There were knots in my stomach on the first day of school, September 12, 1986. It was my second year as a full-time teacher, but this year I was the experienced teacher. My partner from the year before decided to teach fifth grade, and the teacher next to me was brand new. She was expecting me to help her, but I was pretty sure I didn’t know much more than she did.
But that was really a secondary worry. Kimberly being in the hospital as a newly diagnosed juvenile diabetic, and me going to school instead of staying with her, wracked me with guilt. It’s not like she’ll be alone; Van will be with her, I kept saying to myself.
Before school, I made a quick stop at the hospital. A nurse was giving Kimberly her first shot of insulin for the day when I walked through the door. Tears ran down Kim’s face, and my first instinct was to find the pay phone and get a substitute teacher. Instead I sat down on Kim’s bed and pulled her close. I rubbed her back and whispered, “I love you, Kim. I’m so sorry this hurts.”
After a couple of minutes, I loosened my hold so I could see her face. “Other than the shots, how are you doing? Do you remember what you ordered for breakfast?” Thoughts of food always perked up Kim’s spirits.
“Scrambled eggs, apple juice, and a bagel,” Kim replied. “I love the hospital’s scrambled eggs. You should find out how they make them.”
“I’ll look into that,” I smiled.
The moment I dreaded arrived, “You remember today is the first day of school, right?”
“Yes. You’re going to school instead of staying with me.”
“I am. I don’t want to…”
“Then stay here! Please, Mommy?”
I took a deep breath and steeled myself before I answered, “No, Kim. In fact, I have to go right now. Daddy will be here as soon as he takes Erin to school. I’ll be back about 3:00. Give me a hug and a kiss and remember how much I love you.”
Begrudgingly Kim said, “OK. I’ll see you after school.”
The school day was a whirlwind of new faces and starting routines. Teaching second grade was like being on a stage. No matter my inner turmoil, I had to put on a smile, be friendly and kind, and make each youngster think this year would be fun.
I had to keep my stage face on for a while after school too, when parents wanted to share a little about their precious child with the teacher.
Fortunately Cristina, my new partner, and I had everything ready and prepared for the first two weeks of school. I knew she wanted to debrief at the end of her first day, but I had explained all that happened in our family over the weekend. As a mother herself, Cristina understood my priorities and called encouragement as I raced out to the car.
When I got to Kim’s room, Van was gone. He picked up Erin and took her for our traditional first-day-of-school-ice cream treat. “How’d today go?” I asked as I hugged Kim hello.
“OK, Daddy brought a game and I beat him.”
“Wow! Good for you. Did you color me any good pictures today?” Kim showed me her gallery and we enjoyed some time alone.
“How’s Kimberly today?” we heard Dr. Curtis ask as he entered the room. He checked everything and pulled me aside. “As I told you yesterday, Kim is doing extremely well for a newly diagnosed diabetic.”
“That’s good, right?” I asked.
“Yes, but it’s also created a problem.”
What now? I wondered.
“The insurance company has decided since Kim doesn’t need an IV, there is no reason for her to remain in the hospital. She’ll stay here tonight, but we have to send her home tomorrow.”
I was too shocked and scared to do anything but stare.
Dr. Curtis continued, “I argued with them, but I have no choice. If she stays, the insurance won’t cover any more of her time here.”
Finally I found my voice, “Don’t they know we need more time to learn how to take care of her? To measure the insulin correctly and give the shot right and how to plan meals?”
“You’ll have a home hospital nurse come to your house twice a day. The insurance covers ten visits. She’ll continue to help you, checking what you do so you feel more comfortable.”
And then he added something I would never have imagined from a doctor. He gave me his home phone number. “Call me every morning at 7:00. I’ll be home from my run and you can tell me what Kim’s blood sugar level is and how much insulin you’ll give her. That way you’ll feel a little less panicked.”
“Really? Call you at home? Every day? I don’t know how to even begin to thank you.”
“I wish there was more I could do.” Dr. Curtis gripped my shoulder and added, “You’ll be fine. It takes awhile, but you’ll do well. I’ve seen how you and Van work together. Kimberly will be well cared for.”
At the end of the night, after goodnight prayers and our song, after sitting with Kim until she fell asleep, I got in the car. But I couldn’t start the engine just yet. I laid my head on the steering wheel and cried. How, God, am I going to do this? I’m not ready to have complete responsibility for all this care and a new school year and help a new teacher. But mostly, how am I going to take care of Kim?”
The words of a song filled my mind. “I’m climbing my mountain one step at a time.” Good old Psalty the Singing Song Book. Inspired, I popped in the “Psalty’s Camping Adventure” cassette into the tape deck. One step at a time; I can do that. And as I sang along I did what another song said,
“I cast all my cares upon You.
I lay all of my burdens down at Your feet.
And anytime I don’t know
Just what to do
I will cast all my cares upon You.”