A friend of mine had grown concerned about the condition of her mother, who is a resident at a skilled nursing facility in another state. It tears at her heart being so far away, and she doesn’t get there nearly as often as she’d like. To say the least, it’s frustrating and challenging to stay informed and involved from such a distance.

I happened to be nearby when she placed a call to the facility this week. It’s a big place, and her initial attempts had yielded a fairly generic, secondhand account that her mother “seems fine.” So feeling like she wasn’t getting the full story, she asked to speak to a nurse who actually knew her mom and was directly involved in providing care.

Realizing he was dealing with a worried family member who had waited on hold for several minutes before he could get to the phone, the nurse started the conversation with textbook compassion, expertly diffusing her anxiety with a greeting that clearly communicated, “I care.”

I’m just joking. Of course he didn’t. His first word was actually, “Yeah?”

It’s a small, but extremely versatile utterance that can be used in a lot of different ways. It can convey excitement or delight. Resignation. Curiosity. Even compassion, when combined with an empathetic head nod and strong eye contact. This was none of those.


Roughly translated, he meant, “I’m in the middle of a very hectic day. Do you have any idea how busy I am? Have you ever worked in long-term care? We’re the second most heavily regulated profession in America, and I’ve got a lot of pressure on me. There are more than 100 residents in this building, only one of which is your mom. So what triviality do you want to bother me with?”

Or in other words, “Yeah?”

One little word. One big perception created. Will his dismissiveness and lack of compassion stick with her and define her perception of the facility far longer than its high five-star rating or low hospital readmission rate?


Things I Think is written by injury-prone Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.