Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Neck Full of Stitches

As I was driving to work Monday morning I still hadn't decided what to tell the class about the stitches on my neck.

My neck hurt.

I had undergone outpatient surgery the previous Thursday to excise a basal cell carcinoma, and the resulting 3+ inch incision was longer and more visible than I liked. (Under the doctor's direction the wound is open to the air and covered in a glistening antibiotic ointment, shining without shame.)

I didn't want my stitches to scare my students. And, if possible, I wanted to say something that would help them avoid my path to the pathologist.

Halfway to school, my mind went back 15 years to a time when my daughter and son were little. I remembered our skirmishes in the sunscreen wars. I could see their reproachful faces looking up when I slathered sunscreen on their shoulders.

That's when it came to me: I'd tell my students to listen to their caregivers and comply when asked to wear sunscreen.

I like to begin by telling stories from my youth. (Note to teachers: students love to hear stories of your childhood. Tell them.)

My family would take vacations in Southern California near Newport Beach. We'd bob all day on inner tubes between the piers in Newport Harbor and look out into the main channel to watch the rich float by on yachts.

I got sunburns bad enough to blister my shoulders. This was a time when words like "sunscreen," "sunblock," and "SPF" had yet to been coined. A time when there were 3 channels on TV and 2 suntan lotions, Sea 'n Ski and Coppertone. A time when lotions weren't worn to prevent sunburns, but to promote tanning. I suppose today those products would be rated SPF 0. Or maybe SPF +4.

I told the kindergarten about my sunburns. I told them about not always wearing sunscreen myself. I told them that now I was sorry. The doctor found some skin on my neck that had to go. I told them that I wished I had listening to my mom and worn sunscreen.

My little talk went well.

I ended with a flourish by showing them the stitches my neck and admonishing them to listen to their parents and wear that sunscreen.


Because teaching kindergarten is an art, and not a science, I'm now wondering if I didn't overdo it.

It's occured to me that kids demanding to wear sunscreen might be just as big a problem as kids refusing to do so.

Feedback from my readers is hereby solicited.

(Note: at the time of my little talk Monday I did not know that I would be back in the operating room in a matter of hours to have more cancer removed; I thought I was safely past that possibility. I just got word that the second operation was a success. And so now, with a more ghastly looking wound, my job is to rest and heal. I expect to be back on the cajon again, stitches removed, next Tuesday.)


lisajeanne said...

Heal quickly. You are missed!!!
Thank you for turning this difficult situation into a excellent teaching moment. Hope all is well and the cancer is all gone, that dang cancer.
Looking forward to seeing you back at school on Tuesday.
P.S. If my babies demand to slather on suncreen, I wont be mad at you I promise.

culmom37 said...

I can second the fact that you definitely did NOT overdue it. I am so happy that my children do not fight me when I put sunblock on...not that they would really have a choice in the matter! I was not so smart when I was a child and can still remember baking in the sun for HOURS as a teenager just to get that perfect tan...eek...if I could just go back in time.

I am very pleased that you turned this awful experience into a wonderful teaching lesson. I could not figure out why there was a sunscreen picture on the door Monday in the middle of February! How it all makes sense now!

We miss you dearly and look forward to your return. Be a good patient and rest up. Thank you for sharing your story.

dingo said...

Dear Mr. Dan,

Get well soon!

Dan Gurney, Mr. Kindergarten said...

Thank you, all. I'm resting and recuperating as best I can. I miss kindergarten, and look forward to getting back to school