Hang on to your stomach

20th October 2000 at 01:00
MEMORIES of the primary school medical room are clouded by a haze of gentian violet, but I can remember the sweetie tin profered as an inducement to enter - one Dolly Mixture each - though whether for the polio sugar lump or something more sinister, recollection is unclear.

Outbreaks of impetigo or scabies or a visit from the nit nurse were all features of primary classroom life in the fifties, very different from the new millennium medical complaints.

Several of our staff are trained first-aiders, to be called on in an emergency, and during heavy rain last month our librarian was summoned to attend to one of the new intake. When asked what was wrong the child replied: 'The rain's washed my hair gel into my eye, and it's nipping. Could you bathe it?'

Two days later a register teacher was handed a note excusing an absence the previous day as the girl was "having her belly button dune" (sic). Quite Rubenesque those Culbin Sands of the human body.

I've always felt a touch squeamish about medical matters. Why open-heart surgery has to feature every second teatime on the telly is one of life's mysteries, and (I'm ashamed to admit it) I once fainted in a Moray House health education lecture, though for yeas I maintained that it was through boredom.

Regarding pupils, I have been relatively lucky in the classroom experience of illness, with only one epileptic fit in the dining hall in my first month of teaching. Happily, others were on hand to cope. However, a colleague who regularly forgot to take his medication for petit mal would routinely pass out in front of a class, and I got used to the arrival of pupils to say that Mr - had collapsed again.

My wife once taught in a school that used a former nurses' home as an annexe.

The old common room in which she taught had a marble mantelpiece and coal fire. (Handy for the technical staff to consign pupils' work to the flames if it was judged inadequate. There's nothing new under the sun - the birth of grate-related criteria.)

One pupil, volunteering enthusiastically to write an answer on the board (well, it was a while ago), jumped up and knocked himself unconscious.

This autumn a neighbour who works as a primary teacher scanned the annual ailments list. One entry was particularly intriguing - "If this boy's behaviour deteriorates rapidly, Valium must be administered as soon as possible, rectally".

Teaching at the sharp end, I suppose.

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