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July 27, 2017

Elderly Mothers and Bathing

Mom in her jammies

Mom never encouraged cuddling. Daddy did, but Mom, very rarely. So, other than a hug or a peck on the cheek, touching her is hard for me, especially for something as intimate as bathing.

As I arrived at her Resident Facility yesterday morning, I passed one of the Caregivers who had the day off. She had just popped in, she said, to give her client a bath and get her dressed to see her granddaughter who was coming for the day.

I realized that Mom has not had a bath in about a week. It’s not as if she is doing Marathons or sweating at some gardening task. She never raises a sweat. (Sandy, one of the other residents does sweat while working out in the heat pulling weeds, which she can’t tell from the grass but she pulls green things anyway).

I bustled into Mom’s room to find her sound asleep. Although I’ve put huge signs listing meal times on three sides of the clock, she seems to have lost any knowledge of clocks or time. I got her up and told her it was time for a bath.

In the past, she always bathed herself. Having anyone touch her that intimately was not something with which she was comfortable. But now there is no option. Well, there is, I suppose. I could let her try to do it herself but the chances of her falling are increasing daily.

Thanks to her Residence Facility, she has a large, solid plastic shower chair and a hand-held sprayer in the step in bath. The water is hot, but not too hot. I guess the Facility keeps the temperature on the water heaters at a lower level so the patients don’t burn themselves inadvertently. Mom did ask for the water to be hotter.

Gritting my teeth, as I’m sure she may have been gritting her few remaining ones, I got her into the shower without her clothes. I found that she has been sleeping in her clothes if I am not there to get her into her nightgown. Another task I will have to make sure to take care of in the evenings.

I handed her one washcloth and soap while I grabbed the other. I scrubbed her back while she did her front. Good compromise. Backs are safe territory. Still, it is shocking to see how our bodies deteriorate into sagging, tissue-thin, flesh that holds together almost nothing.

I did her legs. To my amazement, I found myself reverting to words she (or more likely the maid) had used on me as a child. “Put ‘patita’ up,” I said. Patita is Spanish for “little foot,” something we used in Mexico growing up. How quickly those dimly remembered customs come back.

Carefully, I washed around the still sore spot on the back of her ankle. It refuses to heal. It has dried but still breaks open periodically. Her legs have become mottled and purple, indicating what I’m not sure. We won’t go to the doctor. He would prescribe pills which she won’t take anyway. I try to get her to wear the stockings the doctor prescribed last time, but she forgets them. Besides they would rub against her wounded ankle.

The last time she took a bath on her own, she used body lotion to wash her hair. She complained that her hair didn’t feel clean. I guess not. This time, I poured shampoo on her head and scrubbed it in. Thank goodness for the hand-held sprayer although I was pretty damp myself. I rinsed her off and got her out of the shower.

I dried her–she did her front, of course—and got her into her Depends. I powdered her with Aloe Vera Baby powder. To my amazement, she stopped and picked up the deodorant. The habits of a lifetime, now only dimly remembered and of little use anymore. I pulled on her dress and brushed her clean hair. Done.

I wonder how the caregivers get used to washing their clients. Or how the clients get used to being washed. Do they feel the indignity of having no personal space left?

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!

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