I learned a beautiful new word this week - exceptionality
I am on my community health rotation. One of the best parts of being a resident are the off-service rotations, which means less time at the grindstone of patient care after learning after patient care after learning and a little more time to breathe. I got to spend a day with a public school nurse in the metro area school system. I graduated with less than 50 kids in my rural high school graduating class, so touring a public metro school system was eye opening, especially as I toured the schools where the kids were >90% free/reduced lunch. Both as a doctor and as a mother.
The school nurses I met were all so gentle, patient, and kind. I watched at the elementary school as 3 kindergarteners came together for their pre-recess albuterol inhalers and impatiently watched the clock together with their little spacers in place. We talked about the special needs kids there as well. I don't remember the issue we were talking about in particular for one of the kids, but I remember the nurse saying (instead of "part of his disability is...") "Part of his exceptionality is _______". She said it with a knowing smile and a twinkle in her eye despite what I'm sure was a frustrating and time consuming issue for her.
We never really had a schedule. We floated around an elementary school, a middle school, and a high needs school. The nurses were so proud of their schools and their kids and talked non-stop about their goals and wishes and kept pulling me aside to show me other students that had made great strides. One of the middle school nurses was one of the most reflective listeners I'd ever met, and as she told me about the difficult parent interactions she's had, I thought about how much she could teach us as doctors about how to handle difficult patient interactions.
The last school we stopped at was specifically built for high needs cognitively impaired students. We walked into the school nurse's office just as she was calling an ambulance for a child's third seizure of the day. They told me they call 911 approximately once a month. I was additionally interested in this school because I'd never heard of it before 2 weeks ago - when a new teenage patient with significant cognitive delays and no prior records showed up in my office appearing agitated and on the verge of violence. I had a 15 minute appointment with them and wasn't sure what to do. I was referring him to the appropriate specialists but was debating whether I needed to start behavioral medications in the meantime as his grandma had told me he had been on some medication in the past. I had found out through the school system that he was already getting hooked up with basic therapies and they thought they were meeting his school-based needs at that time. Now I was at that school. I met the therapists, the numerous paraprofessionals, and peeked at the kids in wheelchairs and helmets and in all manner of disarrayed behaviors. I saw my teenage guy too. He waved at me across the cafeteria and when I talked to his teacher, I learned he was a "delight" and they had no behavioral concerns - and they spent all day with him. I learned about their functional based classes and even got to sample a cookie from the morning's cookie class.
I won't be in this metro area much longer. As I've said before, I'm looking for jobs - I have had several interviews and don't have a finalized plan yet, but I probably won't be in this community. It gave me professional inspiration to connect with my future school district and learn more about my community wherever I practice, but more importantly I have a new deep and profound appreciation for all teachers, especially for kids with complex medical/social/emotional needs and even more importantly school nurses. Especially the ones that appreciate the exceptionality. And as a mother of one healthy toddler, I appreciate all those that willingly spend their time among hundreds of children and/or teenagers every day.
May this inspire you to appreciate rather than tolerate an "exceptionality" this week. :)