Can I Sit with You?

School Nurse
December 18, 2007, 6:55 am
Filed under: Canada, elementary school, kindness, self esteem, stories

Ken Putnam
Fourth Grade

In 1959, I was in grade four at Brentwood Park Elementary School in Burnaby, British Columbia. I was not a bright student; far from it. One day, while I was trying my best to avoid a question from the teacher, the PA system came on. It was the school secretary, summoning me to the nurse’s office. The school nurse was a nice lady, and since I did not feel sick and other kids got called to see the nurse all the time, I was not at all concerned.

When I knocked on the nurse’s door, a male voice said, “Come in.” I went in, and was met by a really old man — probably around forty years old — who introduced himself as Doctor Someone. The good doctor wore a light scruffy beard, thick glasses with large black rims, a plaid sports jacket, and of course a tie. On the desk was a pipe, because this was back when most adults smoked just about everywhere.

The doctor asked me some questions: “Ken, do you have brothers and sisters?” “Where do you live?” What’s your favorite colour?” “Do you have a pet?” I answered all the questions to the best of my grade four ability and was feeling pretty good about the whole deal. At least here I could get some answers right, not like in the classroom.

Then he hit me with the big one: “Ken, I’m going to give you some coloured pencils and I would like you to draw me a picture of a man.” I began to panic. Fear froze me. I couldn’t draw a straight line, let alone a picture of a man. He told me he was going to leave the room and come back in about 10 minutes. He left. I wanted to jump out the window. I had no idea why this guy wanted me to draw a picture of a man. What had I done? Why was this happening to me?

I did know one thing: the results of my artistic endeavors were going to be very very important to my future. A pass or fail on my drawing would no doubt be the catalyst for something great or terrible. I picked up the green pencil, then the red, followed by blue and yellow. My brush-cut head was wet from sweat, and my fingers sore from squeezing the pencil so hard. My little brain was roaring at 1000 MPH.

The door opened and back in came the doctor: “Well, how did we make out, Ken?”

“Okay, I guess,” I said, and I handed him my picture. A slow smile came across his face and then a soft chuckle. He put down the picture, looked me eye and said, “You know Ken, I don’t think there is anything wrong with you at all, you’re going to be just fine.”

The doctor was right. I’m 58 years old now. In 2005 I retired after 34 years with the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] and now work for Yukon Department of Justice. And the picture? Well, I drew the Doctor: complete with his pipe, plaid jacket, glasses, and beard.


2 Comments so far
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As someone who was born MUCH later…. why did they have you drawing a picture of a man in the office? Was this a normal thing?

Comment by startlingmoniker

This is such a special story because it shows how much kids do remember from childhood, including times of stress and memories of kindness. I’m so glad the doctor was nice to you, and that you were able to work through the challengs of drawing the picture.

I worked in my son’s kindergarten class all last year and there were a couple of kids who clearly had issues. The teacher had no patience with them and often yelled at them, and I found myself trying to be more loving toward them in an effort to counterbalance the teacher’s treatment of them. Those kids moved away or transferred out, and I hope they find kindness as they progress through the school system. They will need it.

Comment by B.E.C.K.

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