"Why?" I always ask, performing my triage role. Paper cuts and week-old bruises get no one out of a math test.
"My arm feels numb, sort of tingly, and my leg is weak," he said rubbing his tingling right elbow with his left hand.
"What happened?" I asked, all the while noticing that he had good color, stood tall, spoke clearly.
"I poked my arm with my pencil," he said showing me his bicep on which there was the tiniest pink spot. He repeated, "My arm feels funny and the feeling's spreading down my leg. All on this side."
Some teachers in a situation like this say simply, "Go sit down. You're fine." Kids who make trips to the nurse for avoidance purposes are common and make teachers skeptical and impatient of complaints that come on the day of a test.
But I knew instinctively what his worry was. Despite the fact that pencil lead is not actually made from lead, kids think it is. Mike had no doubt heard many a TV account of the dangers of lead paint and the disastrous symptoms of lead poisoning. In fact he was suffering from lead poisoning at the moment in his own mind.
"Mike, pencils are not made of lead. You'll be fine." He still looked uncertain.
"But it was a mechanical pencil," he insisted. I assured him all pencils used graphite as their "lead" these days. "Lead hasn't been used for hundreds of years," I told him.
I started to explain that his symptoms were from worry, and would disappear soon, he should take a deep breath . . . but he interrupted, "I feel fine now. It went away, anyway." I'm not sure if he understood the mind/body connection.
I remember being around five and spending a Saturday morning with my father: a visit to the dump and Sylvester's Hardware store, then a stop at someone's house. I was given a cold drink and somehow swallowed an ice cube. It hurt going down and scared the daylights out of me. I figured I was doomed. I cried so hard-- gasping and inconsolable-- that my father took me home. My mother, though, understood the situation immediately.
"There's nothing to worry about," she told me. "The ice cube is probably already melted."
Calm informed logic is such magic medicine.
Today's kids don't see much of it. Consider the tease lines for the evening news:
- What's under your kitchen sink that might be making your family sick?
- What you don't know about your doctor can hurt you.
- Is your pet endangering your health?
- Are the lights in the classroom affecting your child's brain?
"So great a power is there of the soul upon the body, that whichever way the soul imagines and dreams, thither doth it lead the body."~ Agrippa, 1510