Monday morning started as any other typical school day. In my first hour of the day I took the dogs for a run, or a trot I should say. Maximus, my large Pitbull – Labrador mix, loves the idea of bounding around the neighborhood, sniffing every mailbox and every tree, and marking as much as he can as his. Doce, my elderly Beagle – Labrador mix, is far less inclined to move at a rapid pace. She would much prefer to trundle about and occasionally lay down in tall grass, grinning at being outside and not having to move.
I came back into the house, set the coffee to brew while I took my shower, and got dressed so I could prepare myself for the coming day. After brushing my teeth and getting dressed, I walked into the bedroom and saw the older two kids sitting on the bed with my still sleeping wife. My oldest knows how to work the remote and had turned on the TV and had begun watching Octonauts, a family favorite. Kwazii was attempting to save a herd of Capybaras from a hungry Anaconda. Riveting. I paused the show and sent them into their bedroom to get dressed and then we all headed downstairs for breakfast.
Maintaining my morning routine helped me get through the early morning hours without bearing down too hard with thoughts of Kimberly’s health. She has a tendency to become overly concerned about potential problems that are not necessarily crises. When a legitimate problems arises, she behaves the same way. Normally she would get upset, get angry, complain about it, work through the problem verbally, and then she would find a way to solve it. In her current condition and with her current physical restrictions, I knew that she would stew over the problem without an effective solution yet presenting itself. Her stress would further limit her ability to improve her health.
My son and I left at 6:45 so I could drop him off at school and then hustle to my school. I was not mentally prepared for the day, and I was relatively exhausted. My sleep had been minimal over the last several days. When Kimberly first went to the hospital, we didn’t know what to expect. I felt like those days were almost blissful because of my ignorance of her condition. We were all scared not knowing what the problem was, but we had no idea of its severity. The article had brought everything home to us; we understood how dire the situation was.
For three weeks, I had morning drop off duty. It was my job to stand out in front of the school as parents dropped off their children; this was my third and final week. I cannot speak to other teachers in the building, but I love it. Students I have never seen or never interacted with before walk by me every morning. On the first day two weeks prior, I would say, “Hey, how’re you doing?” or “Hey, how’s your morning so far?” and the children would politely say hi back, a few would smile and give me a fist bump. On this day, the kids had gotten accustomed to my presence and they came to expect me to say hello. Parents honked and waved as they drove by. I LOVE interacting with people.
This ritual also helped me get through the tumultuous week. My mind was focused on greeting people, talking about nothing important, asking students I know about their weekends, and generally just enjoying my job. The early bell would ring, I would grab my thermos of coffee or tea, depending on the day, and I would head up to my office. For the next hour, I put on my headphones, listened to Pandora’s “Classical Music for Studying,” and worked on upcoming assignments, quizzes, and tests for the week.
As the day proceeded, I went on to my classes: AP Psychology twice, Anthropology, and AP World History. All of these kept me well occupied for the day. My students are all incredibly bright, consistently engaged, and push me to be the best I can be just to keep up with them. It was in the middle of these classes that my mom dropped what seemed like a bombshell to the text group.
Total change of plans. The doctor just came in and is releasing Kimberly from the hospital tomorrow and not doing the surgery until she’s in a better place. He said he wants to take the victory now. He’s even giving her permission to go back to work next week. He wants to make sure that he has ample time to analyze the situation before going back in because of the condition of her scar.
My father was one of the first to respond. “I don’t like it.”
I responded with a simple, “This worries me.”
I didn’t know what to expect, but I know that my mind was racing. What will happen to her stent? What if the aneurysm occurs again? What if she is driving on her own and she has the same problem again? She lost her vision and the use of her hands before, it could be worse if she is in a car by herself during rush hour traffic. My mind was full of “what ifs.”
My mom did not immediately assuage our fears. She didn’t try to defend the doctor or to detract against his decision. She simply stated what the new situation would be. She texted again, telling us all that Kimberly was in great spirits. The drainage on her arm has lessened tremendously, her pain had been greatly reduced, and she had gotten decent sleep the night before. She had told her that she had come to terms with potentially losing her arm if it meant her survival and continuing to be a mother to her son. This is the absolute toughness of Kimberly: take the loss most of us could not manage right now to have a lifetime of victories later.
She was elated to hear the news from the vascular surgeon. It was as if she were on death row and had been given a reprieve. The rest of her day was cake. She slept well, was happy, and prepared herself to go home.
