I once luxuriated in the bath water. Hot, really hot. Softened by essential oils. The tub enveloped in air, scented with lavender or citrus or apple spice, hazed by a mist of steamy vapor. I lay my head back against a foam pillow, relaxed, comfortable. I slid my shoulders down into the water, my body floating limply. The soft, dim, light from candles flickered from cups of fragrant oils: a mind, body, soul soothing metamorphous into the fairyland of Dorothy on the yellow brick road in the colorful land of Oz!
Well, that might be a little much – but that’s the idea.
Cut to black and white, my present. The harsh reality and sting of the shower spray, the nozzle wielded by the ever-present caregiver. Get wet. Get scrubbed. Get out. Get dried. Get lotion-ed. Get p.j-ed. Done!
Well, that’s a little much, too – going to the extremes; just the outlines.
One of the similar and essential facts of both bathing myself amidst steam, oils, fragrance, candles, and the steady stream of a hand-wielded shower head - is my naked body. I didn’t mind being unclothed, solitary, in the bath tub of my home. Now, however, I’m not in my home. I’m not alone. My body is not in my hands. I can’t do myself what has to be done in order to be clean. That’s why I’m being showered.
This senescent 80-year-old man will be in the hands of a twenty-something female caregiver. That’s the way it is: I depend on others for various personal needs. My meals are in the hands of a cook. My laundry is in the hands of the house keeper aide. My letters are in the hands of whoever is free to open them. The difference is that touching food, laundry, and letters, while personal care, are, in our culture, acceptable touching. The naked body – especially by the opposite gender – is not (except under certain circumstances which I’m supposedly too old to think about or engage in.)
There are two important elements in my cleaning process: the obvious - physical touching. The less obvious – rhetoric, or what is done to me and what I say to the caregiver to tell her what to do. Specifically, what is cleaned and what I call it. Do I present myself to the caregiver as a cultured, octogenarian gentleman or as a “street slanger?” Do I speak according to Webster’s or the Urban Dictionary?
Being showered by a young woman, and the physical intimacies involved, concerns me – it’s a matter of embarrassment and of dignity. But it apparently doesn’t enter the minds of these sweet, seemingly innocent young women. After all, they’re twenty-somethings. So, what’s the big deal?
What accounts for this insouciance of the sexually active collegians: the Sixties? Feminism? Woodstock? A modern socio-cultural paradigm? Having younger brothers they had to shower or older brothers walking around the house naked? Or - dread the machismo thought - there’s nothing to bother looking at – am I penily- challenged? I never ask.
I’m OK with the “to do,” but when it comes to what to call what portion of the anatomy, I hesitate. I don’t want to offend sublime young ears – which probably have been “offended” since middle school and PG-13 movies.
Like waking and being dressed, the several activities in the shower have become a nightly ritual in the Assisted Living Facility (ALF). They’re carried out by the caregivers who are on the evening shift. Most residents get a weekly or bi-weekly shower. I pay extra for a daily (nightly) shower. After all, I work out every day, and live my life in the world outside of the ALF.
Getting clean is internal as well as an external process. Thus, I’m usually asked first if I need to use – choose the most socially acceptable word: the a) restroom; b) bathroom; c) facilities d) toilet. Being a realist, I answer d.
Now I’m prepared for toileting.
I’ve described the procedure in a previous blog. If you’ve seen it, skip the next paragraph.
-My chair is wheeled several feet from the rest room or bathroom or whatever and parked.
-I step awkwardly to the toilet.
-Stand in front of it, back to the caregiver. Hold the handicap bar and wait for my pants and underwear to be pulled down.
As the caregiver leaves, she recites the mantra: just pull the cord when you’re done. (Sound familiar?) I cleanse my bladder or bowels or both, “pull the cord” and . . . wait – not as long as other times because the caregiver is committed to my shower and gets back fast.
The whole event consists of three parts: the pre-shower (we’re in that now), the shower, and post-shower. As we start, there are rhetorical options again, depending upon which internal organ has to be cleansed. I’ve . . .
1. a) urinated b) peed c) pissed.
2. a) defecated b) pooped c) shit.
In step 1, the caregiver - the more knowing or experienced - merely tears off a piece of toilet paper and gently dabs the tip of my (I hesitate to use multiple choice here), closes the toilet lid, sits me on it, and completes the undressing. She removes my shoes (hopefully first untying the laces) and socks, lifts my shirt over my head, slips my right arm through the sleeve and then the left.
Now I’m naked and cold, with more embarrassment and less dignity than before.
But let’s change the scenario: suppose when I sat on the toilet it wasn’t only the bladder that was cleansed, but also the bowel. Now it gets complicated. While the cleaning out was internal and simple, the cleaning up is external and not as simple - rhetorically.
Back to multiple choice: I can either call what is done - a) perineal care; b) rectal hygiene; c) sphincter cleansing; or d) wiping my ass. The latter verb in nominative form is given preference by most caregivers (the object of the verb is omitted.) Since I sit both to urinate and defecate, she usually asks right off, “Do you need a wipe?” That’s usually followed by “wet?” or “dry?’ I mumble an answer. It’s nothing I would shout with pride.
That’s the end of Step 1- the pre-shower.