The Stomach Ache


Image courtesy of arztsamui

The vaguest symptom in the history of symptoms.  The classic.  The stomach ache.

Any day of the week, any month of the year, the most popular complaint that lands kids in the nurse’s office is the stomach ache.  This symptom can be caused by a vast assortment of reasons, and the school nurse has to gets to play detective to discover the cause of the tummy trouble on a case-by-case basis.  I’ve found that asking this one question can shed a lot of light on the subject:  “Why do you think your stomach hurts?”

  • “Because I didn’t eat breakfast.” (Break out the Saltines)
  • “Because I ate Taki’s for snack.”  (Heartburn City)
  • “Because I ate too much at lunch.” (Try to use the restroom, and that’s an order!)
  • “Because the soccer ball hit me in the stomach at recess.”  (Oh, ok then let’s see that stomach – injury assessment time)
  • “Because I’m nervous about my test.” (Give TLC – they just need a little “brain break”)
  • “Because I saw Johnny eating ketchup and oranges together at lunch.” (This kid is a “gagger” who is sensitive to unpleasant stimuli – I give him ice chips to crunch on and we talk about other things to distract him from the revolting sight they just witnessed)
  • “Because my sister coughed on me – she’s home sick today.” (Faker Alert! This kid thinks he’s going home to join the party.)
  • “Because…I…you know…I started…” (Allow me to show you my selection of feminine hygiene products – and let’s call mom – my students are elementary age so it’s a BIG deal to have these symptoms.  Moms usually want to hear about it.)
Image courtesy of Ohmega1982

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982

Equally as important as what my students say, is their body language.  Signs of a legitimate stomach ache include:

  • Holding belly
  • Walking hunched over
  • Pale/yellowish/greenish skin
  • Unbuttoning the pants (these students are usually bloated and genuinely uncomfortable)
  • Pain that is localized (lower right side could be appendix, etc) as opposed to generalized “my whole stomach hurts” type pain
  • Can’t get comfortable on the cot, restless (sometimes this means they’re about to throw up – trust me on this one)
  • Much quieter than usual, teacher says he’s “not himself today”
  • Grimacing with ACTUAL tears – and school nurses can spot the Oscar contenders from a mile away
Image courtesy of Ambro

Image courtesy of Ambro

Signs of a fake stomach ache include:

  • Smiling
  • Chatting with other kids in the clinic (“OMG Joe what are you doing in here?!” giggle, giggle)
  • Student says “I threw up in the bathroom.” (If they threw up in front of a reliable witness – not their BFF – I’m more apt to believe them.  True vomiting is hard to control.  It doesn’t just happen conveniently in the bathroom – it’s difficult to contain.
  • A “frequent flyer” who doesn’t ask his teacher for permission to come, but waits until he is at lunch, PE, Art, etc to ask that unsuspecting teacher (who doesn’t know his habits as well as his homeroom teacher) to send him to the clinic.  We talk to these students about the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” phenomenon – “One day you’re really going to be sick and no one will believe you!”

It’s funny how kids think they’re the first ones in history to come up with their brilliant tactics.  So in the spirit of the hilarity of children and their bag of tricks, I’ll leave you with the this scene from the biggest faker of them all, Ferris Bueller.

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2 thoughts on “The Stomach Ache

  1. LOL — Oh I can only imagine how many funny stories must come through your door 🙂

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