The rest of us were incredibly concerned. Melanie contacted her brother, Jeff, who works in a hospital on the West Coast. She asked his opinion on the situation, despite his lack of knowledge of her specific ailment. The main focus became Kimberly’s stent and how well it could potentially hold. He explained to her that various types of stents exist, some are made to dissolve over time inside the body, others are made of metal and are meant to last indefinitely. He stated that he knows several heart patients who have had them in place for years. His opinion more than any other helped to calm me down and begin to think that she would be ultimately be just fine. I left school and went to pick up my oldest from his after – school care and then ambled home, feeling a sense of relief for the first time since the whole ordeal started.
After walking the dogs, my son and I both sat at the dining room table, he working on his homework, and I working on a graphic organizer for my Anthropology class. After several minutes I heard a soft ding from my computer and then felt a brief buzz from my phone in my pocket: the unmistakable sign of an incoming email. I had been waiting all day for a reply from Kim’s professor and, as it turned out, this was the moment I had been waiting for. I excitedly opened it and found the following message.
Thank you for touching base with your concerns and for the updates on Kimberly.
I have been in contact with her and have shared these communications with my faculty chair. Per our discussions, I believe that we have a plan in place and I also encouraged her to touch base with her advisor if need be.
Unfortunately, I am unable to discuss more with you per FERPA regulations.
It must be a very trying time for she and her family and I wish her a successful and swift recovery.
I have copied the faculty chair, ***** *****, on this email per your request, so you can further communicate with him and obtain any additional information that you seek if need be. Otherwise, I hope that everything will be set for Kimberly, so she can focus on her recovery.
I immediately forwarded the email to Kimberly, then texted her so she would know to expect it. She responded with thanks and then, once again, I waited.
FERPA regulations do preclude an educator from discussing educational records with anyone who is not the student herself, or the student’s guardian. Since Kim is over eighteen, the Professor is bound by policy and law to refrain from discussing her progress in the course with pretty much anyone but her. I wondered if this was the last step for me in this ordeal. Kimberly is a very capable woman, but she is more than willing to ask for help if she needs it.
Two days later I had my answer. Kim had been home for for just about twenty – four hours when she texted me while I was at school. She had begun a correspondence with the department chair and wanted some advice on how to proceed. She had also been checking her grade and realized that the zeros from discussion assignments had pulled her grade from an A to an A-. Many people would look at this situation and say, “Meh. It’s still an A.” But it’s not an A…it’s an A-, and my sister took that slight difference very seriously.
Kim sent me the e-mails with the chair so that I could look at them, comment, and give her advice. I read through them that night during dinner with the family. Nothing seemed to jump out at me until I saw one exchange from the chair to Kimberly:
I am aware of your situation and is in touch with Professor Tom Neal. He informed me that you are doing very well in the course (maintaining a grade of A) and you have a plan in place to successfully complete the coursework.
I would suggest you to take care of yourself and not to worry about this course. I am sure you will successfully complete this course.
***** *****, Ph.D
Two things struck me in this email:
- “you have a plan in place to successfully complete the coursework.”
Who has a plan? If Kimberly had outlined a plan to make – up any coursework with the professor, I felt confident that she would have told me and asked if I believed that was fair, i.e., would that be something I would do for a student in a situation like hers. This was very unclear and frustrating for me as to what exactly this phrase meant.
2. “I would suggest you take care of yourself and not worry about this course.”
I jotted down a note to quickly to tell Kimberly to save this line in particular. As I read it, it meant that she would be allowed to make up anything that she had missed. The only way that a person in a college – level class would not worry about missing coursework is if they have assurances that either missing assignments won’t count against their final grade, or they will be allowed to make them up with little to no penalty. I knew that when we spoke, I would tell her to focus on this line in particular.
While making a note in my phone, I saw that I had a text message from Kimberly that I had missed earlier in the afternoon. The president of the university had sent a blanket email out to all students and faculty regarding Hurricane Florence. Any student in the path of the hurricane or impacted by flooding should contact the university to get assistance in getting through coursework. I read this as meaning extensions to assignments; I thought two things quickly: 1) Every university should do this in situations such as these, and 2) a student in Kimberly’s situation warrants the same standard of assistance.
After dinner I called Kimberly, but got no answer. She was asleep, recovering from eight days of hell. I left her a message and told her to call me after three the following day so we could discuss a strategy of how to move forward. That night, I slept well, confident that I could help Kimberly solve this problem.
The following morning I received a text from Kimberly, asking if we could craft an email that evening. Ten minutes later, she sent a second text.
“I got an email from my professor. He is gonna let me turn them in by the 16th.”
I hurriedly typed back, “All of them? Even the ones you missed while you were in the ICU?”
“Yes. His email said he didn’t understand how serious my condition was. He must have read your blog.”
I smiled. It wasn’t true.
But it was satisfying.