Aside from a recent rant, I generally don't talk about work here. That being said, I have to get this out.
I work with high school students who have moderate- to severe developmental disabilities. They can stay in high school until they are 22; I've had this job for six years. Even though there isn't much time to "hang out" in any one class, I have gotten to know some of my students pretty well over the years.
My first year was more about not screwing up than really getting to know people, since I'd bumped a beloved woman out of the job. So when three students died that year, it was shocking, but not personal. Almost every year we have lost students to congenital illnesses, one to cancer (who, regardless of her level of disability, was eventually able to say "no more" to the treatments; she was over 18, unlike the boy in the news). We've had kids age out of foster care and have to leave school prematurely. The grandmother who cared for one of my favorite students ever (he had Grandma buy work boots so he do the jobs I brought to class... even though the jobs involved envelope stuffing and the like, not anything requiring steel toes and good traction) passed away, so he was taken in by an aunt and uncle. He now goes to school about 25 miles away.
Two years ago I even "lost" a student to runaway marriage. That was an experience, let me tell you.
Last year, no one died. All of the "losses" were simply due to aging out of the program.
This year, knock on wood, so far so good.
Except that things aren't all that good.
Today I learned that the heart of one girl is essentially giving out. The parents are "happy" that she will likely make it to graduation, since she was never meant to live this long. This girl isn't all that aware of her situation, which is a sort of comfort.
Another one of my students, I'll call him Raj, has a brain tumor "so deep they can't operate." The good news is that it's not untreatable, but the boy is understandably upset about the whole thing. He's one of my exceptional kids. Any set of tests and assessments would indicate that Raj is well within the mentally retarded range of functioning, but he gets things. A neighboring teacher mentioned that they'd just gotten the news and that Raj was crying earlier. Fortunately, he's surrounded by loving adults at school (which is not always the case, despite what most people think). Before I left his school this morning, I pulled him out of class briefly to tell him I'd heard, that I'd be pulling for him, that I love him and that everything will be okay. I gave him a hug.
One of the persnickety parts of working in education is the righteous outrage toward adults who physically overstep their bounds with students. So part of me was thinking, "You could lose your job for this." Displays of affection, no matter how innocent or well-meant can be misconstrued. I'm not seriously worried about it; the hug took about 1.5 seconds. Still, it did pop into my mind.
When I was talking with Raj, I acknowledged that he can't have surgery. Even though his eyes showed his emotions, his response was classic teenaged boy: "Yeah, but it's good, because then they'd have to shave my hair off." He ran his hand over his head as he said that, and I could feel his relief. I didn't chuckle, but it wasn't easy. We talked briefly about alternatives to surgery. He seemed to have a pretty good understanding of the basics and we didn't drag things out.
After leaving I wanted to call Nance and tell her, but it's hard to know when to say what to someone who's already dealing with so much medical drama. Yesterday Ken was re-admitted to the hospital, into ICU no less, for a rapid heartbeat. Hopefully he'll be home again soon. So I didn't call her. I'm telling you instead.