Not long after the 7/7 bombings here in London; schools were on high alert. It was thought that we might be an easy target for an attack and therefore pages of guidance came pouring through the post box and email inbox on how to respond to potentially dangerous situations. Safety first was the mantra. What you are doing may seem foolish but it is better to be safe than sorry.
And so, as the guidance suggested, we stockpiled bottled water in the church basement for the children to use in the event of a chemical attack. We screened the post each morning, opening letters away from our face in case anthrax had been sent. We set up a code word for use in a civil emergency which parents could to find their children
Arriving one morning for work, a teacher stopped me from entering the gates. A large sack was sat inside the fence and was obviously leaking a white powder via small puffs of wispy fingers caught up on the summer breeze. By now a small group had gathered and their eyes burned on me for a solution to the obvious question that presented itself.
I knew it wasn’t anthrax. I just knew. But the procedures that had been sent to us insisted we err on the side of caution. If in doubt, call the authorities. Don’t worry if it seems frivolous. Let the experts decide.
But alas, dear readers, nobody wants to look the fool. But the bottom line was I did not know what was in the bag. I was responsible for the 200 children who would soon be on site. The protocol was clear; I made the phone call.
Within minutes a specialist national security van had pulled up and erected a tent around the area. Half a dozen men in chemical suits skulked about the van like a scene from E.T. I was instructed by the police to stand in the middle of the road, away from everyone else. There standing in the middle of a London street, a thousand London eyes peering down from the windows, the police watched me for a full 30 minutes. “We had to check if you developed any physical symptoms,” they confided.
No great surprise that the bag contained not anthrax, but plaster. It had been fly dumped by some local tradesman who I am certain has no idea of the local emergency he caused that July morning.
Today, the Rottweiler: my nickname for the Receptionist I keep on a long chain at our school’s front desk was making the calls. The calls are phone conversations with parents of children who have been absent for more than a day. Frequent and dear readers will remember the Frank Cannon blog in which I outlined the school’s ever –increasing responsibilities to ensure children attend.
The Rotty had finished one such call this morning when she bustled into my glass box of an office; the blood drained from her face.
“There is a case of smallpox in the Nursery.”
Yes, I asked her to repeat herself too. “You mean chicken pox,” I corrected her.”No SMALLpox.”
Rotty relayed the conversation she had just completed. It seems a mother of a child spent the weekend in hospital with her daughter who had been diagnosed with Smallpox. She had spots, stiffness and generally was unwell.
“I said to her on the phone, ‘Are you sure it wasn’t Chicken Pox’? And she said no it was SmallPox,” Rotty relayed.
Four headships and I have never had a case of Small Pox in the school. Foot and Mouth, yes. Norovirus? Hell, I shut the last school for two days when 147 children caught it in less than 24 hours. But Small Pox? It was positively medieval.
The bag of plaster went through my mind. This seemed to be a repeat of the feeling. Err on the side of caution or take a chance with the lives of the children?
A quick phone call to the local Heath Authority confirmed that no one knew the procedure in such an outbreak because- uh… this was the 21st century. They suggested I called the National Health Authority for Infectious Diseases. I didn’t want to because, quite frankly, I was going to look a bit of a dick. But in my position…you get the gist, dear readers.
A very nice doctor (I think he said his name was Dr Gary) told me down the line, “Highly unlikely- the last known case in Britain was in 1979.” Dr Gary promised he would ring the child’s GP and the local hospital and get back to me.
It is 6 hours later and he still hasn’t phoned.
I am assuming it isn’t Small Pox. Just like I assumed it wasn’t anthrax. I am sure some where in this city tonight, Dr Gary and the careless plasterer are having a pint and laughing the beer out their nose at the thought I fell for it. Twice.
If you see them, tell them: I didn’t have a choice.
Keep the Faith,