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Houston Asthma Walk: Principal Poor Intentions

March 23, 2005

My doctor’s name was Dr. Grossman, an unfortunate misnomer if ever there was one.  He made me laugh on our visits, though I hated going to him for the yearly physical.  I saw a lot of him in the three years between the first attack and the time my parents moved away from that neighborhood due to issues with the school district, mostly having to do with their belief that a 300 pound kid was justified in beating up my 100 pound sister because she slapped him away while he was beating on her.  But that’s a story for another day.

Dr. Grossman’s idea of testing me for asthma was simple.  “Take her downstairs and have her run around the building for a little while.  See if she starts wheezing.”  I soon learned that making me have an asthma attack for “testing purposes” was going to be a trend with my doctors.

Mom took me downstairs.  It was cold that day, it being Texas and prone to mood swings.  I ran in my powder blue jacket, which used to belong to my sister and therefore was a little too big for me.  Sadly, it didn’t take very long.  Mom was in a little bit of shock, I think.  She later told me that the call from the school nurse had been a surprise.  My parents’ habit of teaching good manners like “Don’t run in the house” meant that they had never heard me have an attack.  Dr. Grossman’s response was the typical one for him.  Very easy going and laid back, he simply said “Yup.  She’s got asthma,” and prescribed an emergency inhaler.  I got two.  One to keep in my desk at school, and one to keep in my fanny pack.  I was a bit of a tomboy and loathed carrying a purse.  You’re terribly surprised, I’m sure.

The administration at my elementary school didn’t like me carrying my medication around.  When the nurse insisted that I leave my medication in her office, I quickly displayed my growing talent for smarting off which my father was making greats strides in teaching me.  “What am I supposed to do if I have an asthma attack?  Get up, walk across the PE field, across the playground, across the school, and come in to take my medication?”  She either didn’t like being smarted off to by a 3rd grader, or she didn’t understand sarcasm.  She answered “Yes.”  I left one of my inhalers with her.  My parents bought another to replace it.

My PE teachers weren’t much better.  For some reason the idea that the kid who always managed to complete the mile run with an A now couldn’t meant I was lazy.  I got a lot of failing grades in the exercise tests.  Sit-ups, pull-ups, crunches, push-ups, running, you name it, I’ve probably gotten an F in it.  By junior high, the teachers had figured out that I didn’t give a damn about my grades, because having an asthma attack was a hell of a lot more painful than getting an F.  By this time, the Americans with Disabilities Act had been in effect for a few years, and school districts were getting the clue that they couldn’t fail asthmatics for being physically unable to complete their tests.

Mostly, my teachers didn’t care.  They all knew that I had the medication, where I kept it, and what to do in case of an attack.  For a few years, even the principal let the whole thing slide.  There was an inhaler in the nurse’s office with my name on it, and that’s all that needed to be done about it.  My fifth grade year, however, that all changed.  There was a new nurse, a new counselor, and a new principal.  The pressure increased slightly for me to give over the inhaler in my purse.  Every now and then, I would get “talked to” about giving up the medication.  But my father had insisted that I didn’t have to give up the medication.  Dad was good for things like that.  I think that one of the things that kept me out of fights at that age was the ability to tell the other kid that my father had given me permission to hit back and have the other kid see that I was telling the truth.  My father had given me permission to be a stubborn little brat, and the principal could see that I meant it.

It all came to a head on the second to last day of school.  I don’t know why the principal decided that this would be a good day to do anything, since she had let the thing slide all year long.  It was 5th grade, I was only going to be at that school for a few more days, one of which was only going to be a half day.  Which was perhaps why she chose it.  She finally had something to hold over my head.  The last day of school for the 5th graders was a luau.  The 5th grade class spent most of the last 6 weeks learning about the state of Hawaii and all the students who had good attendance and good grades got to go to the luau.  It was a tradition, a prize carrot to dangle in front of the students and get them through the year.  I hear they cancelled it not long after we moved.  So much for the reward system.

I was called down to the principal’s office after lunch.  I hadn’t done anything wrong recently, so I couldn’t imagine why she wanted to see me.  She sat me down and told me that I wasn’t allowed to go back to class until I gave her my inhaler.  And if I didn’t give it to her by the end of the day, I wasn’t allowed to go to the luau the next day.  I refused.  We sat there for about an hour, with her trying to convince me to give over the inhaler and me refusing, before she changed tactics.

To this day, I still don’t know why she thought that calling my father was going to be of any help.  She knew that my father was the one who had told me not to give over my medication.  She had a brief talk with my father, apparently trying to convince him that it was school policy and that by encouraging me to keep the medication, he was forcing her to deny me privileges.  My father asked to speak to me.  I took the phone.  “Don’t give it to her.”

“Okay.”  I passed the phone back to her.  “My dad says I don’t have to give it to you.”

She was probably not very pleased with my father but decided to try one more time.  She called my mother.  She went through the same song and dance with my mother, and then handed me the phone.

“Do you still have an inhaler in your desk?”


“Give her the one in your purse.”


I handed the phone back, handed the mostly used inhaler over to the triumphant principal, and went back to class.  Mom, ever the diplomat, had given the school system a victory as empty as the inhaler they had been willing to fight so hard over.

Tomorrow:  Just Because You’re a Doctor….

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