A not-so-joyful noise

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

I'm sure you remember the old joke: “Why are nursing homes so noisy? Because we forget people actually live there.” Oh sorry, that's not a joke. My mistake.

This is a rackety little planet. I've been walking to work lately down a not particularly busy street, and I can hardly hear my Justin Bieber downloads over the traffic. Once upon a time, I lived near a church that shared the gospel by tolling a bell every hour. I came to loathe its insensitive evangelism.

Life isn't always going to be an idyllic afternoon at Walden Pond, but I'm an enemy of unnecessary sound, particularly in healthcare. Hospitals are the big offenders, but long-term care has its unhappy share of high-decibel intrusions.

We've all heard them. Beeping medical devices that sound like garbage trucks backing up. Staff talking loudly in the halls. Resident televisions with the volume turned up to 11. And tile floors that multiply sound like procreating bunnies.

“What dreadful noise of overhead paging in mine ears!” said someone with a British accent in Shakespeare's “Deaf King Richard III.” Four centuries later, it's still a problem.

So how do we turn down the volume, and create that healing, home-like haven we all profess to want? It can't be accomplished only by making changes in physical environments, though unsqueaking those carts, softening surfaces and exploring quiet paging technology would be a great start.

But we should also reconnect with the fact that this is home to the people we serve, and quietly drum it into every employee mind. A few “Work like you're a Nerf toy” posters would work wonders, and who wouldn't love a colorful “How Loud Would Jesus Talk?” wristband?

“Noise proves nothing,” said Mark Twain. But too much of it shows a lack of compassion for our residents, and that actually proves everything.