By Brittany Anderson
My kindergarten class was the biggest room in the school at the time in Charter Oak Elementary School. It was the only room with a bathroom, full kitchen, drinking fountain, fireplace that wasn’t being used, and fountain that stop being used. I loved the room. It had huge windows through which I could look directly at the playground. There was a reading section with an old couch near the fireplace. The coloring section had tables. It was also the painting section that was near the windows, but also near the bathroom to wash your hands. The biggest section of the room was where we all sat on the carpet. The whole class could fit in this section unlike the rest of the room. In this section there was a big mobile dry erase board. Mrs. Small often sat in a chair alongside of that board and taught the class.
Kindergarten is when I realized I wasn’t normal. I always have to drink lots of water and my mom made a big deal about me being cold. I still have the memory of my kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Small is an older Caucasian woman. She had short fluffy white hair, a round face, and blue eyes. She was very soft spoken, even when she seemed to be yelling or upset her voice was still soft. I still remember her bringing me to fill up my green cup with water and making me drink. I remember missing school for a whole month because I was sick. I realized I wasn’t normal when my whole kindergarten class made me get well cards. I loved them, but I felt so sad because I missed my classmates and school so much that I looked at the cards every day for a week until I was able to go back to school.
My experience through school with sickle cell anemia has been very difficult. Sickle cell anemia is a chronic blood disorder. My blood cells are not all normal some are shaped like sickles (like the grim reaper’s sword). Regular blood cells or hemoglobin are shaped like full donuts.
Regular hemoglobin carry more oxygen throughout the blood. Sickle cells don’t carry enough oxygen through the blood because of their odd shape. The sickle shaped cells also clog blood vessels causing lots of pain. The regular human body reproduces blood cells every two to three weeks. I reproduce blood cells every 2 to 3 months. If I am under a lot of stress or overactive, I produce more sickle cells than regular cells. There are a lot of side effects and risks with this disease. Some of the major side effects are having asthma, joint problems, enlarged spleen, and lots more I don’t like to think about. Sickle cell has taken a lot of my time from school. From week stays at the hospital to lots of doctor appointments, I have missed a lot of school.
Throughout my school career I always played my own game of “Ketchup.” I call it “ketchup” instead of catch-up because I hate the condiment ketchup. Playing this game affected my reading and writing because I would miss lessons that were essential for these skills. For example, I would get sick and be in the hospital for a week in a half. When I was in high school, “Ketchup” became a hard game to play with 5 classes. Ketchup was hard for me because I am not a fast learner and I was having to cram a lot of information in my head all in a matter of a week of being back in school. I was always in special education and in homework center all the way up until high school.
Reading seminar was a smaller English class that was introduced to the middle schoolers in special ed when I was in 7th grade. This class helped me a lot in the short two years of me taking it. It helped my ability to read out loud. Before this class popcorn reading (student chooses who reads next) was a fear for me because my reading out loud was terrible. In this class we learned every hidden trick to learn vocab, writing, and reading.
Eighth grade was my best year in school. I had a 3.00 G.P.A for the first half of the year. I got an award for social studies at the end of the year for maintaining all A’s in Mr. Latizia’s social studies class. I was doing really well in Ms. Maher’s English class “Reading Seminar” maintaining all A’s for 3 quarters of the year. Ms. Maher was my special education teacher at the time. She was about 5’6 and very skinny. She had a loud outspoken voice and a loud laugh. Her hair was brown and cut short in a bob. Ms. Maher wore a sweater every day because she always complained of being cold. She often spoke of her cooking being terrible.
Ms. Maher decided to put me in a Standard English class with a teacher that I felt didn’t like me and failed me in the last quarter. This caused me to lose the chance of having honors for the entire year. This was my best year in school because I stayed after school every day and worked hard to get the grade I wanted. Even though I missed school at least once or twice every month.
When I got to high school, it was the ultimate struggle because up to this point in my school career I never finished a book. I never had to finish a book because of my previous English class we focused more on reading and vocab skills. In my English class we had to finish books in order to write papers. There was no way to get around reading books for my classes. My freshman year was terrible because I had a hard time adjusting to the new rules. I also had to switch my special education teacher. I did terrible in school and I barely passed classes my first semester. My second semester was the biggest mistake I have ever made that affected my high school career. The second semester I only took three classes. In the long run this was an issue when it came to me graduating because during the time of me having 3 free periods a day I should have been taking an elective class for credit.
Sophomore year, I know I have an illness but I was doing everything in my power to not get sick. For example, I started to wear lots more sweaters to prevent being cold and yet I still would feel pain. This was the year I had my first blood transfusion. I get sick often but this was the first time I actually was in fear for my life. A regular person’s blood count is around 15 or higher. My average blood count is 8 or higher. This hospital stay I had that fall was for 2 weeks and at one point my blood count had dropped to 3. I just remember being extremely cold. I had about four blankets on me and the heat in my room at 70 degrees. My monitor wouldn’t stop beeping and I yelled at my nurse not to pull my arms out from under my blankets because I was cold and then I went to sleep.
Sophomore year was a little bit better than freshman year academically. For example my best class this year was social studies. This class was with Dr. Wilson, “African American Experience.” In this class our textbook was at college level and she gave us a syllabus and treated us like college students. I might not have gotten all A’s in this class but my writing did develop because of a research paper that I spent a lot of time on with her during my free period.
Junior year I still missed a lot of school but I started utilizing my resources to get my work done. The most important way I did this was by staying after every day, so I could meet with Ms. Maher in homework center. We developed an effective method to do my work. I would do geometry homework while she would read the books to me I was doing is English. This was a great method for me because we would stop and talk about what she read to me, summarize, and get my math done at the same time.
Senior year was a disaster. I had chemistry, algebra II and a special English class. I had failed and dropped these three classes because of my illness causing me to miss time from school. I missed so much school and it was very hard for me to keep up with the material. Both my chemistry and algebra II teachers hated me. Every time I tried to get help from these teachers outside of class, one told me she had track practice and the other told me that she had to take care of a nine year old. I never felt so much frustration about going to school ever. For example, one day I was feeling sick. Sometimes when I get sick my vision gets blurry. This day I had come to algebra late with a pass from the nurse and when I realized I couldn’t see well I asked to get a pass to my locker to get my glasses. My teacher gave me a smart remark and I screamed at her and told her I have no control over my health. This was the first time I ever screamed at a teacher, but I was not sent to the office because she knew she was wrong.
My health was terrible my second semester senior year. I had no solution to stop having a crisis. So in February my doctors and I decided my only solution was to have blood transfusions every six weeks to prevent the pain. This helped and I still till this day have the same routines. After not getting the three credits that I needed the first semester, I began to scramble. In order to graduate I needed to take seven classes. Each day my brain was fried. I took two business maths, child development, English, an online course, and an independent study. There wasn’t a day I went without crying. I didn’t get to walk across the stage at the time because I failed my own independent study due to poor time management. I had to do another online class because I refused to come back to school for another semester and I had to wait a whole year to walk across the stage.
The most important thing I have taken from this experience is that sometimes I have to work ten times harder than the average person. Another thing that I learned is that not everyone is going to understand me when it comes to my illness and missing time from school. The last thing I have gained through this is my determination to never give up or feel defeated.
Course: ENG 095 Basic Writing and Reading Strategies
Assignment: Literacy Narrative
Instructor: Kevin Lamkins
Instructor comments: Brittany uses a tremendous amount of description to show the impact of her health on her schooling, as well as the imagery of the places and people around her. A great story of persistence.
Photo credit: “Heinz Ketchup” by Mike Mozart. Licensed through Creative Commons.