When your real name is not your REAL name

When people call you by the name on your birth certificate, you know you’re in trouble. By that standard, I have been in mucho trouble lately.

Maybe you’re one of those lucky people for whom your legal name, the one on your birth certificate and driver’s license, and the name your friends and family call you are the same. You’re George or Mary everywhere in every situation. But most of us go by an altered version of our original name. And everyone who knows you knows that’s what you prefer to be called.

James is Jim or Jamie, William is Bill, Billy, Will, or Willie, Catherine is Cathy, Samuel or Samantha become Sam, etc. Or maybe you’ve chosen something completely different like . . . Spike.

My name, Susan, becomes Sue or Susie or Suz. Despite whatever your parents named you, the name you use every day is the person you have made yourself, and you want to be recognized as that person.

Good luck.

That original name keeps coming back.

When your parents started calling you by your full legal name, you were about to be spanked or grounded.

When phone salespeople call asking for your formal name, you know they got your number off a list somewhere and don’t know you. And they keep using that name because in some training class they learned that it’s good to repeat the customer’s name.

When the cops come to your door calling your legal name, you are IN TROUBLE.

And when a nurse comes to the doctor’s office waiting room and calls that name you never use–even though you wrote your preferred name on every form–you know this is not going to be fun. Susan? Who? Oh. Me. And they keep calling you that as you lie on the examining table in your skimpy gown staring at the holes in the acoustic tile ceiling and pretending they are not touching you where you’d rather not be touched.

I have been called Susan a lot lately by the people calling from my father’s nursing home. At all hours, I see a 408 area code on the caller ID, then hear, “Is this Susan?” I want to say no, but I sigh and say yes. I want to add “What now?” in an annoyed tone, but I’m too busy holding my breath as they describe the latest disaster.

The most recent disaster is an amazing story, but I can’t tell you about it yet because there may be legal action. Dad is fine now. We’re all fine. I will tell you that everyone in the hospital-nursing home system calls my father Clarence even though he has spent his 97 years going by his middle name, Ed. “Clarence” was his father.

A couple weeks ago, a nursing home kerfuffle arose because the staff got confused between me, “Susan,” and my aunt, “Suzanne.” They telephoned her instead of me, barraging her with questions she couldn’t answer while I was waiting all day for a call that never came. If they had just called us Mrs. Lick and Mrs. Avina, there would have been no confusion. If you’re going to go formal, go all the way, right?

Gosh, I suppose they’ll call me “Susan” at my funeral and put it on my gravestone. I wonder what name God calls me. Maybe it has nothing to do with my earthly name. After all, there are a million Susans in this world and only one me. I guess He’ll tell me when I get to Heaven.

If you ever decide to do a Google search for information about me, use my middle name, Fagalde. Don’t bother with “Susan.” “Sue” will get you millions of hits, with many of them referring to lawsuits, and “Lick” will get you porn. Or you could just go to my website at suelick.com.

Whatever people call you, thanks for reading this. Keep sticking up for the name you want to be called. I’d love to hear your stories of misguided name-calling. I look forward to your comments.

 

 

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Hanging out in the Alternate World of Nursing Homes

A world exists in the midst of our own that many people are not aware of. It’s a world none of us want to live in, but it’s not so bad to visit. I’m talking about nursing homes, assisted living facilities, memory care centers, whatever you want to call them. Buildings with old people in wheelchairs and walkers, staff in matching shirts, institutional meals and alarms on the doors. The kinds of places where old people land when they can’t stay at home anymore–if they can afford them.

Long before I had family living in these places, I sang in them with the Valley Chorale in California. We didn’t pay much attention to the residents back then. We just wanted to know where to dress, where to set up, and where to plug in our amps. We performed in our silky dresses and jeweled shoes to a sea of white hair and glasses, absorbed their applause, shook a few hands, changed clothes and went out to dinner.

