On September 14 2017, the day after a Florida nursing home lost air conditioning when a tree fell on their transformer in the wake of Hurricane Irma NPR’s Morning Edition referred to the home’s residents as “nursing home patients.” Are the words ‘home’ and ‘patient’ not oxymoronic, I wondered? Only hours later did it occur to me that ‘nursing’ and ‘home’ posed similar challenges, while ‘nursing’ and ‘patient’ went together perfectly. I began to wonder whether one could legitimately call a place of residence a home if people’s principal interactions there were with nurses and nursing aides who thought of and treated them as patients? And if people live in such places for months or years but they are not homes, what are they, and what should we call them?
I consulted the dictionary. To my dismay, I discovered the definitions of ‘home’ included any place of permanent residence and specifically “an institution for people needing professional care or supervision.” They had existed in that capacity for so long the usage had become an accepted part of the lexicon. Still, such an arrangement seemed distinct in most ways I could think of from the place I call home. Perhaps we began referring to nursing homes by those words not because they reflected the reality the words are meant to imply but to make ourselves feel better.