Thursday, February 6, 2014

Happy Birthday, Bill.




Despite the cold single digit temperatures and a foot of blowing snow, my nephew, Daniel, and I eeked our way down the back roads toting an angel food cake, strawberries, and whipped cream.

Bill was so happy to see us once he realized Daniel and I were there. "Well, hello, honey!" he greeted me. It had been about ten days since I had been back due to a bout with the flu, a rebound of the flu, working, and weather. He was disappearing right in front of my eyes. He was a fragment of that man I married. He reached out and kissed me, then, after a long heart felt hug, he let go and reached out to hug Daniel. Dan reached to shake his hand, but Bill pushed his hand to the side, holding his beloved nephew close. And then he saw his cake. But boy did his eyes light up when he saw his cake.

I hate the changes I see in my husband. Once totally into his appearance, the man in front of me today is dazed and unruly. His hair is grown out, he dawns "bed head," and sits in a daze. His beard is scraggly, unshaven, unkempt, and this man is now unable to do the work himself; of keeping up appearances. His mustache dips well into his mouth as he tries to eat his food. He spits his food out in disgust, rubbing the hairs with his tongue. He frowns. He shoves his fingers in his mouth, trying to get me to look at the space which once held his tooth.
I reflect back to a couple of weeks ago when we had this aching tooth removed, hoping to help relieve him of some of the pain. I wince remembering as Michelle, the nurse, and I literally held him in the chair, him screaming and crying and begging us to stop. He smells of infection. "I used to do this, you know?" I knew what he was telling me. He was falling apart. He used to shave, polish his teeth until they glistened, and carefully dress himself with a pride and polish one would expect from a college professor.

The Staff in Bills unit are amazing individuals, but as is the popular trend in caring for special needs, they are spread too thin. And sadly, if these issues are brought to the attention of those, namely the supervisors who can assess the needs and sees the problems, they are often turned away by the bean counters. You, the staff, are often the ones who struggle, who hold the bag of blame when simply adding one more staff in the mix could have prevented a world of hurts. You see the pain, you feel helplessness, and you are left with the expectations to do the work of five men to make the changes to meet the increasing needs of these sweet individuals who depend on them. My heart goes out to you. You are my hero.

Thank you for making sure he brushes all the way to the gums, and massage them so they become strong again. How do you explain to someone, he can't tell you he needs help any longer. And even then he may not trust you to help him because, well, he has Alzheimer's and his paranoia interferes with the help he needs. He has new sensory issues, so at this point it hurts. It hurts to be touched, it hurts not to be touched. His skin is taut, rigid, sensitive. Maybe someone tried to shave him too quickly and he remembers
being nicked? Maybe he was scared because of the rush of water in the tub? Maybe it's just awkward, new, maybe he can't even process this at all. Maybe you are now the monster that used to hide under his bed as a little boy. Maybe there's not a solution at all. Maybe it's just the way it is and I have to learn to deal with it.

There's this fine line between encouraging independent skills as long as possible and making sure the job is completed right. God bless you for what you do for us, but please keep doing it with vigor. We need your help. You are our pathway to dignity. We love you. We need you. You are underpaid, under-appreciated, and you complete the jobs that many would struggle with. And in a flash a quiet, serene afternoon can turn into twists, falls, aggression, and a whirlwind of unthinkables.  Whatever the case, I thank you for what you do.

Dan, Bill, and I trudged back to the room. "Need to squirt the dirt?" I asked, laughing at the insane phrase of words that most frequently prompted him to use
the toilet. Without these prompts, he may recognize the sensation but frequently doesn't remember what to do about them. "You know where the bathroom is?" he says with an edge of excitement. I sure do, I tell him, pointing his way to the porcelain throne. It was too late, but we tried. Turning the tragedy into a moment of celebration, we stripped down to his skivvies and I pulled out his all mighty electric trimmer. We buzzed, we trimmed, we massaged, we came out looking debonair. He points to his ears; he opens his mouth wide and brushes the freshly cut hairs, pointing to two tiny hairs on the side of his mouth that I had missed. They must have felt like full grown trees to him, because as I whacked them away, he smiled a grateful smile. I tap the clippers... "you want me to trim those nipples?" I asked him in a teasing manner. His eyes lit up, he grinned at me with that Bill McLaurine grin, "yippee yi aye, cowboy," he responds. He liked that idea, lol. A lot. Slow down, cowboy... let's get a bath. His beloved staff gathered him up, and onward we marched to the whirlpool for an added dash of TLC.

This is our life, today. We have had our ups, our downs. The definition of my relationship with Bill has been tried and there are times I wanted to walk away. Today I look at our situation. 

I cannot imagine not staying. I stayed and I stay because I made a promise to love, to cherish, for better, for worse until death do us part. I have been tested, but my word is my promise. It has nothing to do with love. We all fall in and out of love. This has to do with promises. It's not how I would have had my life turn out, but it is how it turned out.

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