Thursday, May 1, 2008

This Is a True Story

I had to be an adult last night.  Which I hate.

It's the last week of classes, and I've really been looking forward to ending film class, because my students created these really amazing film projects, and I was feeling proud of them and of my self for pulling it all together.  All the students (and some of their friends) met last night, in an auditorium, to share their projects with one another and to say goodbye.  I thought it was a pretty special moment, and was feeling touched and pleased by the students' commitments to their projects and to one another.

Of course, it was not a perfect night.  Oh, no.  Because one of my students, I discovered at the end of class, decided to come to class completely wasted.  He and his team had completed their film on--get this--binge drinking at our university, and I suppose he took the opportunity to do some extra research before class.  His team presented early on, and though I vaguely noticed they were all a little pink-cheeked, there were no great warning signs.  No beer breath, no slurring, no weaving.  They all seemed fine.

Well, three of them were fine.  By the time class was over and everyone else had filed out, one student in the binge drinking group had passed out and was vomiting on himself.  In the back of my classroom.

Remember when I posted a long time ago about how I kind of freak out in situations where I know I'm supposed to take some course of action, but can't decide on which one?  Like when one of the cats brings a half-dead mouse into the house and I'm supposed to decide if I should kill it and put it out of its misery, or pretend it doesn't exist and let the cats just torture it to death, or let it outdoors to just die painfully by itself?  Or like when I'm in a toy store and am supposed to buy a gift but there is so much color and plastic and light and I just end up in a panic attack?

Right.  Last night was like that.  I really would have liked to pretend I didn't see anything, that I didn't see these four boys in the back of the room, three of them holding the fourth's head up so that he didn't fall over and give himself a concussion.  But I did see it, and as the adult in the situation, had to choose some course of action.  There was no space for panic attacks.  They weren't an option.  I had to do something.

But not immediately.  I sort of hung out in the back of the room for a few minutes, even though these boys were saying they would take care of it and I could go.  "No," I said, "I have to make sure you guys leave the room.  Can you get him out of here?"  That was my initial lame defense, that I didn't want to leave a puking, unconscious kid in one of our nice, smart classrooms.  That I would get in trouble.

So, they hauled his limp body outside on to the grass, and a few things quickly became clear:

1)  The three mostly sober kids didn't really know the drunk kid outside of class.  He had been drinking all day, long before he met up with them, so they had no idea whether he usually drank that much, or if he had taken anything else.  So there was no way of knowing if this was something he did a lot (and therefore not so much cause for concern) or something he never did (which meant his body might be experience an unusual shock, which is worth a lot of concern).

2)  Though they were indicating otherwise, these kids really were waiting for me to make some sort of decision, whether it was to tell them to pull a car around and haul the kid off or to call campus security.  They needed an adult to intervene, and I was, as the person of authority, that adult.  Which means I'm no longer cool.  But whatever.  That's beside the point.  I haven't been cool for a long time (and maybe never was).

3)  I was having multiple and contradictory reactions to the event:  I was annoyed that this kid would do this in my class on such a special night; I was terrified for him in a strongly, weirdly maternal way; I was strangely disconnected at the weird irony of it all; I was resentful at being made the adult.  Once I had a moment to parse through all this and figure out what was going on, I called campus security, who called an ambulance, which took the kid away.

I have no idea if he is okay today.  I assume he is.  I assume I was overly cautious in having the ambulance come.  But in this instance, being adult meant making a decision that erred on the side of caution.  This was a useful experience to go through.  I think I'm probably better for it.  I think I might react differently next time I'm confronted with a mouse-in-the-house-type dilemma.  Maybe I won't have a panic attack.  But I still wish that kid hadn't puked and passed out in my class.


  1. Oh, Man, does that sIZuck! Clearly, that kid was crying out for help through his project, and his behavior is, to me, an indicator that you absolutely did the right thing, adult or not. The extremity of the ambulance might give him a chance to realize he has a serious problem (so a follow up email about said problem from you would also not be undue diligence). Maybe he'll be forced to get some help.

    I hear you about the annoying "adult" thing, though. It sucks to realize that the distance between us and our students is growing every year and that somewhere along the line we ended up on the side of adult (except, of course, at our own parties where we act like ridiculous teenagers). I resent finding myself in the position of scolding. It's probably only going to get worse though, like when we find ourselves using identical phrases to those our parents used on us. Still better than puking in a classroom in front of everyone.

  2. Jen--I'm not sure how your blog ended up in my favorites list--I think I saw it in a list of favorites on some other blog and maybe I read one post long ago. For whatever reason, I click on the link this afternoon and read your post about the drunk student. While it was a different set of circumstances, 3 years ago my nephew was the drunk student passed out and being assisted by friends.

    Fortunately for him, an adult was closing up the exercise facility on campus at 11:30 that night and she spotted two kids dragging/carrying another kid towards the dorm. It was late, the situation seemed under control, but she decided to be the adult and she went to find out exactly what was going on. The two kids had left my nephew in his dorm room to sleep it off, but the adult called security and security called an ambulance. At the hospital they discovered an extremely high alcohol level and they had to pump my nephew's stomach. We can never know for sure, but that adult might have saved a life that evening--as you might have with the film student.

    Thank you for doing the right thing when it would have been easy to pass along the responsibility to 3 who weren't equipped for the challenge.

    Frank--Jackson, MS