At Perkins School for the Blind, program nurses take care of the unique needs of children who are visually impaired, including those with other disabilities. Deafblind Program nurse Kami Guthrie cares for students ages 3 to 22, doing everything from taking a temperature to training teachers to intervene during medical emergencies. In this “What I do” blog, she explains how her early experiences with Perkins led to her long career at the school. This story was compiled and edited by Karen Shih.
I started working at Perkins because my son, Connor, received services at home through Perkins. He had cortical visual impairment, seizures and a lot of medical issues similar to those our students have here. I met a lot of awesome nurses while he was in the hospital and also nurses who came to our home. After he passed away in 1999, I knew I really wanted to help people the way the nurses had been there for us. I first worked at a pediatric rehabilitation hospital, but when I heard there was an opening here, I couldn’t pass it up.
I’ve been at Perkins in the Deafblind Program now for 10 years. There’s no typical day. People just flow in and out of my office, which I share with another nurse, Darlene. I come in a little before the students arrive around 9 a.m. I’ll touch base with teachers and therapists about ongoing concerns or questions. Throughout the day, we’re in and out of the classrooms to take a temperature or give medications.
At the beginning of the year, especially, we have a lot of trainings so teachers can feed students who can’t eat independently, administer EpiPens for students with severe allergies and manage student seizures, including giving medication. If we can integrate these procedures into the classroom, kids won’t have to leave and disrupt their day.
Some of our kids have had trauma around medical experiences, so we do desensitization programs. We might start by having them come in and just spend time sitting in the chair. Then we might hand them a stethoscope or thermometer to hold. Eventually, we progress to being able to do an ear exam or listen to their chest. We’ve had a lot of success with that. It’s helpful to the families because it can be a struggle for kids who have visual impairments and other disabilities to go to doctor’s appointments.
The most rewarding part of the job is seeing the effect my work has on the students. We have one little girl who gets sores on her hands and needs to have them frequently washed and dressed. At first, it was really hard to get her in here – she’d cry and wouldn’t stay. I found out she loves Minions from “Despicable Me” so I got stickers and temporary tattoos. Now she comes in five times a day and walks right over to the sink.
At Perkins, the therapists and nurses and teachers all work really closely to get a really good picture of the kids here. I work with the most amazing and dedicated people. Everyone’s here because they love their jobs and they love the kids.