think every school should have at least one of. They cost a few thousand dollars, way too much for cash-strapped schools, and school districts having difficulty just buying enough paper, pencils and books.

I became aware that local hospitals had 20 defibrillators to donate to schools, and called, only to find they had all been given away. Subsequently, a state program gave one defibrillator to each school district, but most school districts in the state have many more than one school. If it wasn’t so serious, donating one or even 20 defibrillators to a school district with tens of thousands of students would almost be laughable.

No school system, health care institution or public service provider should have to rely on donations of vitally needed equipment. Also, such agencies should not have to rely on volunteers to provide vitally needed services. If we were putting human, and especially children’s, needs first, the needs of such institutions would be constantly assessed to be sure they have all the equipment and personnel needed to provide not just adequate but state-of-the-art care.

The bottom line is that there should be a national health plan, whereby every individual’s health care needs are met. A system where all medications, doctor visits, therapies and special equipment are provided with no obstacles, no excessive forms to fill out, no red tape. A system that puts patients first and where profits are not a part of the picture.

Ultimately, socialism would assure the right to health care for all.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org