Janet Carter works at PS 107 in Flushing, Queens, where she provides vital support for students, including those with special medical needs.
Why is it important to have a school nurse in the building?
When I started working at PS 107 15 years ago, I encountered only one child who had a peanut allergy and needed an EpiPen on hand in case he was exposed to nuts and had a severe reaction. He was an anomaly. Now, with the recent explosion of children with peanut allergies, we have about 25 children in our school with EpiPens. We also have many asthmatic students who need an inhaler. If there wasn’t a nurse to help them and give them their medications when they are short of breath, it could be deadly. I care for students who are diabetic; every day, prior to eating, they have to come to my room and bring what they will be eating so I can look it up, see the number of carbs and figure out how much insulin to administer. If a diabetic student has gym, I check the student’s insulin level beforehand, so he doesn’t have a hypoglycemic incident and pass out.
What’s the most dramatic situation you’ve had to deal with?
When I was new to the school, I saw a child I had never seen before, a girl who was not one of my regular kids. I felt something was not right with her, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Her pupils were dilated, then would go back to normal, then dilate again. A staff member offered to drive her home. I said OK, but I wasn’t sure so I called a more experienced nurse who was serving as my mentor and described the situation to her. She said, “Follow your gut.” My gut said something was seriously wrong so I ran to the elevator to say, “I’m going to call 911.” Just as I got to them, the child had a massive seizure. We got the emergency responders there and she was ultimately fine, but it was pretty traumatic for me.
You treat a lot of children with special needs and chronic illnesses. How do you approach that work?
I love interacting with the kids on a daily basis and listening to their stories. It just makes my day. I listen to them on their level, smile and laugh with them and always explain what I’m going to do before I do it. I’m very patient with children and develop a good rapport with them. The mother of one of my former students with severe seizures just sent me a photo of him — he’s 13 now — sitting up and alert. She credits a lot of that to me helping him at a critical stage. She said, “You took care of him, that’s a big part of why he is as well as he is now.” That really touched me.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I have a child with diabetes that I see twice or three times a day. On a regular day, I see anywhere from 12 to 15 children who I give medications to or give catheterizations to because they have spina bifida. Then there are others who walk in because they got hurt on the playground or have a stomach ache or a fever, or are coughing, or just threw up — those are in addition to my regular cases.
What are the biggest challenges you face on the job?
I can have a line of four or five children sitting outside my door at the same time that a child needs his or her catheterization. The children on line may not have serious injuries, but to them, it is serious. Thank goodness for the triage skills I learned when I was a nurse in the ER. But sometimes there just is not enough of me to go around. The paperwork can be a challenge, too: I have to enter each case into the computer and send a form to the parents. Sometimes I need to talk to a child’s parents but they don’t speak English and I have to find an interpreter. Luckily I have good relationships with a lot of the staff, and they will interpret for me, whether it’s Chinese or Spanish or Bengali.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
Every year we have a Special Olympics in this school, and we take the children to Hofstra University for three days in June. They compete in wheelchair races, swimming. For many students, it’s the first time away from home. I serve as the nurse for this event, giving medications, doing catheterizations. It’s a lot of work. I’m the nurse for 24 hours around the clock, but I always look forward to it. It’s a great thing to see their faces. They feel so grown up having this slumber party with their classmates.
— As told to reporter Cara Metz