It’s different when someone you love lives there. I started frequenting nursing homes when Grandpa Fagalde started living in one after a series of strokes. He was 94, and it was a shock the first time I saw him in a wheelchair, saying things that didn’t quite make sense. It was easier to sit at the piano and sing than to sit with him for the hour or two I visited at lunchtime or after work. But I came regularly and gradually became part of the family there. I greeted the staff and the other residents. They grabbed for my hands and sought my attention.

Toward the end, my grandfather didn’t know who I was. He knew only that I played music and that I would listen to him for a while. It was heartbreaking to see my grandfather this way, but while I was there, I could forget about my job as a newspaper editor, the errands I need to do on the way home, the teenage stepson who was driving me crazy, or the odd noise coming from under the hood of my car. It was just these old people in their limited world.

I never guessed that fifteen years later I would be visiting my husband Fred in a nursing home. He had Alzheimer’s Disease. He stayed in four different places before he died, but the longest was at Timberwood Court in Albany, Oregon, 70 miles from where I lived. Occasionally I played music there, too, but mostly I hung out with Fred and the gang. We watched TV, ate ice cream, batted a big rubber ball around, sang with visiting musicians, and went on field trips in the little bus. Some days, I would sit on the couch resting my head on my husband’s shoulder, even falling asleep sometimes.

I got to know the names of all the other residents and the family members who visited. I knew the staff. I would walk into the offices to demand things I needed for Fred—a haircut, his lost shoes, a doctor’s appointment. I was part of the Timberwood family. Yes, the residents had dementia. They screamed, they fought, they got sick and died. Some constantly begged to go home. But most made sense at least part of the time, and day after day, it was a beautifully furnished oasis from the rest of the world, unaffected by winter storms, summer heat, or the news on TV.

Beyond the coded-lock door, we were all safe and within shouting distance of an aide who would take care of everything. Fred soon forgot he had ever lived anywhere else. When his physical health failed, he moved to another facility that was not pretty at all. It was much more like a hospital. The hiatus was over.

This year, I found myself hanging out at another nursing home with my father. He wanted only to be back at his own house taking care of his own stuff, but I fell easily into the nursing home rhythm at Somerset. Here’s the living room, the dining room, the courtyard. Here are the aides in matching shirts. Here’s the office. Write Dad’s name on his clothes, hang them in the closet, make sure he has his meds. Get everything set up, then sit with him. Talk, listen, be. Meet the other family members doing the same thing.

Janet, the daughter of one of Dad’s housemates, arrives every day at 11 a.m. and leaves at 4 p.m. It’s like her job. She feels enough at home to go into the kitchen and help herself to coffee and cookies. She joins in the activities. Her sister handles the bills and such, but Janet is the one who has become part of the Somerset family.

It was different for me this time because I live 700 miles away. I visited in concentrated doses. Three days, a week, two weeks. But I got to know and care about the other residents and staff. I liked walking in to a chorus of “Hi, Sue.” I liked that there was someone waiting for me, even on days when my father was El Groucho, as my mother used to call him. While I was at Somerset, I could do nothing about work, home repairs, the needy dog or the emails calling for my attention. All I had to do was sit in the courtyard or the living room talking to my father. When it was time to leave, time to face traffic and take care of business, part of me didn’t want to go.

But of course I had to. These places are only pleasant to hang out in when you have the option of leaving. I didn’t have to eat their food, follow their schedule, or wait an hour for help going to the bathroom. I could walk out on my two strong legs whenever I wanted to. That’s the difference. For the residents, it’s a pretty prison which is eating up their life savings.

Nursing homes are a business where they charge a fortune and often give less than wonderful care. We can only hope our loved ones end up in the good ones. But sometimes since Dad went home, I find myself missing those people and those places where I could just sit and be. Also, I miss the Somerset dog, a white fur ball named Sonny.

When it’s my turn to move in, I hope I can be one of the ones who accept it with grace and smiles. I hope I still have enough working brain cells to make the best of it.