Will arranged to have someone read to Johnson each day, to make sure she had some auditory stimulus, even in the coma. And she planned ahead in case Johnson did get better and did come back to home and school. "You really act like a crystal, or a prism," Will says, describing her role. "There are so many things flying out there, and you pull them in and then fan them out in an organized way."
When Johnson returned to school a few weeks after she awoke from the coma, Will arranged for her to come back only half-days at first. She also worked out Johnson's classes to make sure she'd have the credits to graduate, but with a manageable schedule, and courses that took into consideration the reduction in her cognitive skills caused by the stroke.
The effort was nothing short of heroic, in Shellene Johnson's eyes. "We wouldn't have made it without the nurse," she says. "Sue was like Johnny-on-the-spot. She was a liaison between me and everyone there. I didn't have to worry about calling any teachers. She took the strain off of me.
"Had I not met her, I would have had a panic attack," Johnson continues. "But she did so much. She's got back-to-back kids. She's routing them all. Right away she knows what everyone is coming in for, because she knows her kids."
As much as she helped Markeia Johnson get back into the swing of school, Will also helped Shellene Johnson adjust. "She helped me to feel comfortable," Johnson says. "I thought [Markeia] wasn't quite the same, but other people would say, 'No, she's fine.' Sue said she saw the same thing. She's not the same as before the stroke."
It's the morning of graduation, and Markeia Johnson is a little antsy about getting to rehearsal on time. But she lights up when you ask if she's eager to graduate. "Yeah," Johnson starts to say, a grin opening up across her face.
She's excited about her summer plans: Thanks to Will, Johnson is enrolled in a program offering vocational training for students with special needs. Johnson will be taking cosmetology classes to see if that's a career she might do well in.
Across town in her office at Central, Will is winding down as the school year comes to a close. In these waning days the seniors are already out of class, so the stream of needy students has slowed to a trickle. She plans to work at the graduation ceremony tonight, to make sure there aren't any last-minute problems for the students with health conditions.
And, on a personal note, she can't wait to see Johnson graduate. "Watching her graduate is just going to have me in tears," she predicts.
With the number and variety of issues and the isolation of the practice, being a school nurse is a hard job. But Will will be back next fall. "It just feels right. It works," she says. "I impact people's health where they live their lives. Nurses in hospitals, they get a couple days with the person. Shoot--I get four years."