‘Follow instructions’: It’s a 6th-grade rule with legs for a lifetime

How what I learned in junior high continues to help me in my caregiving

Danita LaShelle Jones avatar

by Danita LaShelle Jones |

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I couldn’t believe it.

After almost an entire semester of giggling at the fate of some of my fellow students, I found myself, deservingly, in the hallway, prepared to yell the familiar phrase.

My favorite sixth-grade teacher (who happened to be my father) was a stickler for rules. In his effort to incorporate life skills into a bunch of newly minted junior high schoolers, he concentrated heavily on us following instructions.

To add to his point, he had a hilarious poster on one of his classroom walls of a cartoon man sadly staring at a terribly built boat, with a caption that read: “Instructions are meant to be followed.”

Of course, out of 22 students, there was always one or two who thought it wasn’t necessary to follow the written instructions of the assignment. And while my father would give every student some leeway, when it became evident that someone purposefully didn’t follow directions, and that decision led to terrible results, they had to “say the phrase.”

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Saying the phrase meant that the offending student had to go into the hall, usually when it was empty, and yell at the top of their lungs, “Instructions are meant to be followed!”

The class, and the student, would laugh, but everyone learned that not following directions led to consequences. The entire class got the point after it happened to the third student.

Well, most of the class.

I don’t remember the assignment or even what I didn’t do. I just remember trying to save time by applying a shortcut in the instructions on some in-classroom project. The finished product was a complete mess. And because I’d skipped several steps, there was no way to fix the issue quickly.

“Say the phrase,” my father said, nodding at the classroom door. Still startled that I’d done the very thing he’d spent the entire year trying to get us to understand, I complied.

“Instructions are everywhere,” he would say to us later. “You may find yourself in a life or death situation where you must follow them.”

Almost 30 years later, I realized how right my father was.

When our daughter, whom we lovingly call Ladybug, was diagnosed with hereditary angioedema in 2021, it’s safe to say that we found ourselves drowning in instructions, from the simplest to the most complex.

Her monthly Xolair (omalizumab) shot, even though we don’t give it, comes with instructions for afterward. Packing her medication for a road trip, leaving instructions with her grandparents, administering preventive or emergency medicines at home, or gauging whether she needs to go to the emergency room: They all start with executing step-by-step directions.

But unlike the sixth-grade version of me, attempting a shortcut and ruining the result can’t be rectified by a harmless yell in an empty hall. Not following the doctor’s orders, the steps on a medicine bottle, or the warning signals of a pending attack can lead to tragic consequences.

Did my father know that teaching a group of sixth graders the importance of following directions would one day save his granddaughter’s life? No. But he did recognize that ingraining a phrase into a group of 11-year-olds’ brains was a lesson that would stick with them for good.

As a caregiver of a teenager with hereditary angioedema, I have moments when I get weary of being regimented by so many steps and processes regarding Ladybug’s illness. However, I always remember that such minor inconveniences lead to well-managed care and the ability to face another day.

Note: Angioedema News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Angioedema News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to angioedema.


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