Waiting for assistance in the nursing home

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.

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