Madison stared at the problem on her calculus test. “A brick one meter from a three meter tall lamp post falls to the ground. Write the equation for the speed of its shadow as a function of time.” She drew a diagram and then stared at the paper. The problem was familiar. She had done something like this on her homework. She embellished the drawing to make the lamppost more realistic. Her mind wandered to the streetlights on Lakeside. Mr. Black’s house. Judy sliding into her car. The gun. A bullet in your head. Don’t you think Northwestern would be disappointed, Ms. Johnson? A flood of emotion overtook her. Tears flowed. Her nose ran. She gasped for air. Madison heard a train, and then someone turned off the sun.
“Maddy, are you okay?”
Madison opened her eyes. Her head was on her desk, and she could see her lamppost drawing a few inches away. She looked up at her teacher, who was squeezing her shoulder. Madison said nothing.
“Andy. Can you take Madison to the nurse’s office?” she asked.
The next thing Madison knew, she was being lifted gently from her chair to her feet. She let Andy, a student who had left boyhood behind and carried the frame of a full-grown man, bear her weight. The two left the room, made their way down the stairs, and arrived at the office of the school nurse. The nurse was standing in her doorway with a rolling office chair.
Andy helped Madison into the chair. She looked up at him. He seemed worried. “I’m okay,” she whispered, putting her hand on his forearm. “Thank you.”
“I’ve got her from here, Andy. Thank you,” the nurse said.
Andy left, and the nurse wheeled Madison into her office. “Do you want to lie down?”
Madison looked at her. “I… I’m not sure what happened.”
“Based on what Mrs. Trimble said, I think you hyperventilated. Have you eaten anything today?”
“No,” Madison confessed. “Well, coffee.”
The nurse pulled a granola bar from a basket on her desk. She opened the package and handed it to Madison. Then she sat next to Madison and looked her over.
“Low blood sugar and hyperventilation are a pretty reliable ticket to my office,” she said. “Eat that. I’ll get you some water. Then we can talk.”
Madison looked at her and then did as she was told. The nurse left the room for a moment and returned with a small plastic cup of water. Madison was starting to feel better as she finished the granola bar. “I’m getting a headache,” she said.
“I can’t give you anything without a doctor’s order,” the nurse said. “Not even acetaminophen.”
“It’s okay, Madison said. I have some in my bag. Oh shit. My bag is upstairs.”
“No, it’s right here,” the nurse said. “Andy had it over his shoulder.”
Madison was surprised and a little confused. “He… how?”
“You were pretty out of it when you got here,” the nurse said with a little smile. She put the backpack next to Madison’s chair.
Madison dug through the bag and found her purse. She had a small tin with various pills in it. She found two ibuprofen tablets and swallowed them. The nurse looked on with concern. “Do you know what triggered it?”
“What?” Madison asked.
“The panic attack. I see them a lot this time of year, particularly in seniors. The stress of testing, applying to college, AP classes. It’s tough, mentally, for students to handle. Then something happens, like a breakup or a family situation, and it tips the student over the edge.”
Madison nodded. “Guilty as charged,” she said. “I had one of these panic attacks the other day, too. Except I didn’t pass out.”
“We need to help you manage your stress,” the nurse said. “You learned about meditation in health class, right?”
Madison nodded. “I was terrible at it. How are you supposed to not think? It’s impossible.”
The nurse smiled. “The important thing is to do it. The breathing and trying to clear your mind—even if you don’t succeed at that—it changes your physiology. I want you to do twenty minutes of meditation before bed every night. It will help. I promise.”
“Okay,” Madison said.
“Do you want to talk about what happened? Or would you like to go sit with a school counselor?”
“No,” Madison said. “I can’t talk about it, really. I’ll try the meditation.”
“Okay. Maybe take a mental health day tomorrow. I’m sure your teachers will understand.”
Madison nodded. “That’s a really good idea. Thank you.”
“I have some stuff to do, but feel free to hang around here as long as you want,” the nurse said.
Madison pulled her phone from her bag and scrolled social media while she waited for the medicine to fix her headache.