Communicating with Nursing Home Staff

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • My cell phone rang during a business trip last fall; although an unknown phone number flashed on the screen, the area code reflected that the call came from the city where I live. I braced myself to answer, inhaling deeply and anticipating bad news.


    Upon hearing my voice, the caller asked me if I was okay. Instead of the nursing home staff calling with a crisis, it turns out the call was from a professional acquaintance who wanted to give me an update on a project. She took my tone for anger, but it wasn’t. My voice reflected the involuntary mental bracing caused by the worry that Mom might be having health issues  with my being two hours away.

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    I have established a good relationship with the nursing home staff. They know that I’ll be there as fast as I can when needed. At the time of this particular call, my father wasn’t living in the area, but instead was closing down my parents’ homestead in West Texas. Since I was the one and only contact person in the area, I curtailed my travels out of town in order to be present in case of an emergency with Mom. However, I still had professional commitments that took me on business trips periodically. Luckily, the company for whom I work has been amenable to letting me keep the radius of these trips to two hours from my home. Still, that would be two hours too much if Mom has a health crisis.


    What I learned from this phone call is that most people do not understand the strain that caregiving causes, which shows up unexpectedly in the most menial of tasks (such as answering the phone). It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been through this emotional roller coaster that, as you watch a loved one’s health decline, you watch the odds increase that the call will start with, “Ms. Martin, this is the nursing home and your mother is gravely ill.”

    That call may not come for awhile, but I still find that I gird myself mentally and emotionally each time I answer the phone while traveling. I hope callers will understand that I’m not angry with them; instead, it’s the challenge of juggling other commitments along with caretaking duties for someone whose health is failing.

Published On: May 21, 2007