Unless you have been a teacher, it might be hard to understand the beginning of this story, because when you are a high school teacher, kids fit into one of a few categories:
- The kids who are smart, work hard, are polite and respectful, turn in their homework, participate in class and care about doing well (you would think from all that you read about kids today that none exist, but they do, in large numbers);
- The kids who are smart, but don’t work hard, don’t really cause problems in class do their homework and try hard to make you like them, because they believe they are tricking you somehow;
- The kids not academically gifted, do not care about school, do nothing but attend class on most days and periodically turn in their work look bored and are bored, and fail your class; and
- The kids not academically gifted, may have economic stress at home, work harder than anyone else, are polite and respectful, find it unbelievable on most days you treat them with respect and have expectations for them, struggle with the work or concepts and lack the self-confidence to participate a lot in class without encouragement.
I have been away from teaching for 25 years now, but I can tell you two things: I really liked the kids in group 1, but I LOVED the kids in group 4. When I was a teacher, the passing grade at my school was 65. And, the kids in group 4 could benefit from something called a CIRCLE 65, which meant that if the kid was failing my class, but had done every single thing I had expected of them and every single thing I had asked of them, but just didn’t have the academic acumen, I could circle the 65 on the report card and pass them from my class. It wasn’t a gift; it was a recognition they had given it their all and I respected that and responded accordingly. I didn’t give out many CIRCLE 65s during my 7 years of teaching, so when I did, it was EARNED.
Many people expected little from those Circle 65s, but I did.
And, all these years later, although I can remember what seat she sat in in my class, I can’t remember if this kid was a Circle 65 or not, but she fit every description: she grew up in a lower middle class family, struggled her whole life with school work and barely graduated (and did so by taking a second Phys. Ed. class to get that extra credit she needed). Rather than go to college, she stayed in her hometown and got a job to pay the bills. It’s not a story that is unique.
But what Circle 65s had, that lots of other kids were lacking, was heart. And, so, as she made her way through life and went from that insecure kid to a woman, she did just what she had done all of those days in my classroom – she gave her all. She had fundraisers for cancer, or for strangers whose house burned down, and was the person her friends relied upon – always – to make them laugh, to talk them through their problems, to share tears and maybe a cold beer with….in short, to be a phenomenal human being.
After a lifetime of being overweight, two years ago, she had gastric bypass surgery. It’s a surgery known to have risks, but she saved her money up, took time off from work and had the surgery and lost a lot of weight. She was thinner than ever and to the outside world, she looked great.
She wasn’t great. The surgery caused some massive problems. Complications set in. The pain in her abdomen was unending. Feeding tubes were too painful to stay in place. A second surgeon performed surgery after surgery after surgery, but couldn’t fix the problem. She was left unable to eat more than a few morsels and had to force herself to do even that.
Being fat was no longer an option.
And, eventually, neither was being thin.
After months of not eating more than a few mouthfuls, unbearable abdominal pain and constantly fighting just to stay alive, they stopped all fluids this week, she moved back home and they called in Hospice.
As an attorney, I ask myself a lot of questions:
- Even though there are known complications from gastric bypass surgery, was there malpractice by the surgeon?
- Could some other doctor have recognized the complications sooner and changed this woman’s course?
- Is the law in New York – where she lives – the same as it is in Florida, where if you die because of someone’s malpractice, but you are an unmarried individual without children, that the state legislature and current statutes view your life as worthless and no one can sue on their behalf and people like that are what is callously referred to as a “free kill” for doctors?
All I know is that I sure hope someone asks these questions on her behalf.
Facebook – our means of staying in touch over many years and many miles, is full of heartfelt tributes to this woman, explaining how much of an impact her kindness and her life has had on so many.
As a human being, I ask myself even more questions: what is fair about all of this and how could one of “my students,” someone with such a kind and giving heart, be barely clinging to life?
So, as life has come unexpectedly, and sadly, full circle, as her former teacher I say, “You’ve lived a well-earned 100 kind of life.”
Just like I always expected.