Saturday, February 25, 2012

Former Students

I was reminded of this experience after I read Mare's post on her blog, Zoaring with Glinda.  She posted this quote from Haim Ginott.

My heart was racing at 150 beats of minute.  I couldn't seem to bring it down.  Having suffered from tachycardia (rapid heart beat) and arrhythmia for years, I usually can just soldier through these attacks.  This time,  the racing just would not stop.  I had my husband drive by the hospital on our way home from our walk.

After barely being able to walk into the emergency room, ready to collapse when I got to the window, I said, "After a walk, my heart began racing, I can't bring it down, and I'm going to collapse."  Immediately, a pulse sock was placed through the window, "Yep, it's racing."  I was in a wheel chair immediately and wheeled back to a room in the ER.

In came four nurses.  In came the doctor.  I was quickly placed on an EKG machine.  I didn't even know I got an IV.  I described my symptoms.  I tried to keep calm while I chewed the four baby aspirin.  Even on the EKG, my heart was still beating at 140.  Thankfully, it was not showing anything but normal sinus rhythm, but the doctor said we had to wait and see what the blood enzymes showed.  So, I tried to relax again and wait it out.

After all the emergency personnel exited, with a blood pressure cuff on one arm, an IV in the other, I was left alone in the room half dressed.  I think someone had barely covered me up, but I couldn't reach to finish the job.  

About then, a familiar looking young man walked into the room.  "Just checking on you," he said.  "I'm Nolan," he said.  Then his eyes went down to the floor as he quickly walked over to me and gently took the corner of my gown and snapped it at the shoulder.  "Yes, Nolan, I recognize you now," I say.  "Tell me your last name.  I've forgotten.  I had you in ninth grade English, didn't I?" 

In my mind's eye, I could see him sitting just a few seats up from my desk.  He was always a quiet, but respectful student.  It seemed odd to see him in my hospital room.  I felt so disheveled, so vulnerable.  My hair was a fright.  I had on no make-up.  I could barely form a sentence at that moment, let alone teach how to write one.  It seemed as if the tables had all been turned.  I was no longer the professional delivering services to my students.  I was now a patient, barely clothed, being attended to by a former student who was now the professional.

I apologized for my appearance.  I asked what he had been doing with his life.  I was happy to hear he had chosen to become an EMT and had finished the course of study.  All the time, I kept thinking how you just never know when one of those former students will show up.

Just before he left, I said, "Thank you for looking after to me today, and for checking on me.  I saw the concern in your eyes."  With a laugh, I added, "My husband has always says, 'Be nice to your students because you never know when they could be taking care of you in the hospital.'"  He smiled.  I then said, "I hope I was always nice to you."  His reply meant the world.  "Yes, Mrs. Wessely, you were always more than nice."

Respect for those we serve is best experienced on the receiving end.  I learned that lesson again when this young man's first move was to avert his eyes while he covered me up so I could maintain some measure of dignity in his presence.  


  1. This is such a beautiful post, Sally. It's so true, isn't it? I just saw one of my old students at my granddaughter's pre-school last year when I was in Illinois. I was surprised she recognized me after so many years.

    Sounds like Nolan was a sweet kid and now he's a thoughtful, wonderful adult. What a good feeling to know this.

    And how about you, Sally? Are you OK? What a scary thing to happen.

  2. Wow, this is such a powerful and beautiful post. I never thought about how a former student could re-enter a teachers life in such a way.I am so glad he was there for you and that you got such a good grade from your student. I am sure he was so pleased you remembered him. I know I would be.
    I do hope you are much better now. Please let us know.

  3. What a strange thing to happen! Did they ever figure it out? Or are you still in hospital? And Nolan came in just when you most needed him, it seems.

    I do hope you keep me posted as to what's up with that racing pulse!

  4. The respect Nolan showed for you speaks volumes about the kind of teacher you were to him.
    I hope you are back home and doing well now.

  5. I loved this post. I was diagnosed with AFib last October and spent several days in the hospital. When I went to the emergency room my heart was beating at 198 beats per minute.

    I know what you went through. How wonderful that you came in contact with a former student.

  6. It's so nice to see you well enough to be writing regularly again. Three new posts to read in one sitting is such a treat. I loved your Valentine story, as I always love reading about the love story that is your marriage and your gratitude for the gift it is. I'm glad you're recovering, although not as quickly as you want. I think for all of us of a certain age, pacing and patience are absolute requirements for living a full life.

    This story about your former student is one of my all time favorites of your stories. What an amazing encounter with a wonderful young man. I'm not at all surprised at his answer to your question - I can't imagine you being anything but more than nice.

  7. And that is the reason we teach!
    Glad you shared this with us. How are you feeling?

  8. What a wonderful affirmation of the value of your life and work, right when you needed a compassionate, respectful, healing touch.

