The child with AIDS didn’t know he had AIDS. I found out when he had been hospitalized and a home/hospital teacher came to pick up work for him. That teacher told me that it had taken such a long time to get a teacher because Peanut had AIDS. I didn’t know that it was legal to tell people. I still don’t. His parents had died and his very affectionate grandmother was raising him. He was smaller than the other third graders and his friends called him Peanut. Because he was frequently absent from school, his grades were not very good. But he was a cheerful and willing student. The day I learned he had AIDS I went home and cried a great deal.
The next year I taught fourth grade and I had Peanut in my class again. I was careful to teach students universal precautions in the first week of school. Universal precautions is the term used to cover how one should deal with blood borne pathogens. Universal precautions tell us that we should treat everyone as if they had a disease like hepatitis b, or AIDS because one could never be sure they didn’t. In urban Baltimore that was even more important, and in my classroom, at least one bloodborne pathogen was a certain possibility.
One October it seemed that my worst fears were realized. Another student came running into the classroom with Peanut. Peanut was holding his arm out, dripping red.
“Peanut’s been stabbed!” the student shouted.
“Don’t touch it,” was my first response and I moved to push the other student out of reach.
Then he and Peanut started to laugh.
“It’s Halloween blood!’ they exclaimed.
It took me a few seconds for the information to soak into my panicking head. The blood was fake, it certainly had fooled the teacher, and the teacher’s reaction was certainly gratifying to the practical jokers.