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Archive for Friday, May 19, 2006

School nurse dispenses advice, first aid - and a lot of love

May 19, 2006

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During a recent 30-minute period at Kennedy School, nurse Lou Ann Wilcox treated three patients.

A girl had stubbed one of her big toes, so Wilcox wiped off the blood and wrapped it up.

Another girl came in with a twisted ankle she'd suffered at recess. An ice pack was applied while the girl reclined on an examination couch.

Moments later a boy came in wanting to talk to Wilcox about something. He casually mentioned that a girl had pulled his hair. A quick check revealed no sign of bumps on the scalp or loss of hair.

"This is kind of a slow day," Wilcox said later. "Usually we have three or more in here all the time."

In fact, it is common for Wilcox to see 30 or 40 students during a school day for a variety of illnesses (perceived or real), cuts and sprains. Then there are some who might just be having a bad day.

"It's Friday. Usually the kids think that if it's Friday they can make it through the day," Wilcox said with a chuckle.

'Incredible job'

Wilcox has been a nurse since she graduated from the University of Iowa in 1979. She worked in hospitals and doctor's offices before becoming a nurse in the De Soto school district in 1995. After four years there she took a job as a nurse in the Lawrence schools, working at Prairie Park and New York schools before moving to Kennedy and East Heights schools.

"It is an incredible job," Wilcox said of being a school nurse. "I just love it."

A school nurse develops special relationships with students, she said.

"In a hospital you have an incident, you take care of somebody and then they go," Wilcox said. "Here you get to know the families and the students. I really like that part of it."

Wilcox works out of a small office and clinic at Kennedy where she has a desk, two examination couches and a bathroom. There are about 350 students at Kennedy, 1605 Davis Road, and another 160 students at East Heights Early Childhood Center, 1430 Haskell Ave., for which she also is responsible.

Initially, one of the hardest aspects of her job was dealing with students who weren't necessarily sick and were more interested in just going home. She was "a softy," she said.

She has since learned how to read a student's mind as well as his or her body in determining whether the stomachache is real or imagined.

"We have our 'frequent fliers,'" Wilcox said. "If you let them get away with it, they'll do it all the time."

Many times, however, a student is just stressed out and needs some encouragement, she said.

"We have a little talk, a hug, tell them, 'You can do it' and then they're off," Wilcox said. "I try not to allow kids to use their health to avoid things. Emergency rooms are full of people like that."

Health classes

Tending to the daily illnesses and injuries is only one aspect of a school nurse's job. Wilcox also offers health education lessons, such as the importance of handwashing and things that might help students from falling victim to the city's mumps outbreak. So far only one student at Kennedy has come down with the mumps.

She teaches special health education classes with students and sometimes their parents on growth and development and sexuality. Last week she presided at a noon session with sixth-grade girls about the transition they will make in the fall to the seventh grade and junior high school.

Last September Wilcox took three weeks off from school to work as a volunteer with the American Red Cross in Gulf of Mexico states devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. She transported food to victims and helped them fill out forms to receive financial aid. Many, she said, were surprised to see that someone from Kansas had come to help them, she said.

"It inspired me," Wilcox said of the experience.

When Wilcox is out of the Kennedy office, she is missed, said Korianne Daboda, administrative assistant to principal Felton Avery. She noted some families with students at the school don't have much, if any, health insurance. In that case, Wilcox becomes the first person they turn to for primary health care.

"It's really important for our kids to be here in school to learn and to feel comfortable here," Daboda said. "We wouldn't be able to do without Mrs. Wilcox, because she is an amazing contribution to our school, not only in the way she runs the clinic and cares for the kids but also the way she is very involved in the school itself."

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