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A nursing home resident's journal

August 22, 2011
by Kathleen Mears
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I had only been living in a nursing home for several months when I began working to improve my daily routine and shake off loneliness. At that time, I had struck up an easy friendship with an activity assistant.

Debbie was in her early 40s and on her way to becoming an empty nester. Though she was a few years younger than me, we had much in common including our Catholic school education. She usually spent time with me each day even if we could only chat while she took trash to the dumpster.

I spent most of my day on the computer. I was getting used to my adaptive keyboard and was trying to write a business plan for state vocational rehabilitation. To give myself an attainable goal, I began to keep a journal. Occasionally, while typing, I accidentally hit the “print screen” key and a page of my journal would print.

Each time I did this it startled me, and I felt stupid. I did not want my journal printed out. But since the pages were upside down in the printer tray, I was not very concerned. I would simply have my sister or a trusted friend empty the tray when they visited.

One day Debbie came to my room and asked me why I thought the new activity director was insincere. I wondered where that came from. It seemed so strange. Then I realized I had written about the activity director in my journal. I told Debbie she was repeating one of my entries, and that I probably printed journal pages accidentally and someone picked them up and read them.

With Debbie standing beside me, I opened my journal file and searched for the part about the new activity director. When I found the entry, it said, “The new activity director is trying very hard to show her devotion to the residents and I hope she is really sincere.”

After I finished, Debbie wanted to know why I wrote that. I told her that I was just writing what I was thinking—that people are not always what they appear to be. Debbie seemed surprised. She felt that the new activity director loved working with the residents.

She then admitted that the other activity assistant found the entry and read it to Debbie and the activity director. They all were surprised at what I had written. I said I was sorry they were upset, but no one should have been reading my private thoughts, printed in error.

Debbie was outraged that someone would take papers from my printer and read them. She said she was resigning because she would not work with facility staff who would invade my privacy.

I felt bad that Debbie quit. She had done quality work for activities and we residents would miss her. But I also learned that I had little privacy and became more careful about throwing printed papers away.

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Comments

Dear Kathleen

Thanks for sharing your experiences - this is a great lesson to all - respect for privacy in nursing homes - too often I have seen people totally ignore privacy of residents - or share inappropriately. There is some interesting work happenning in Australia in this area - with government regulators focusing more attention on the rights of residents. And putting residents at the centre of planning and development. About time too. Cheers Ralph

Kathleen Mears

www.ltlmagazine.com/blog/kathleen-mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...