Saving Lives: Not Doctors, Teachers

As a pediatric resident at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, my husband Chris often got to “play with babies.” None were cuter than the tiny ones in the nursery.

One day, I took him dinner and stayed for a tour. We were newlyweds–babies were the last thing on our minds. Part of the tour involved Chris getting into “costume.” He stepped into a closet and came out wearing what looked like a gigantic fisherman’s vest. Like a thief pawning watches, he flung open the vest revealing rows and rows of pockets…tiny pockets—just big enough to hold a newborn baby. This was the “evacuate” vest. If there was an emergency and the babies had to be moved out of the nursery in a hurry, it was the Resident’s job to put the vest on,  fill it with babies and run out of the building. While he had been trained to make critical decisions and do serious procedures on kids, none of what my husband did struck me as more “life saving” than the donning of that vest.

Years later, we were ready to start our family.  We agonized about the obstetrician and toured the maternity wing. We spent months interviewing  pediatrician after pediatrician: looking for someone smart, kind, funny and with vast experience in vest wearing. One of the hardest decisions we made was choosing a nanny. The year before Hadley was born, Sarah Elizabeth Holt became our most trusted employee. She was/is amazing: warm, smart, funny, loving, firm–all the qualities you insist on in the primary caregiver for your kids.

When I pulled my car out of the drive way, I never looked back. I was never worried or anxious that my kids were home with Sarah. As a matter of fact, I often did a mental happy dance.  Sarah was with us for nearly five years. When she left, it was to pursue her lifelong dream of being a special education teacher.

While she was completing her schooling, Sarah spent a short time as the student teacher in Mr. Doug Prescott’s second grade class. In a true illustration of everyone’s interconnectedness, Mr. Prescott was my Maisy’s favorite teacher to date. Not only did he really “get her,”  five years after she was his student, Mr. P picked up the phone and called Maisy. He wanted her to play the cello at his wedding. Little did he know then that the cello had been the source of much fighting in our house. She “hated” it. She didn’t want to practice. It wasn’t fair. She hated her music teacher and so on and so on. As old people, we rapidly recognized that her hatred of the cello was really just a reflection of her overwhelmedness with life as a twelve year old: first periods, first boyfriends, meanest girls, hardest work.  With his simple request, my daughter’s former teacher , brought the first real smile we had seen on her pretty face in months.

It was only a few days into his new role as school principal when Nick Argonish rescued our Sammy. A kid had just vomited on the cafeteria floor. Sam didn’t see the puddle and slipped landing flat on his back in a pool of barely digested spaghetti. Sam’s retelling of the humiliating story ended with Mr. Argonish running right over to him, helping him up, and walking him to the nurses office for a clean set of clothes.

When my job called me away from home, Sarah was there for my kids. When adolescence was stealing the bright from our amazing daughter, Doug Prescott was there. When a random accident humiliated my little boy, Nick Argonish was there. These three educators will always have a special place in our family. They protected, encouraged, and literally picked our kids up off the floor.

It never once occurred to me that any one of those three and millions of teachers like them would,  in a heartbeat,  put themselves between our babies and a gun-wielding monster.

I know Chris and I  as parents are guilty of complaining about how high our school taxes are, how many days off the kids get, how much homework they get, how little homework they get. We grumble about report cards, assessments, and scores. We throw mountains of papers away in frustration at it’s volume. Until Friday, we never once thought that the teachers and administrators of our school would take a bullet for our kids just the same as they would for their own.

If the job description “saving lives” was a tangible item handed to us at the end of our years of medical education, today Chris and I would get down on our knees and offer it humbly to any one of the millions of teachers in this great country.


  1. Following the events of Friday I have been heartbroken but not yet shed a tear. This blog post welled me up with tears. They are tears of gratitude and my heart is full. My son is at East Ward Elementary and had Mr. Prescott last year. You are right, he and Mr. Argonish are our local “good guys” and we have always been so grateful for them. It is fantastic to know that we aren’t the only ones who see what wonderful people are at East Ward, loving, caring for and protecting our children each and every day.

  2. Thank you Anonymous!
    I watched Nick Argonish laughing lightly with two armed police officers at our school yesterday. I know his heart was not laughing. I know he was laughing to show the kids that everything was ok… Because, Mr. A was laughing, my kids were not afraid to see police and guns outside of their school. While I have cried many many times since Friday, the sight of Mr. A with those officers at the end of the school day made me just about apoplectic with emotion.

  3. Betsy Ulmer says:

    Our daughter-in-law thinks so highly of you that she has mentioned your blog to us before. She took special note of this one and suggested we read it. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Being a Downingtown School employee, I couldn’t agree with you more! The educators, administrators, right down to the custodians are special people and I know this from witnessing different situations like you mention more than I can recall. And that’s why when I think of educators, doctors, firefighters, policemen & anyone else who helps people are special themselves! Hats off to my colleagues at Downingtown Area School District!!!

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