As Mom's ability to speak fades more and more, I have to keep aware of her basic needs. Every half hour, I offer her something to drink. Within a two hour period, I'll ply her with a small meal or snack to make certain she keeps her calorie count as high as possible. Reading about Huntington's Disease and its later stages prepared me for this stage. However, no one wants to talk about other aspects of caregiving. In a way, the secrecy leads the caregiver to feeling inept and incapable of coping with changes that occur within the daily routine. Intellectually, I rationalized that I could help my mother with her toiletry needs. For the past two years, one of us helps her onto the toilet. Eventually, we began helping her wipe herself clean. This didn't seem that bad, and so I told myself that changing her Depends wouldn't differ from all the diapers I changed as a parent. No one told me, though, that a "loaded" adult diaper contains--well, a ton of crap.
Because Mom often cannot speak, communicating to us that she needs to go to the restroom becomes almost impossible. If I keep alert, I'll notice an acceleration in her movements and begin our version of One-Hundred Questions.
"Mom, are you thirsty? Would you like a cola?"
She looks away as a way of answering in the negative.
"Are you hungry? Would you like a banana?"
No eye contact again.
"Do you need to use the bathroom?"
She'll grab my hand or reach for her wheel chair, which we shift to the side of the couch now because she obsessively struggles to get into and out of it if we leave it too close to her.
With haste, I'll bear-hug Mom to transport her to the chair and make a mad dash to the bathroom. We reach our destination with plenty of time to spare. Usually.
In recent weeks, Mom's had accidents because I've left the room to cook a meal or tend to the laundry. She cannot call out to let me know that she desperately needs to use the restroom. I try to check on her frequently, but unfortunately I've had a couple of times where I haven't figured out what she needs in time.
Several days ago, Mom stretched out in her bed to listen to music. I sat at my computer, taking advantage of a break from routine. The baby monitor sits on my desk, but now I don't hear the incessant "ping" of her service bell, nor the repeated calling out, "Liz, Liz, Liz" or even the more fervent, "God damn!" that used to carry across the air. Now, Mom taps on her bed rail.
"Do you need anything? Would you like to get up?" I now ask when I hear the taps. Many times Mom responds, "Quit it!" And I leave.
A few days ago, I checked on her several times, each time retuning to my room because Mom shook her head or signaled in some way that she didn't want anything. While folding a load of clothes, I noticed a change in the frequency of her tapping. Entering the room, I realized immediately that Mom had soiled herself, her bedspread and sheets, her nightgown--everything. Since she'd has smaller accidents, I keep a roll of trash bags under her bathroom sink and a pile of white washcloths that can withstand bleach dousing and multiple runs through hot water washes. I also keep disposable plastic gloves in one of the vanity drawers.
These supplies, though, didn't come near to handling this situation. I managed to clean, pull stuff aside, clean more, set aside and clean again until I felt I could transfer Mom into her wheel chair. I swung her into the bathroom, and together we got her onto her shower bench in the tub. I quickly warmed the water and began scrubbing her.
Then Mom fell.
One second she sat on her bench, and the next she did a forward roll into the tub. I slowed the momentum of her fall by grabbing one arm, but she tumbled and bumped her head on the side.
Panic flooded through me as I called for my son to come help. He assessed the situation and suggested that I get into the tub to check Mom 's neck. She stayed still, her eyes open in wide surprise. I started checking her quickly and realized that she hadn't broken anything. We debated calling 911, and but Mom managed an adamant, "No!" when she heard us discussing that option. So I held her head and neck steady while my son lifted Mom from the tub. He took her to her wheel chair where we covered her with towels so she wouldn't get chilled. I began a thorough examination of Mom while asking, again, if I should call 911 or take her to the ER. She clearly stated this time, "No!"
Mom had no lumps on her head, no sign of bruising anywhere. I think when I grabbed her, I slowed down her fall enough that she sort of thudded to a stop. I got her dressed and we took her into the family room where she wanted to sip some of her soda. While my son sat with her, I called the doctor's office and left a message. Mom's nurse had a scheduled visit in a couple of hours, so I knew someone would give her a thorough examination. We knew to keep her up and to watch for signs of a concussion, but since she was laughing about my panic, we figured her bounce in the tub scared me more than it hurt her.
As a result of this experience, I know that attempting a shower to clean my mother if she has another bowel accident isn't an option. However, I also know I have to clean her up properly if she has a similar experience. The next day, I headed to Target to prepare a kit that I've slid under Mom's bed where it's in easy reach. Inside this tub, I've placed disposable plastic gloves, wipes, paper towels, and plastic garbage sacks. It contains more wash clothes and disposable bed pads. Next to the tub I keep two wash tubs--one to fill with warm sudsy water and one for soiled washcloths. I have everything I need within easy reach to thoroughly clean my mother when the next accident occurs--because we know it will. We've dubbed it, "The Shit Kit."
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman