I wonder if there are any statistics on how many female caregivers stop shaving their legs when we have to start shaving our husband’s faces. Time constraints are as good as any other excuse for our apathy about not shaving what can be hidden with slacks or for not applying makeup and perfume. I can’t remember the last time I took a leisurely bath where I had the time to lather up my lower limbs and run a razor up in smooth, slow strokes like a model in a Gillette commercial. While helping my husband, Don, in the shower today these were the thoughts that ran through my head as I looked down at my legs expecting to see the natural, European look. I was shocked to see they are bald as a preverbal billiard ball. Oh, ya, I forgot that menopause takes the hair away and it doesn’t come back.
I’ve been shaving Don’s face since he went on the blood thinner, Coumadin, even though his occupational therapist wants him to do all his own grooming. But he’s so clumpy shaving left-handed and it’s really hard to make time for extra trips to ER. Besides, we have a new wheelchair accessible bathroom and the color of blood would clash with the décor and if I let Don do it all on his own, our water bills would be around five hundred dollars.
Our shower routine: I help Don transfer into the shower, shave his face, scrub his back, and pull the curtain closed so that he can do the rest of his shower alone. Then it starts—those sound effects, the kind like Meg Ryan made in her famous movie scene where she’s faking an orgasm in the restaurant. The first time I heard Don moaning and groaning I thought, “Oh, God, he’s having a private moment and I’d rather not know about.” This went on with every shower for a couple of weeks before a voyeuristic moment made me slowly draw the shower curtain back to peek inside. There sat Don, eyes closed, doing his moaning and groaning routine only he wasn’t—well, you know what he wasn’t doing. He was shampooing his hair! I can be so slow on the draw. It hadn’t dawned on me that all Don was doing was an imitation of the shampoo commercial that is imitating Meg Ryan’s orgasm scene.
Time to dry off—Don does it all but his tushy. But I’m on the creams and ointments committee, so I have to be there. I start with his feet, and work my way up. I apply the Naftlin gel for the toe nail fungus he picked up at the hospital and that his diabetes doesn’t want to give back. Next comes the Nystatin for jock rash. That was fun the first time I had to have Don’s doctor look at that—all three of us with our noses practically down in Don’s crotch. The doctor tells me it’s common for wheelchair bound guys to have a perpetual case and it won’t go away without air. I’ve tried to get my husband to sleep commando, but he picks this stage of his life to get modest. Men! Go figure.
Next I apply a coat of Betadine antibiotic to the bruises and scratches on his paralyzed arm that are caused by our lap sitting dog and the Coumadin. Someday I’ll probably get investigated by Social Services and I’ll have to prove that the bruises are not caregiver abuse—hey, maybe I should knit the dog a set of booties. At this point in Don’s routine I think, “Did I miss anything?” No, Don is applying his Stetson antiperspirant to his left arm pit. You should have seen him the time I brought home another brand and his aphasiac brain couldn’t tell me in any other way but to throw it across the room day after day until I figured it out. His vocabulary is around twenty-five words and “don’t buy this crap anymore” isn’t one of his working phrases.
Following the left arm pit, comes his right arm pit royal ritual. No antiperspirant here or the fungus will start back in again. No air gets to the pit when you can’t move an arm. So, it’s ten powder puffs full of Johnson’s Baby Powder. Not nine. Not eleven. I tried explaining the danger to our lungs of inhaling that white cloud in the room but for some reason, Don’s aphasiac brain counts everything in tens. Now I just hold my breath and hope that he doesn’t pick bath time to start learning to count to a higher number. And people wonder why we take two hours to shower.
After our showers today, we got distracted by a fat cat with long brown hair and four white feet who was stalking the neighbor’s birdfeeder and all three of us—the dog, Don and me—stopped what we were doing to watch until the cat got bored and lumbered across our back yard. The three of us followed his path, going from window to window until the cat caught Cooper’s eye and they tried to stare each other down. The cat won.
Being Saturday, we headed into town to go to our favorite restaurant for omelets. I parked in the last handicapped space, transferred Don to his chair and when we got to the door a waitress barred the way and told us they were doing some painting over the weekend and closing early.
“If you had just gotten here five minutes ago,” she said, “We could have served you.”
On the way back to the car I was cursing the cat in the yard and promising Don I’d shoot the darn thing the next time I see it. Damned cat cheated us out of our omelets! Don, he started yodeling at the top of his lungs. The man can’t talk but he still finds ways to made fun of me when I get into one of my titters.
We drove to our next favorite restaurant and as I lowered the wheelchair with its Bruno lift, it got hung up on the trailer hitch. While I was trying to decide if there was a beefy guy near-by to help, Don was sitting inside the Blazer joyfully teaching himself the four letter words I had used to describe the cat. I was pleased when he came up with one of his own.
Inside the restaurant Don smiled across the table and I saw the want-to-cowboy he used to be and I thought about how lucky I am that I didn’t have to purée his egg rolls and thicken his tea. He’s come a long ways since the stroke. I looked down at my plate and saw a couple of tiny cubes that looked like clear gelatin and I wondered what they were. I ate one. Tasteless. I ate another, and then it dawned on me. They were eatable computer chips that program people to drive to their restaurant every time a UPS truck comes down the street.
Back in the Blazer after lunch, Don had to pee. We drove around to the back of the grocery store, before going in, and I pulled up to our regular spot where he could use his urinal. I felt like a male dog that needed to remark his territory as I poured the pee at the base of the ‘No Parking, Fire Lane’ sign. I laughed, thinking, “If only the people who believe I always live by the rules could see me now.” It may not have been a bra-burning march or a stop-the-war demonstration from my youth, but I can still pull off a little civil disobedience.
Jean Riva © 2006