by Lois Carlisle
Up until a girl named Sarah, who was sitting in a chair outside of the front office, started bleeding from her nose, I had been having a pretty okay day. I rushed over to her, tissues in hand. The blood pooled on her upper lip. Before I could wipe it away, she sucked her lip in, held the blood there for a moment, and then spat it on my face. Blood and saliva spattered my glasses. It covered my face, my hair, my shirt. It was in that moment that I came to understand that no amount of overtime pay can atone for the frustration of waiting almost an hour after a daycare’s closing for a single child’s mother to pick her up.
“Sarah,” I said. I fought the urge to swear as globs of blood ran down the sides of my cheeks. After handing Sarah the tissues and telling her to tilt her head back, I went to the First Aid kit mounted to the wall in the office. Next to it was a list of allergies certain children at the daycare had. Three were allergic to different types of medications and only one was allergic to latex. It wasn’t Sarah. I fished out a pair of gloves and several alcohol wipes. I hurried back over to Sarah, pulling the gloves on as I went.
With a voice that sounded like there had been a pack of golf balls stuffed up her nose, Sarah said, “Look, Miss Robin— my nose is bleeding.” Her fingers were pressed to either side of the bridge of her nose. Sarah’s small digits had not stopped her blood. It soaked into the tissue and ran down her little face.
“Yes, Sarah, I can see that,” I said. I tilted her head back and told her to move her hand. I tossed the bloody tissue into the garbage. I pinched her nose using my gloved fingers. “Count to sixty for me,” I said. She began counting. Using my free hand, I cleaned the blood from her face with an alcohol wipe. When she was clean, I took out a wipe for myself and began to clean off my own face. The little flecks were drying on my forehead and glasses. The splatter on my shirt would have to be taken care of when I returned home. If only Sarah’s mother would show up, I thought.
“. . .Fifty-nine, sixty. Okay, Miss Robin, I counted to sixty,” she said. I held a tissue at the ready and released her nose. We waited for a moment. Sarah went cross eyed to look down at her nose. Nothing happened and I told her to relax. She let her head fall back down. I took another wipe out and continued to clean her face. When I finished, Sarah reached up and scratched the bridge of her nose. “My face is itchy, Miss Robin.”
“Don’t scratch at it, honey. I don’t want you to set your nose to bleeding again,” I said, pulling her hand off of her face. On the bridge of her nose, a red patch flourished. At first, I thought it was because of Sarah’s scratching, but the splotch grew darker. It spread across her cheeks.
“Miss Robin,” she said, “my face is itchy.” She scratched at her cheek. I jerked her arm away. The blemish spread up the bridge of her nose and bled onto her eyelids. I tore my gloves off and placed my hand on the rash. It gave off no heat.
You have basic medical training, I thought, you can figure this out. No heat means it’s not an infection. So. . .allergy. But what could she have eaten in the past few minutes? Can you be allergic to nosebleeds? I looked around for some indication of what was causing the irritation. Sarah’s small squeal set me off balance. The rash began to swell. Her tiny eyelids began to puff up and close. I spotted the gloves on the ground.
“Oh my god, Sarah.” I grabbed her arm. The place I had touched her skin earlier had puffed up as well. “Are you allergic to latex?”
She squealed, but didn’t answer. I could feel her small pulse quicken beneath her skin. She began gasping for air. As if in slow motion, I hurtled to the First Aid box, dug through it, and pulled out an Epipen. I rushed back to Sarah. She waved her small arms. “Sarah, it’s okay. You’re going to feel a sting, but it’s going to help you breathe,” I said just before I plunged the pen into her thigh. I put my hand on her head to try and keep her calm.
As if cued by someone in the wings wearing an official headset, Sarah’s mother walked through the door. “Sorry I’m late. I drove right past this place,” she said. He head was bent and she was searching through her purse. “Can you believe it?” She looked at us then— at her daughter, beginning to calm down and stop swelling and at me and the gloves on the floor, wadded up and discarded beside me.
“Mrs. Wellington, I need you to call an ambulance,” I said. But Mrs. Wellington already dropped her purse and was on her way to us. She shoved me out of the way and knelt before her daughter.
“Oh my god—your face,” she said, touching the bridge of her daughter’s nose. She pressed at the skin, as if trying to gauge the damage, and Sarah’s nose started bleeding again. Mrs. Wellington let out a shriek and fell over backwards. I swooped in. Sarah tilted her head back as she had done before. Mrs. Wellington glared at me and said, “What have you done to her?”
