The holidays have come and gone and with their end we have all come to the conclusion that Dad has lost a lot of ground physically over the season.
About a week before Christmas I was visiting Dad; it was just a day after the successful shower night ending with him sleeping with his feet up in his own bed. I began the visit as usual, greeting Buddy, preparing dinner, promising desert after a walk. We finished dinner and went outside. Mike had observed the night before that Dad seemed pretty weak and unsteady on his feet. Although Mike was not with me this particular evening and I agreed with his assessment, I decided to attempt the walk anyway. We began to descend the back porch. Dad took one step down, lost his balance and fell on his back. Although he didn’t fall hard nor did he hit his head, I could tell the fall had hurt. I knelt beside him, put my hand on his chest and said, “Dad! Are you okay? Do I need to call anyone?” terrified I would have to call 911.
“No. I’m okay. Just give me a minute.” This was a difficult and some what scarey situation. With my back problems I couldn’t support Dad to help him up. The situation called for improvisation. I looked around and saw a large bucket. I turned it upside down and said, “Dad, use this bucket for leverage to help you sit up”. He did as I told him and gradually we got him back on his feet. Later when I was putting in his eye drops, I noticed blood in his eye under his lower lid and worried it was from the fall. I remembered Hillary saying that she would be taking him to the eye doctor that day and sent her a message asking if she knew about the blood in his eye. She confirmed he had an injection to his eye earlier that day that caused the bleed, not the fall. I related the story to Paula and Mike as well. Mike suggested that we add a rail to the back porch to prevent such occurrences. Paula and Hillary agreed. I knew not only was the walk out of the question but that I should no longer attempt it unless Mike was there to help.
I have not written in a while because I have been sick since Christmas day and have only had a reasonable amount of energy for about two days. Mike has been my right arm for the past two weeks, coming to my aid for Dad shifts at a moment’s notice. I don’t know if I would have been able to handle last Thursday without him.
Still recovering from my illness, as I was driving to Dad’s house I began to psych myself up, preparing myself for “Pie for Shower” night. In my head I went through my routine, sounding a little like an auctioneer, “I have here a BEAUTIFUL Dutch apple pie! This here pie is fresh out of the oven just the way mom used to make. Let’s start the bidding at ONE SHOWER! Do I hear one shower, I have a bid for one shower! Do I here another bid?? Going ONCE…Going TWICE…SOLD to the man with the oily hair for ONE SHOWER!!” That was how it went in my head…and God laughed.
As soon as I walked through the carport entry I knew the evening would be very different from my plans. It was the second time I had walked through that very door and been hit in the face with a foul odor. I peeked into the side bathroom and, just as I feared, saw that Dad was suffering from severe diarrhea. His jeans, belt and briefs were on the floor, all coated with feces. It was apparent that Dad had tried to clean up the mess around the toilet but had been unsuccessful. I followed the trail back to his bedroom and into his bathroom where dad was standing in a flannel shirt, under shirt and socks with a pair of clean briefs in hand (I was grateful for his slumped posture). He was very weak and shaking. Poor guy.
“Dad, let me help you”, I began, gently taking the briefs out of his hand. “You are obviously having some bowel problems”.
“You think??” he laughed helplessly.
“Dad, you can’t put these briefs on. You need to really clean off. It’s running down the back of your leg. How about we get you in the shower right now?” I urged.
“Okay”, he said, “Just let me sit and rest for a minute”, as he shuffled into the bedroom.
“NOOO!” I thought panicking, “Don’t sit on the…” plop “…bed”. He sat there on the edge of the bed as, in my mind, I added another hour for laundry to my visit.
I went into the bathroom, started the shower and prepped the area for him. When I came back to the bed and helped him up there was a large smear underneath him. This was going to be a very long night. Dad lacked the energy to order me out as I insisted on taking his soiled clothing before leaving the bathroom. Poor Dad was so weak. “Don’t worry, Dad. Your shower chair is in there. You rest there as long as you need to. I will go put the pie in the oven”.
First order of business was to bring in reinforcements. I called Mike and explained the situation. He came over right away. His job was to keep Dad distracted while I handled clean up. I stripped the bed while dinner was cooking. When Dad came out of the shower, I started the first load of laundry. After he emerged from the bedroom we ate dinner and then Mike got him to his recliner to watch Jurassic Park. I went back to the laundry room and used the utility sink to clean Dad’s belt. As I was spraying it off I lost my grip on the spray nozzle and shot myself the chest. It was quite a hook shot because somehow it curved around inside my shirt and soaked my lower back. Mike heard me laughing from the other room. At this point the absurdity of the situation was starting to amuse me.
Although I have found on other shower nights that his briefs were unusually soiled, I had been unaware he had a frequent diarrhea problem. After sending a text to Paula about what was happening she related that she, too, had fished some diarrhea soiled jeans and briefs out of a hidden laundry bin. It was oddly comforting to know I wasn’t the only one in the family who had to deal with this.
Next, I went back to the bedroom to see what other surprises awaited me. On his bed I found a soiled towel and sheets that needed changing. I picked up the towel only to realize a second too late that I was clutching the most soiled part. Ugh! Okay, par for the course, I started another load.
After washing my hands I came out and joined Mike and Dad, and slumped in a chair. They were at the part of the movie when Laura Dern puts her whole arm in a giant pile of dinosaur droppings. The irony made me laugh. “Honey, I feel your pain”, I thought, “I had my hand in dinosaur poop tonight, too”.
Pie came out of the oven as usual. Dad certainly deserved his pie tonight. What a tough day!
Mike joined me in the kitchen to help clean up. I looked at him, exhausted, and said, “What a night. You know, what amazes me is that some people actually choose to do this for a living”.
Mike’s response was insightful. “You know, it goes without saying that we all honor our firefighters, police and military personnel. You see posts about them on Facebook every day…but, as hard as this night is, there are people who do this every day for strangers. Where are their honors?” Very profound. We do it for Dad because we love him, but there are people who have made it their life’s work to go into the trenches of hospice, dementia and elderly care. What kind of person makes that kind of commitment to humanity? What must that person be made of to care for total strangers in such an intimate way?
These are the unsung heros of our society. They don’t look for praise or laurels for their devotion to others. These amazing people do it by choice, knowing that they will not be widly recognized for their efforts. If you ask one of these professional caregivers I am sure their reasons for choosing a life of service would be different but ultimately their feelings about their job would be similar: that it is fulfilling to know that they are making a difference.
It goes without saying that these are rare individuals. I wish there was a special day to honor these human angels of mercy that walk among us, unseen, unrecognized. There should be a day of respect just for them.
To be continued….