Thursday, January 19, 2012

Today I Learned a Valuable Lesson

In teacher's college they were clear about it:  in your years of teaching, you will make mistakes.  You are human, and you have a lot to organize every day, you have many small children in your care, you will make mistakes.  You will make them, but then you will beat yourself up about them and you WILL learn from them.

I made a mistake today, and I think I've learned a valuable lesson that hopefully I'll remember for the duration of my teaching career: parents make mistakes too, and I am not to trust them blindly when it comes to even their own children's medications.  Triple check, triple check, triple check.

Today we had a field trip.  I am very diligent about field trips.  I send an early note that a field trip is coming, I send the permission form, and the week of the field trip I send home important reminders about what the parents need to make sure their children have with them for the day.  I also write an additional reminder in the agenda the day before, and give continuous reminders to my students so they can also be responsible about the trip.

I'm also very, very, very, extremely diligent at all times about my students with allergies who need to carry an epi-pen on them.  If you saw my tweets today, you know where this post is going.

The place we went to today has a policy that the children need to have TWO epi-pens with them.  These epi-pens cannot be expired - go figure!  At school, our students have to wear an epi-pen on them at all times, and we have a second epi-pen stored in our office in a secure location.  For this field trip, we usually just go grab the second epi-pen from the office to bring with us.  I have three students with epi-pens, one with major food allergies to multiple things and two other kids who are allergic to nuts (and they'd have to ingest them to react). I'd like to state right here right now, we were not on any trip that involved food (not a farm, not a grocery store,  etc).  The only food these kids would touch would be their own snacks and lunch, the same as their exposure at school (and "nut-free" is drilled for us, it's school policy and field trip policy, and all parents I've worked with so far are really good about keeping all lunches nut-free).

For one of my students, I noticed that his two epi-pens have a January 2012 expiry.  I had written home requesting updated epi-pens earlier this week, because I had a fear that this might be cutting it close to the expiry (do people literally wait until February 1st to say it's expired, or does that mean they'd consider it expired as of January 1st? I wasn't sure.).  When he arrived at school today, he said, "My mom sent me another epi-pen!".   Oh good, I thought.  So I took one of the Jan 2012 ones (and hoped for the best), and the "new" one from home.

My other two students came in this morning with two epi-pens on their person, from home.  I was impressed, but one of their parents is a teacher so she must have remembered he needed two for this field trip location and the other girl has an older brother and typically "with it" parents.  I took their pouches from them to carry myself to the field trip location, and all I did was ensure that yes, there were two epi-pens there.

Did I check the expiry dates of these epi-pens that the kids brought directly from home this morning?


HA. HA HA HA.  OOPS!  I blindly trusted that parents weren't sending their children, with life-threatening allergies, with expired epi-pens.  In fact, it was not until after the fact that I even realized I should have looked, I honestly didn't even think of it, I was just happy to see they had two epi-pens each.


So, we get to the field trip location.  The lady asks me for any epi-pens for the kids who have them.  I pull them out of my bag, already organized in little plastic baggies I labelled with their names.  I'm so organized and so careful with the medications, I take it very seriously, is what I'm feeling in that moment.

She pulls out the first boy's epi-pens (the boy whose mom is a teacher).  They are fine, free and clear, perfect.

The other two kids?   The one boy, she accepts the January 2012 epi-pen... and then says that the other one has a 2010 expiry date (the "new" epi-pen he brought from home that morning).  The little girl?  One epi-pen is fine, and the other?  A November 2011 expiry date.

I'm embarrassed.  So, so embarrassed.  I had to call my school, and the options are: someone brings these students up-to-date second epi-pens, or someone picks them up and takes them away from the field trip.  My secretary at school had to figure out two more epi-pens, and then our head caretaker drove them out to us.  I had to stay inside for the first half of the field trip with those two students, because without two epi-pens, they aren't allowed to participate (it did not matter that they each had one that wasn't expired - all they would typically ever carry with them while out in the world, or that I even made sure to bring their benadryl and everything else, or that they'd have to ingest peanuts in the first place to need the medication and we were no where near food.... no two epi-pens?  No participation.)

Eventually the second epi-pens arrived, and the kids could join back in.  We had a good afternoon (despite one other kid not having a LUNCH with them -- even though I'd asked at the school for everyone to make sure they had a lunch, she never spoke up... fortunately she had more snacks in her bag, so she had to make do -- honestly?  NO LUNCH?!).  I had a hard time shaking the embarrassment and frustration and worry that the day began with.

However, I am only human, and I made a mistake.  I learned my valuable lesson.  I will probably NEVER FORGET to triple check expiry dates on epi-pens.  I really have to remember to "do it all" for my twenty students, I unfortunately cannot even rely on the parents*.

* I'd like to add, this is not a slam against all parents, do not be offended please... I do recognize that we all make mistakes, it's just really embarrassing and challenging at times when this sort of thing happens, and for the most part the parent will never know that I went through this much emotional stuff over their mistake.  If you're a parent, instead of being offended by this post... maybe just try to help your teachers out...please never send an expired medication with your child, it causes a lot of drama on field trips**.

**This is one reason we only plan one or two field trips in an entire school year.  THE DRAMA!!!!!  THE STRESS!!!1!1!


  1. Sounds stressful, I can't imagine the worry over that many kids!

  2. Oh my goodness! I was stressed out FOR YOU just reading this post! :( Serious allergies really scare me. Our niece is allergic to almost EVERYTHING and we have to be so careful with her. She's allergic to gluten (she's Celiac), lactose, nuts (ALL nuts...even coconut! Who knew?!), soy, some fruits and some veg.

  3. Oh! I HATED taking the kids on field trips - I never would sleep the night before and I was a stress case (a calm on, but still) the whole time we were gone.

    Oh dear - I'm so sorry this happened to you!

  4. Oh wow, that does sound a bit stressful, it's stressful enough to worry about your own kiddies and if they have any allergies and such, but to worry about 20 kids, holy, hats off to you!

  5. Wow...I never even thought about all of the extra burden that teachers have to carry when it comes to students with allergies. I've always said that we are very fortunate that our girls aren't allergic to anything. Even so, as a parent, I couldn't imagine holding on to any medication that is expired. I don't even do it with cough syrup.

    Good for you for remaining calm and handling the situation so well!

  6. Allergies are so scary. I'm so sorry you had such a crappy day!!


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