22 Things I have learned spending a month in a nursing home (so far)

A few months ago I posted this post about my experiences at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, where my dad spent over two months splitting his time between the neurology and ICU departments. Now he is a resident at a long term care facility (aka nursing home) here in Winston-Salem and, being here with him daily, I have observed a few things and learned a few more. Here is my advice to anyone who may find themselves dealing with the “wonderful” world of nursing homes.

  1. When you first come in, just give in and breathe deep, you will get used to the smell faster that way.
  2. Having a roommate in a nursing home is equally as beneficial and annoying as when you had one in college. They help you fit in when you first get there and they will help make sure you get back in bed when you are too weak (or drunk) to do so yourself. However, they will also snore, and smell, and change the channel in the middle of your favorite show.
  3. Don’t use the employee bathroom during business hours because an administrator with a key will probably walk in on you.
  4. Seeing an ambulance here is not a big deal. They pick up and drop people off for transport all the time. If their lights are on, that probably means someone is leaving in a hurry. If the sirens are on when they get here, that is a slightly bigger deal. If you see a nurse running, that is a really big deal.
  5. If you don’t want to wait at least 15 minutes for someone to answer the call button and thirty minutes to get something done, just do it yourself. Unless it’s something they won’t let you do. Like put a needle in your dad’s arm.
  6. If you want attention now, say you have chest pain. The staff really wakes up for that. Trouble breathing can work too, but not as well as chest pain.
  7. Little old ladies are my favorite people here. Especially the sassy one with a twinkle in her eye who wears a bright pink peasant skirt.

    And the African woman who sings and is always saying what she thinks in her delightful accent.

    Oh and the old man who kept asking everyone how to go up to the next level while on the top floor.

  8. Question everything.

    Seriously. Ask lots of questions.

    And keep asking (politely) until every single question has been answered.

  9. Don’t expect apologies from the direct care staff. They don’t understand customer service. That is not in their training. They can get you answers though.
  10. Admins are worse at getting answers, but better at customer service, except they usually come across smarmy.
  11. Therapists get stuff done and seem to genuinely care about how you are doing and how you are being treated.
  12. CNAs are overworked and underpaid. They spend 60% of their time cleaning butts and emptying catheters, 15% of their time dealing with food and getting people comfortable, and 30% of the time delivering messages to the nurse.
  13. Unfortunately, they have no time left to wash their hands.
  14. Most everyone who works here smokes.
  15. Maintenance men are friendly. They are not so good at fixing stuff promptly.
  16. Little things make a big difference. Like the swinging bench chair in the shade out front or this sign out back:10330461_947748781893_3195027809619119562_n
  17. The ice machine is downstairs.
  18. Keep track of anything that happens that is new or different. You need to have it all in one place. The staff are too busy with too many people to catch all the small things. And sometimes the small things can turn into big things. Fast.
  19. Pillows are worth their weight in candy. And they’re rare. Hold on to what you have. Definitely don’t trade one in for a blanket. Those things are a dime a dozen.
  20. Always have a way to clean up a small mess. Make nice with the cleaning lady for the big messes.
  21. The Baptist preacher comes every Wednesday. He does not know Sign Language; that’s just how he gesticulates when he prays. Making the sign of the cross after one of his prayers almost feels like an act of defiance.
  22. Most of all, I have learned that I never want to have to be in a nursing home again. Especially not as a patient. Nursing homes are sad and lonely and run by people who are overworked, underpaid, and simply don’t care the way they should. Not the way that family cares.

I can’t wait for dad to get well enough to get out of here.


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