Mom’s dementia is evident in everything we do nowadays. From the way she reads the ads in the magazine rather than the articles, to the way she converses in circles, her mind seems to spin away from my understanding much of the time. I try my best to be patient. I can listen and nod without needing to follow along. But my patience falters each Monday with my new responsibility: shower time.
I love to take showers. My cares seem to rinse right down the drain as the water beats down on my head or shoulders. Showers are as much for therapy as they are for cleanliness. I love the smell of the soap, the bubbles of the shampoo, and the sound of the water. If we had an everlasting hot water heater, I am certain that I would take wasteful hour-long showers.
Mom used to be this way, too. Now, it’s a battlefield. And Dad just cannot face this war. I’m not certain that she truly needs a full shower even once a week since she rarely gets out in public. But Dad has charged me with making certain she gets bathed. Since he cannot smell, he depends on my nose. And since I’m not around every day, a bath is one way I can be sure her skin is in good condition.
Once I have convinced her that a bath is in her future (a process that can take all day!), the true difficulty begins. Some days I have to catch her in the bathroom and barricade her from exiting. Then the question is how to get her undressed and convinced that her clothes won’t get wet. Next task is assuring that the air is the appropriate temperature – somewhere between sultry and steamy – and searching for the elusive exact temperature of the water so I’m not scalding her skin off her body nor dousing her in ice. (That spot on the faucet is less than a millimeter wide, I am sure.) Then we execute the very careful step over the rim and gentle settling on her chair. So far, a 30 -40 minute process and we haven’t even gotten her wet!
The search for the just-right washcloth confounds me each time. Last week she wanted to use the pink but this week she can’t bear it. Thankfully, Dove soap is always the right choice. She’s used it as long as I can remember. But the shampoo gets “stuck” in her hair and she can’t stand for me to put it on her hands or hair or washcloth. Of course, I put it in her hair anyway and it’s truly downhill from there. She’s mad now. Or hurt. Or both. Rinsing her off incenses her further. If I give her the water handle, she soaks me and the bathroom.
I practice my Lamaze breathing. Although I never used it for childbirth, it has been an invaluable tool for frustration management! By now, the bathroom temperature is hovering around 85-86 degrees and I have a river of sweat running down my back. I just keep breathing – remembering that this precious woman took very good care of me and knowing that it’s my turn to take care of her. It is a crazy difficult process on some days. But I’m sure she felt that way many times when she managed me as a toddler, a child, and a teenager.
Now it’s time for the toughest part of all: drying her off. The towels scratch her or leave fuzzies on her skin. Can’t I see all the little bugs on it? Or they smell. Or they’ve been on the floor at some point. I bought her the fluffiest, softest towel I could find and she’ll only just tolerate it. As I gently pat her dry, I try to not “tear her skin off “ or scratch her “with that sandpaper towel.” I try not to “pull her hair out.” Sometimes I’m quite tickled at this 86 – almost 87 – year old toddler. Other times, I try not to cry myself. I don’t get mad – but sometimes the frustration builds up and pours out of my eyes. Finally, she’s dried off and the end is in sight!
Getting her dressed is easy compared to the ordeal we just went through. Sometimes she doesn’t want to wear the outfit hanging on the back of the door but we can easily find another. Both of us are settling down now and starting to breathe a little easier.
At least until next Monday when we’ll do it again!