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Dreher on call for smallest patients

Eben Harrell
Aspen Elementary school nurse Elise Dreher is there when students are feeling their best. With her are students, from left, Megan Woodrow, Sophie Stapleton, Lauren Darden and Leigh Sandbach. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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Teenagers with eating disorders. Kids with broken bones. Wee tots with scratches, stomach aches, sore throats.All fall under the purview of Elise Dreher. For most of the day for most of Aspen’s children, she is the guardian, in loco parentis.Dreher, the Aspen School District’s registered nurse, has a wide range of experience. She’s worked for governments, doctor’s offices and elderly homes. It’s all been put to good use, Dreher said, in her current position. As a school nurse, she has to do it all.”A good school nurse gets involved in all aspects of student life,” she said. “We’re not just here to put on Band-Aids.”

Dreher’s not exactly your stereotypical hard-nosed nurse who, unless you’re bleeding, barfing or battling a high fever, doesn’t let you miss class. She is committed to what she calls a “social-emotional” approach to students. She said she’s not a truancy officer; if a student makes repeated trips to the nurse’s office, it’s probably not as simple as a kid trying to skip out of class.”There are kids that come in frequently and whether it’s because they actually have a physical ailment it’s tough to tell,” Dreher admitted. “But if we are seeing a child often, it usually indicates that there’s something else wrong and that he or she is seeking attention for some reason.”Dreher supports the use of Ritalin and other drugs for attention deficit disorder. “Ritalin for a learning disabled student is like glasses for a shortsighted one,” she said. Part of her duties include ensuring students receive proper dosages. But she also believes a holistic approach to learning – including healthy eating and emotional well-being – is equally as crucial for student development. Dreher, who has been on the job for two years, has planned mini health seminars for students in the spring on topics such as nutrition, eating disorders and sexual education.”I’m trying to be as proactive as possible,” she said. “I consider myself a teacher as well as a nurse.”

Dreher shares an office with her assistant, health aid Candy Cerjan. It looks like any other nursing office, with all the attendant equipment: blood pressure sleeves, scales, thermometers. Only the large-type educational posters on the wall – “Understanding your Anatomy!”, “How To Blow Your Nose!” – indicate the office’s younger clientele.If a student comes into the nurse’s office, there’s not much Dreher or Cerjan can do – Colorado law prohibits them for giving out medicine, even Tylenol, without written parental and physician consent. So often a cool compress and a warm smile is all they can offer.”The students tend to remember Candy more than me,” Dreher said. “I think it’s because of her smile but also partly because her name. Candy is a name kids don’t forget.” The office is crammed with worried parents as often as sick children. Dreher said part of her job is to reassure anxious grown-ups, but that she never dismisses reports of illnesses as simply “parents being worried parents.””I am very cautious,” she said. “If a parent is worried about their child, I never assume it’s needless worrying. But I do often have to reassure parents.”

So far – and here Dreher knocks on wood – there have been no real medical emergencies since she took over, save for a few broken bones. So what’s been the hardest aspect of the job so far?”Treating lower-income students,” Dreher said without hesitation. “It’s so tough to follow through and make sure they have access to the correct services. That’s a challenge, but there’s nothing about this job I don’t like.”Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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