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A Lesson Learned

A co-worker taught me a valuable lesson today.  It was just a little thing, but a very important one.  And I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t think of it myself.

In a typical long-term care facility there are some residents who, for one reason or another, have a tendency to spill food on themselves while eating.  Perhaps they have tremors in their hands, or their dementia has progressed to the point where they can no longer feed themselves like they used to.  Or a number of other reasons.

For people like this, we have a simple solution.  It’s a piece of some sort of absorbent fabric (often terry cloth), backed with plastic, that covers the entire chest and stomach and fastens behind the neck with Velcro or ties or snaps.  Some call it a bib, those of us who pride ourselves in being more concerned about the residents’ dignity use the term “clothing protector.”  It’s kind of a necessary evil.  The alternative is having a resident spill food or liquids all over their shirt, which is definitely not dignified.

There have been numerous attempts to make these clothing protectors more attractive, or at least less unattractive.  Some of these have involved using decorative fabrics.  Others have involved experimenting with styles that, at least partially, resemble other items of clothing – bandanas, scarves, shirt fronts (complete with a collar and buttons down the front).  I think all of these items represent an admirable effort, but for now I’m reserving judgment on them.

Anyway, now for my lesson.  There’s another tool we use in the dining room, for residents who are at risk for spilling their drinks.  It’s basically a plastic cup with handles on either side, and a lid with a hole or spout in it for drinking.  There have been efforts at producing versions that look more like “regular” drinking cups (for example, like those cups we get for our coffee at the local convenience store).  But most of them still bear a strong resemblance to the cups we give our children when they are first learning how to drink from a cup.  And that’s exactly what we call them – “sippy cups.”

Today, at lunch, I went to the door between the kitchen and the dining room and asked for some coffee in a sippy cup for one of our residents.  Another staff member gently pointed out that we insist on using the term “clothing protector,” but we don’t have another similarly less undignified term for a sippy cup.  That threw me for a loop and, again, I’m a bit ashamed of myself that I had never thought of that.  For a minute or two, some of us threw out possible replacement terms we could use, but never actually decided on one over another.  (I’m also sure that we’re not the first people to consider this dilemma, and that others have probably solved it quite admirably.)

Later, I spoke to the facility administrator about the matter, and suggested that someone come up with an appropriate term and pass it along to the rest of the staff.  She agreed with me that this was a wonderful idea.  The ending to this story has yet to be written, but a process has started.  I’ll let you know how it comes out.

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