    Similarly, in hospital rehab, I found it reassuring and amazing how all of us female patients lived through our first shower administered by male techs with our modesty and dignity intact., Each of us had a different young guy and each used different techiques, but each worked with respect, compassion and creativity to help us through that challenging absence of control over our bodies and lives.

  9. Oh, my, Sally...a great post. Now I will have to write about the incident of racing heart beat that started while I was in the classroom with a group of students.

  10. It is fun to see how they turned out, isn't it? I've always said that we don't realize how many lives we've touched. I'm surprised when former students tell me about something that meant so much to them, but I don't even recall. We never know when we'll make a life changing impact. It's an awesome responsibiity.

    Is your recovery still going okay?

  11. You made a difference in his life, and he did the same in yours. How lovely!

  12. What a terrifying experience for you! Are you okay?

  13. A wonderful story to illustrate that we reap what we sow. Luckily in your case, you got the cream of the crop!

  14. First of all, I hope everything turned out okay and that all is well. What your husband says is so true: "'Be nice to your students because you never know when they could be taking care of you in the hospital.'"

    It's a variation on the theme, I believe attributed to Jackie Gleason who said, "Be nice to the people on your way up, because you're gonna meet the same people on your way down."

    Which is just a clever, amusing way to say: Be nice to people! And it certainly seems as though you are, and that you're reaping the well-deserved rewards. Kudos to you and your student

  15. Great post, Sally... YES--our former students will show up at all kinds of times in our lives... I haven't run across any at the hospital but I will say that, through Facebook, I have run across several of them. Those 'kids' are all grown up themselves and even parents AND grandparents now.... Mercy Me--how time flies!!!


  16. What a wonderful post, Sally! I hope this story wasn't recent, and that you have a handle on that racing heart by now!

    I can imagine how vulnerable you felt in the hospital, and could see that young man's respect for you in the way he dropped his eyes and gently covered you up.

    Such a poignant story, reminding us teachers that we are holding our students in the palm of our hands, and we better be gentle.

    So glad that you are feeling better. Take care.

  17. Indeed. A nice story Sally over a not so pleasant experience (otherise) except for the former student. Not so unusually, I've had the exact same experience numerous times since Mayo Clinic and hospitals are about thirty miles from where I lived and taught most of my adult life. AFib has left me there often enough although my present medication has worked very well for several years now....:)

  18. Thank you for taking the time to write these yin and yang words about a horrific few hours. Hope you are fine today.

  19. A wonderfully inspiring and uplifting post. We are all vulnerable in our own ways aren't we, yet it often takes something like your experience to remind us of our mortality.

    I say you must have done something right in order to have one of your students in such a respected position of authority.

    CJ x

  20. Oh, my -- this is just the kind of post that makes my heart sing. I'm so glad you were tended to by Nolan and that you were able to see him these many years later, know that he did well in his world and that you did well by him. It's cute about "never knowing when they might take care of you." I remember thinking that the time an ex-boyfriend's wife was the nurse for my colonoscopy!

    I hope this experience is in your past, not present, as you've had such a lot to deal with of late and one more thing is no fun. SOunds like it, so I'll work with that! And I'm so glad that if you had to have this horrible happening, a joyful bit came from it.

  21. First, I hope you are feeling better Sally. This must have been frightening. As I read your post I began to almost feel like I was in that room with you. I have tears in my eyes and I think what a blessing you must have been to your students. What a blessing you must be to everyone around you. and what a blessing you are to us who read your blog.
    Take care of yourself,
    Blessings, Joanne

  22. I sure pray this wonderful post is something behind you and your not experiencin' heart problems right now sweetie.

    Yes, as a classroom teach we must be careful 'cause we never now when we'll come face to face with our young protoje'.

    Sounds like your young man had an excellent teacher my friend! :o)

  23. What a poignant, gracious moment. I hope you are feeling well now. How scary!

  24. What a huge reminder for all of us even in the workplace.My husband has a new job and everyone cringes when his boss walks in and is in a bad mood. It changes the whole day for all of them. He wants to tell him how much our mood can affect others but can't yet:))Hope you are well!

  25. Happy Birthday a day late! I felt so uplifted to hear we share February as our birthday month. This comes with thoughts and prayers for healing and precious moments in the days , weeks, and months of your new year.

  26. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU - you wonderful gal! sandie

  27. How cool is that? A former student!
    Sally what's that heart of your doing??
    I've been there and all I can say is keep looking for the cause.
    My heart went up to200 beat and the fire dept had to come to give me oxygen. It took years of trial and error to help myself since the docs never did. I found that a teaspoon of baking soda and water calmed the racing down after 10 minutes. So did a bit of gravel or a 25mg benadryl tablet. Your body seems to have a dislike for something and I guess you will need to rule out what that could be.


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