“Nothing,” I said. I held up my free hand in defense. Mrs. Wellington looked at my bloody t-shirt and red-brown smudges on my glasses. She was accusing me of something. “She had a nosebleed,” I said. “Just like she’s currently having a nosebleed.”
“And it just happened to spatter all over your shirt.” This definitely was not a question. I said yes. “Well, it doesn’t seem to be spattering now.”
“What are you insinuating?” I asked.
“Sixty,” Sarah said in a quiet voice. I didn’t let go of her nose.
“I’m saying that you hit her and made her nose bleed,” Mrs. Wellington said. I almost fell over at the force of these words. Never had I been accused of such a terrible thing.
“I would never do such a thing,” I said. “Her nose just started bleeding. I had nothing to do with it.”
“Look at her face.” She pointed to Sarah’s face, which was still as red and splotchy, but wasn’t as swollen.
“Yes, I used gloves. It’s standard procedure for these kinds of situations. I didn’t know she was allergic to latex,” I said. “It’s not in her file.”
“What?” Mrs. Wellington looked at the gloves lying next to her.
“You didn’t know she was allergic to latex?” I let go of Sarah’s nose and she looked at her mother. A little moustache of blood congealed on Sarah’s lip. I handed her a tissue, hoping we wouldn’t have to repeat all of the events of earlier. Mrs. Wellington picked herself up off the ground. “It wasn’t in her file, or we would have it on the list beside the First Aid cabinet.”
“She’s allergic to,” her voice trailed off. She looked from me to Sarah. “Let’s go, Sarah. Say good bye to Miss Robin.”
“Good bye, Miss Robin,” Sarah said. She scratched the red patch on her arm, and then followed her mother out of the double doors. I looked down at the gloves on the floor, then at my shirt. It was time to go home.
It was Friday. I signed my time card, shut off the lights, and locked the doors behind me. I called my boss, Judy, as soon as I got home. We both arrived early the next Monday morning. A woman arrived the just after we did. Ms. Judy said she was from. . .DSS? CPS? I couldn’t remember. She wore a suit and made me very nervous.
“I don’t know what to tell her,” I said to my boss.
“Tell her the truth. Don’t panic,” she said. We were talking in quiet voices while Ms. Suit situated herself behind Judy’s desk in her office.
“I don’t want to lose my job,” I said.
“So don’t call the woman any names. You’ll be fine. You’ve done nothing wrong,” she said. I thought about poor Sarah’s splotched face and cringed.
“Right,” I said. Ms. Suit motioned to me from the office and I entered.
“Have a seat,” she said. I sat. “How are you?” she asked.
“Fine,” I said. “I’ve been better.” I gave a weak laugh. She didn’t reciprocate.
“Tell me about Friday night,” she said. I began my retelling. Ms. Suit nodded as I spoke. She jotted things down on a legal pad that she had tilted up so I couldn’t read it. I told the truth, not using any weighted language and making constant eye contact.
In the end, I gave a sigh and said, “Look—I’ve worked here for five years. I have never hit a child. I may have yelled at one or two, sure, but that was to stop them from doing something. The worst I’ve ever done was slap a little girl’s hand. Physical discipline is not my job—that’s why the daycare calls parents and sends notes home. Sarah’s nose began bleeding on its own. Maybe it was dry— I don’t know. The bottom line is that I would never hurt a child.”
“Not on purpose, at least,” Ms. Suit said. She clicked her pen. She proceeded to tell me about daycare workers who had been sent to prison for much less than what I had been accused of. She spoke of women, just like me, whose lives had been ruined over the painful removal of a Band-Aid. She painted tragic tales of lawsuits and women’s correctional facilities. She leaned in close. “Do you understand what I’m saying?” I nodded my head. “Wonderful.” Ms. Suit stood from her chair and walked to the door. She opened it and ushered me out.
On the way to my classroom, down an incredibly long hallway, the woman’s words pinged around in my head. Lines of children stood outside of every classroom, looking frail. One boy had a scraped elbow, another had a wounded knee. A little girl yanked at another girl’s hair, they were both squealing. Farther down the hall, a boy blinked up at me through two black eyes. Next to him was a boy with a broken leg. A girl with a limp hobbled to the end of the line.
Where were the other teachers, the other workers? Who would help these children? Someone should tend to them. . .someone other than me. I couldn’t change a Band-Aid. I couldn’t tend to the girl with the open head wound in front of me. I would not handle prison well.
I ran for the exit, the wails of injured children trailing after me.
Lois is a student at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. She likes reading, writing, and Doctor Who. Her obsession with the Internet is probably unhealthy. When she grows up, Lois wants to be Lily Aldrin.