Archive for January, 2012

The next day wa…

The next day wasn’t as bad giving Clara her insulin injection but she had not bathed for two days and it was becoming noticeable.  I knew what I needed to do, but I had never washed another adult before this.  My main concern was for Clara’s dignity, so I tried to act as nonchalantly as I could having to completely undress Clara, then help her into the tub; inside though I was dying of embarrassment.  I’m a pretty modest person, I don’t even like changing my clothes in front of my husband, and now I’m taking a washcloth to my mother’s-in-law most private body parts.  Never did I imagine this when we first came up with the idea of her moving in with us!  Taking care of Clara was part of our plan, even though I didn’t think it would come to this, it was what she needed.  So here I am at thirty-seven years old washing my mother-in- law, thinking this is what my skin will look like when I am seventy-three years old, and it was an unpleasant look into the future!  After her shower, I dried her off, helped her to her bed, where she sat as I put lotion and powder on her before dressing her.  Oddly enough, I felt a closeness to Clara at that moment as if this experience bonded our relationship stronger, but not enough to make the experience of bathing her a joyful one.  I even used some scented lotion and took several minutes massaging her feet and lower legs.  Clara was so appreciative.  I thought of how long she had been divorced, over thirty years and raising four children on her own.  I felt sad thinking of how lonely her life must have been especially as her children grew older and moved out.  I thought I would do something special for her every day.  At this point I figured the worst was over, I had wiped her butt, showered her, and I still survived.  This woman deserved to be taken care of.  It wasn’t long before I wondered if it was a caregiver that first uttered the expression, ‘Ignorance is bliss.’  The worst was yet to come and there was no way to prepare for it, so I was glad that I had never even imagined it. 


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Not much time had passed when I heard Clara yell, “Michele” at the top of her lungs.  I scurried over as quickly as I could to hear the announcement, “I need to go to the toilet and I need you to get me up.”  Clara provided little assistance as I literally put my arms around her and picked her up.  I escorted her to the bathroom and she asked me to pull her pants and underwear down.  It seemed like each task was getting worse.  I puttered around her apartment, doing some light dusting waiting for her to finish in the bathroom so I could help her back to her sofa.  When I heard her call my name, I wasn’t alarmed, until I found her still sitting on the toilet.  I guess I didn’t have a clue at this point because I asked her if she needed something, i.e. toilet paper etc.  She said, “I can’t reach, I need you to wipe my butt.”  Okay, there weren’t any lessons for this one!  My voice said, “Sure, no problem” but my head said, ‘Gross, it stinks in here and that is disgusting.’  I tried to imagine back to when my sons were very young and I was on butt wiping detail but as I leaned over Clara to wipe her, I thought for sure I was going to vomit.  Old lady poop is nothing like I remember a three year olds poop smelling.  I finished or so I thought, when Clara said, “Wipe it again.”  This time I kept chanting in my head, ‘You can wash you hands in a minute, that’s what soap is for;’ over and over.  I flushed the toilet still feeling ready to hurl, washed my own hands, then helped Clara up and pulled her panties and pants back up, and got her back to the sofa.  She then asked what I was going to serve for lunch.  Food was not foremost on my mind, but the bathroom incident was over and it was time to get back to the day and lunch was just a couple of hours away.  Up to this day, I would typically eat two meals a day, but now I found myself thinking about food all of the time, planning Clara’s diabetic meals and dinner for my own family.  Before long I was eating three meals a day, and gained ten pounds the first month.

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The Journey Begins

My life changed on October 22, 1997.  That was the day I was thrown into the role of full time caregiver and it felt like my life was turned upside down.  Just two weeks prior to that day, I had undergone outpatient surgery and was just starting to feel recovered myself.  It was a beautiful October day.  My two sons,  had finished their homework and went outside to play ball.  I decided to take a quick nap before starting dinner.  That’s when I heard Clara yelling for help.  She fell and broke her arm which left her almost immobile.  As if a broken bone wasn’t bad enough, she broke her arm right about where it meets the shoulder.  A cast was not possible so a sling was put on and it was stressed that she had to keep that arm completely immobile.  It was her right arm and she was right handed. 

As we got back home that night from the emergency room, Clara was filled with fear, mainly that she would move her arm without meaning too.  Clara’s eyesight had already put certain limitations on what she felt she could do, and now she sat paralyzed with fear to even move.  I was embarrassed when Clara asked me to undress her and put her pajamas on, but my compassion for her outweighed my embarrassment.  I was ever so careful as I slipped off her clothes, put her pj’s on, then helped her into bed.  The next morning, I was over early to help her back out of bed and to her sofa.  I tested her sugar level as I had been doing regularly and then got her syringe of insulin out of the refrigerator.  Clara said she needed both hands to give herself the injection; one hand to grab a fleshy part of her belly, and the other hand the give the injection.  Since she only had use of one hand, Clara said I would have to give the injection.  I have to admit, the thought of it made me very nervous and I’m not normally a nervous person.  Flashbacks of the session with the nurse during the injection lessons came to mind and I visualized the nurse standing over me like she had with Clara insisting that I give the injection.  I also remembered that my injection hurt, and my biggest fear was hurting Clara.  I was still having a hard time each morning poking her finger tip to get a drop of blood for the monitor to test her sugar level; I would apologize profusely each time.  Now I had to add an injection to my guilt.  I took a deep breath, gently grabbed a fatty piece of her belly and gave the injection.  When finished I sighed with relief and announced, “It’s done.”  Ever so sweetly, Clara said, “You have a gentle touch, I didn’t even feel it.”  I wasn’t sure if she was being truthful or not, but it gave me the confidence I needed for the evening shot and took a bit of the guilt away as to whether I was hurting her.  That morning is when I realized my life took a drastic turn.  Clara felt comfortable holding her cup of coffee and sipping it, but was afraid to feed herself.  Again, it was a bit awkward to feed my mother-in-law like a toddler, but compassion was a good motivator to get me beyond myself.  After feeding her and cleaning up the dishes, I went back to my portion of the house, but left the door open so I could easily hear Clara if she needed to yell for me.

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