Swine Flu Frontline: School Nurses

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Today veteran nurse Toni McCallum is dealing with a wheezing student.
“We had to run laps and while I was running I had trouble breathing.”'

He came into her office at the Eugene Padan Elementary School just after lunch. She picks up her stethoscope and listens to his lungs….like she’s done with students hundreds of times before.
“So running made it a lot worse for you today? Alright let’s take a deep breath…”
But during this flu pandemic she says her role as a school nurse is changing.
“A lot of times folks have an image of us in an office putting on Band-Aids, I haven’t touched a Band-Aid in a couple of months.”
Instead McCallum’s working around the clock as a swine flu myth-buster.
“I get a lot of old wives tale questions like if I set onions out around my house will that help, there’s a lot of talk right now about using Neti Pots and gargling with salt water and will that suffice rather than getting the vaccine?”

And it’s not just misinformation in the community that she’s dealing with. Just today she got an e-mail from the Solano County Public Health Department announcing new H1N1 vaccines were here. She immediately saw a problem in the message - it was targeting two high-risk groups, pregnant women and asthmatics. But the newly arrived vaccines are in flu-mist form which is not approved for asthmatics or pregnant women. Right away McCallum is on the phone with the health department.
“Do you think we should put out another staff e-mail and clarify if you have asthma or if you're pregnant you can’t receive the flu mist and just kind of clarify who would be first in line for flu mist, in other words kids?”
On top of this, she says some parents are suggesting their own ideas to protect students. Like one who’s publicly calling for all children to wear gloves and masks at school. She says this is not a practical suggestion but she understands where it’s coming from. Last week a first-grade student with a confirmed case of swine flu died. The student’s school, Browns Valley Elementary, was then shut down for two days.
“Obviously the death in our community has caused more of a panic than I think other school districts have had to experience and I fully understand that, we are all very saddened by that death. This isn’t anything new that people are dying from a flu virus, it’s just the demographic group has changed and more children are being affected.”
Since children are at high risk many parents are turning to McCallum for advice.  Sabrina Valdivia has two children at Eugene Padan Elementary and she believes the school nurse is critical right now. She says it’s easier to see McCallum than get advice from her health plan, Kaiser Permanente.
“With everything that’s going on with all the parents and everything, and everybody is calling in as soon as the kids get sick, you’re in line for a long period of time with Kaiser Advice, so if you’re able to utilize another source, and utilizing the nurse here on campus, you know, that’s what I would do first.”

And although this can mean a lot of extra hours, McCallum says stepping up during a flu pandemic is exactly what a school nurse is supposed to do.