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Waiting for assistance in the nursing home

July 11, 2011
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Early Saturday evening I was surprised that I had a few interesting cable TV programs to choose from. The original Susan Boyle special was on and I decided to watch it for the umpteenth time.

I became so involved watching the special that it was 6:40 p.m. before I realized I was thirsty. I had not had a drink since 5 p.m. I knew there were only two aides on the floor until a third one arrived at 7 p.m. But I thought the hall might have quieted enough since dinner that one of them might be available to help me.

I turned my call light on and then got lost in Susan's singing. When the show was over at 7 p.m., I wondered why no one had answered the call light. I used my cell phone to call the nurses’ station. When someone answered I gave them my name and said I needed a drink. The person who answered was abrupt and not very reassuring.

Since the cable's 7 p.m. programs were not as enticing, I channel surfed. As each minute ticked by I wondered where the aides were. I waited a few more minutes and called the nurses’ station again. This time there was no answer, and I wondered what was happening that no one was picking up the phone.

The longer I waited the more concerned I became. With nothing on TV to distract me, I kept thinking about how thirsty I was. I could have kicked myself for not putting my call light on at 6:30 p.m. I felt I had missed some imaginary “care window” that suddenly closed.

I called the facility again but there was no answer. What transpired was a feeling of helplessness, knowing I was with 40+ other residents and no way to communicate to the aides. I decided to call the college grad who takes me on outings and hoped she would answer. But if not, I would leave a message. I just wanted someone else to know that I was anxiously waiting for help.

The shadows showing under my hallway door meant residents were walking back and forth. I wondered if there was an aide out there as well. I knew the aide who was coming in would have my section of the hall. But it was way after 7 p.m.—where was she? I was about to call my sister when the aide walked in. I told her how long I had been waiting with my call light on. She apologized but said that that the two aides were dealing with a situation with a resident. When I asked how many nurses were here, she told me there were four, but they were in report.

I got a large drink of water and then a light dinner: a health shake. I told the aide I was really nervous about the rest of the evening. But there was no way I could articulate to her how I felt when my call light went unanswered.

When my call light goes on, a small light on the wall is illuminated, but it is behind me. Because of my immobility, I have no way of knowing whether it is on or not. A particular kind of fear occurs when I can’t tell how long I will have to wait when I know my light is on. But the greatest fear occurs when I do not know if my call light is even on at all.

I think a two-way intercom would be a good solution. Staff can find out what residents need, and waiting might be easier on residents when they can say what they need over the intercom.

Kathleen Mears



Kathleen Mears is a long-time blogger who has been a nursing home resident for 21 years. She is...



Train staff other than nursing that can help with these types of issues. In our facility, even housekeeping staff are trained to answer calls for water, sweaters, etc.

Equip staff with pagers that will eliminate unnecessary noise of paging and will record that resident they are assigned to that they require assistance.