The necessity for me to comb Dan’s hair, brush his teeth and shave and bathe him happened a little at a time. It was disheartening to see him lose the ability to care for himself and time consuming to have to do these things for him.
In a conversation to myself I complained,“Bad enough to have to care for my body every day, now two bodies to care for.”
To lessen my resentment, our live in student, Dana, began to shower, shave, and dress Dan two mornings a week. Liz shaved and dressed him one morning a week. That left me with four mornings, and that improved my attitude.
Small changes made the job easier. Our dental hygienist gave us an electric toothbrush that made teeth cleaning more effective. Dan thought it a great joke to clamp his teeth onto the brush.
Over the years Dan had clung to the old fashioned way of shaving, but there was no way I was going to use the hand-held Gillette. I purchased a cordless electric razor. He was leery of the buzzing contraption at first, but gradually came to accept it.
Showering him was not a problem, but getting him in and out of the tub for his shower was. The solution was a bath chair especially made to slide a person in and out of the tub or shower. Equipment such as shower chairs, special toilet seats, and transfer belts are available at medical supply stores listed in the yellow pages in the phone book. (I strongly recommend a transfer belt that goes around the waist and that the care giver holds on to when helping the patient walk. It makes falls less dangerous.) Supplies and equipment are costly, but sometimes health insurance or Medicare will cover the cost.
Anticipating the day that Dan would lose control of his bodily functions filled me with dread, and I was not sure it would be something I could accept. An early incident took place in Menard’s home improvement center. Dan went to the men’s restroom. He came back, and I realized from the smell that he had soiled his underwear. I surmised that Dan pulled down his slacks and underwear and stood at the urinal. His bowel movement dropped into his underwear.
I was flustered. What to do? I hailed a male clerk and had him stand guard outside the restroom. I took Dan into a stall in the restroom and cleaned him up, rinsed his underwear in the toilet and packed it in my handbag. Neither of us was happy. After that, I made sure to line his jockey shorts with a pad when we went beyond the confines of home.
Before long, accidents were so common that protective underwear was necessary all of the time. Pull ups are expensive; the cost was about $900 a year, but they are tax deductible. I looked into buying them through a medical supply service, but the cost was greater and the choice of styles more limited than if I purchased them at the local discount store.
When Dan first needed protective underwear he rebelled but eventually reached the stage where he no longer noticed his underwear.
We used the pull-ons that have permanent elastic straps on the side, and inside that I placed a pull-up minus the straps, and inside that a smaller incontinence pad. When wet, the inner pads could be easily removed and disposed of while Dan was sitting on the toilet or standing and could be replaced with clean pads. I had a diaper pail by the toilet.
At first no one but me dared help him in the bathroom. At day care he sometimes needed to go to the bathroom or have a diaper change. A male staff member was preferable to a female, but for the most part he tried not to go until I was on hand.
When Dana came to live with us, her attitude had been so matter of fact that Dan accepted her taking care of his going to the bathroom. Eventually he accepted all help in the bathroom
During the period of time when Dan was having many accidents, I exploded: “At least you could try to make it to the toilet.”
I don’t know if he understood, but even after he had lost much of his ability to communicate, walk, or get himself up and down out of chairs, he seldom soiled himself. Perhaps it was because I had learned to recognize the signs. When he began to breathe fast and became restless, it was time to put him on the toilet. Then again, perhaps he understood my need and did his best to help. Sometimes, the connection between us was there.
I came to enjoy interacting with Dan as I bathed and dressed him. He liked tactile interaction and loved attention. We both laughed at the joke of his momentarily disappearing as I pulled his turtleneck shirt over his head. I talked as I shaved him, and he was pleased.
“I know you are still there,” I told him, and in his eyes I thought I saw a “yes.”
Once more we had adjusted.