Steve’s secret nickname REVEALED!

I used to work with a guy named Joe Moseley at Barr Systems here in Gainesville. Joe was the most well-liked person at Barr. I think it was because he always made everybody feel good about themselves, and made them feel important too. One of the many secrets in his bag of tricks was this: he called everybody by a nickname. He didn’t just randomly come up with nicknames for everybody on the day they started working at Barr, but if you’d been there long enough, at some point inspiration would hit him and you’d be given your official Joe-Moseley-approved nickname.

Now if you’ve ever been given a nickname, you know that they aren’t always flattering. Perhaps you were the victim of a hurtful nickname back in school, but now that those days are past, who generally calls you by a nickname? If you’re like most people, you replied, “My friends”. Sadly, most nicknames are lost when someone moves into a nursing home. They generally just get called by the name on their medical chart. It’s a subtle form of “identity theft” as I like to call it. You and I have the chance to reverse that identity theft by finding out what those old nicknames were, or, even making up our own!

If case you were wondering, my Joe-Moseley-approved nickname was “Westwood”. The joke around Barr was that it was impossible I was a college grad, since I looked like I was about 14 years old when I started working there (or so they said). So, he named me Westwood out of a reference to Westwood Middle School, where he thought I should have been.

The odd thing is, I love that nickname! To this day I don’t mind being called Westwood. That’s the peculiar thing about nicknames: the same nickname, which when given by an enemy could be extremely hurtful, when given by a friend can be a lot of fun. Joe never said a hurtful word to anyone, so you knew that your nickname was given in good fun. Sometimes the nickname had something to do with a particularly eccentric trait of yours, or a specific incident in which you were involved.

I *love* calling nursing home residents by nicknames. Some of the nicknames we’ve had for current and former residents at Parklands (I’m not even going to begin to try to explain how these came about, but I swear I’m not making these up!):

• McIvery
• High Springs
• I-19
• Mr. Buckman (not his real name)
• Miss Woods (ditto)
• Bebo
• Old Don
• Coops
• MacArthur Park
• Sammy Davis Jr.
• Bourbon and Branch
• Cochese
• Dangerman
• “The Sheriff”
• Eddie Van Halen

I’ll never forget a resident named Henry Woodard. He and his sister, Sally (“Miss Woods”), lived at the Alachua Nursing Center (now Parklands) a long while back. Henry was blind, but it never slowed him down, and he always could be found laughing and joking with everybody in the halls. There was something really uplifting about just talking to him. When he died, we went with his sister to his funeral down in Micanopy, their home town. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I picked up a program at the funeral, and it said “Celebration of Life for Henry ‘Skybow’ Woodard”. Skybow! What an awesome nickname! (I was told Skybow is an old-fashioned way of saying Rainbow). And a Skybow he certainly was in our lives. What a tragedy that we never got to call him by this wonderful nickname when he was alive! But he never thought to tell us, and we never thought to ask.

I also think about my friend Hugh Carlisle, who I met that very first day I set foot in the nursing home (October 6, 1998). A few years back he left town and moved to Claxton, GA, to be closer to his family (he’s 93 now). The first time I went up to visit him in Claxton, everybody was calling him “Dorsey”. Apparently, he’s never gone by Hugh his entire life! But that’s what everybody in Gainesville called him, simply because it was the name on his medical chart, and no one ever asked if he had another preferred name. (If I ever run a nursing home, that’s going to be the first question I ask new residents).

Anyway, the next time you’re feeling brave, just ask a resident if they used to have a nickname. And if you’re feeling really brave, try calling them by it. Or make one up! It will be up to you to judge when you’re at the right point in your friendship for that, but I can tell you it’s a lot of fun when it works, and can be very beneficial to a friendship. They’ll often reward you with a shy, giggly kind of smile, obviously thrilled to have been found worthy of a nickname. Seems like a little thing, but as we know these little things can make a big difference. So give it a shot!

Steve’s Top Five Tips for Successful Nursing Home Visits

I primarily plan to write in a more narrative fashion, but I thought perhaps before getting into anything too deep I would present to you some more general observations that might prove useful to anyone who visits someone at a nursing home.  I’ve learned a thing or two over the last 12 years about making your nursing home visits more successful.  So, here you go, here are…


  1. Sit Down – This tip alone is worth the price of admission.  There is no greater non-verbal way you can communicate your intentions to just visit than by sitting down.  All day long, nursing home staff shuffle in and out of patient’s rooms.  These rarely have much time to visit; they complete their tasks and are out the door.  A person who sits down has intentions of visiting.  They aren’t rushed or impatient.  They are relaxed and comfortable; all things that make the “visitee” feel special.  Now, at several of the nursing homes in town, chairs are a scarce commodity.  Just do the best you can.  Sometimes you might have to sit on the bed, or in their wheelchair (if they aren’t occupying it at the time!). I even knew one volunteer who brought her own chair. 

  2. Knock – I must admit it, I don’t get this one right often enough.  I always seem to forget until I’m already walking in.  But when we consider that this is their home…well, how do I like it when people just wander into my house unexpectedly?  Knock, announce who you are, and wait for permission to enter.  Of course they’re going to say yes, but it’s a nice gesture of respect.  (Interestingly, you’ll often see the nursing home staff fail to knock, even when the door is closed, yet this is part of resident’s rights – Florida Statute 400.022(1)(m) – it’s the law!)
  3. Ask about 1 thing from last time – Recall something from your previous conversation and bring it up the next time you visit. It’s an easy way to show you were paying attention.  “You mentioned your daughter Sylvia was coming over on Saturday, did you have a nice visit?”.  “Last time we talked, you started telling me about your first job at Sears…tell me more.” (This tip will help you everywhere in life, not just at the nursing home.)
  4. Wikipedia is your friend – this goes right along with the previous one.  As Wikipedia has evolved over the past decade it’s done wonders for my nursing home visits.  Don’t know a lot about history?  That’s ok, Wikipedia has over 3,000,000 articles, orders of magnitude more than a traditional encyclopedia.  So, your Friend at the nursing home was born in Cairo, Georgia?  Ask Wikipedia and you’ll find out it’s the also the hometown of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, and it’s known as the “Syrup capital of Georgia” (road trip!).  Or say your Friend tells you they drove a LaSalle in 1938.  A LaWhat?  Excuse me?  Don’t worry, Wikipedia has six different pictures of the LaSalle, a high-end GM car from 1927 to 1940.  Bring some printouts with you next time you visit. 
  5. Set Boundaries / Limits – You’d think this one is just important for you, but it’s really important for both of you, because friendship is a two-way street.  True friendships are made when we are honest about our limitations.  So if your Friend at the nursing home is calling you several times a day, or making you feel guilty about not visiting more often, it’s time to have an honest talk with them about what you are capable of.  You’ll be better friends for it – the problem is, if you don’t have that talk, you are eventually going to start resenting them, and not enjoying your visits any more, and then you might just stop visiting altogether.  So be honest and you’ll both reap the rewards. 

 Well, I hope that was useful…let me know if it was!

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