There’s a call light going off; I immediately do an about-face and answer it. I knock on the door, identify myself by name and department and ask what I can do for the resident laying in the bed.
“Get me up,” he says.
“Certainly, Mr. _____,” I reply, closing the door. I wash my hands, put on gloves and move to help him. He’s soon up and in his wheelchair. I take off my gloves and wash my hands.
“Is there anything else I can do for you today, Mr. ____?” I ask.
“Well, no….but…are you mad at me?”
I just stand there, staring at him for a few moments. “No!” I finally say, as forcefully as I can without actually being very loud. “Whatever makes you think that?”
“You didn’t call me ‘buddy’,” he says with a sad look on his face. “It’s been ‘Mr. ____’ and ‘sir’ all day. Am I not your buddy anymore?”
I can’t help it; I have to sit down on the bed and laugh. It’s a throw-your-head-back and hee-haw kind of laugh…he’s looking at me like I’ve gone crazy right in front of him. He turns and wheels himself back over to the bed, peering into my face in concern.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” I gasp. “I’m also not mad at you. It’s just…State is the building and I have to call you Mr. ___.”
“What business is it of theirs what you call me?” my buddy demands angrily.
“It’s…well, let’s just say it is their business, okay Buddy? And it’s not mean spirited or anything; they just want to make sure that you are being treated with respect and dignity that’s due you as our elder.”
Mr. ___ snorts…and then coughs. “Like all I am is an old person,” he grumbles. “I’m not just a wrinkled face you know.”
“Yeah, I know. You’re also my buddy.”
“Damn straight I am.”
It’s good, I think, that we have rules in place to protect the dignity of our residents. It’s good that respect is encouraged. Too often, however, I think that we assume we know what the residents think about issues and never actually ask them. Too often do we act like it’s the “old” part that defines them, not the “person” part. To Mr. ____, the proper way of addressing him sounded cold and formal. He preferred his nickname. In the end we compromised on his first name until he could arrange for it to be in his care-plan that he prefers to be called “buddy”.
Yes, most of our residents are old people…”People” being the operative word. They have their own preferences, their own ideas and, most amazingly, their own opinions.
It’s easy to forget this. It’s important that we don’t.