Of Diapers and Dads
How I Became a Depends-able Daughter
I am a daughter, although I'm not sure how much longer I will inhabit this role. I long ago passed the stage where being a good daughter meant showing up for Thanksgiving, popping out grandchildren and calling once a week. These days, being a caring daugther is to be a care-giving daughter.
When you have elderly parents you slowly reverse roles. The shift is strangely familiar, like parenting as you've known it with your own kids. But it's also unsettling and surreal. Here they are -- the people who brought you into the world and raised you to adulthood, slowly but steadily declining back toward infanthood. And here you are, being called upon to resurrect skills you probably haven't used in at least a decade, probably more.
You can't just treat them like children -- they're not children. But they're dependent in ways that test your patience, if not your sanity. And in the end, the fight to preserve their dignity just gets... lost.
Now, I don't live with my dad (my mom is already gone). I don't have 24/7 care of his physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual well-being as I do my son's. Truly, he has been functioning just fine in all of these departments. Until recently, when he has started to fail -- and fail fast.
Dad's most recent hospitalization about 6 weeks ago really took a toll. He has never gotten his sea legs back. He's terrified of falling again, so he clings to his wheelchair. As a result, his leg muscles have atrophied. Which makes the possibility of falling all the more real.
I should mention that my Dad lives in a lovely residential facility that combines independent with assisted living. The wellness staff checks in on him every 2 hours. They escort him down to meals or bring him up a tray if he prefers to stay in his apartment. So it's not like (as my dear Hubby so aptly put it) he's living alone in squalor with no one to watch out for his needs.
Fast-forward to this weekend. Hubby and I planned a much-needed break from dealing with his father, the Alzheimer's/lymphoma patient. We planned to stop in to visit my dad and, if he was up for it, take him either down to our out for lunch.
We fully expected to have our usual pleasant visit -- chatting about politics and listening to his stories for the trillionth time. What we walked into instead was a feeble and miserable Dad, with what appears to be a UTI (urinary tract infection). Poor guy hadn't slept a wink worrying he might wet the bed. He had already changed his boxers four times. He was exhausted, dehydrated and having a devil of a time rolling himself into the bathroom every 10 minutes.
No one disputes that Dad needed relief, and quickly. The issue became how his (hopefully temporary) incontinence should be handled.
At this juncture it's essential for you to understand that the adult diapers were already in the apartment when I got there. The resident nurse, head of the geriatric wellness staff for Springfield Place, had kindly brought them up to give Dad a little peace of mind and comfort. All I did -- and I will swear this on a stack of any version of the Bible you you like -- was help Dad to put one on.
The minute that snug elastic waistband clinched around his belly he breathed a huge sigh of relief. No longer fearing the embarassment and discomfort of wetting himself, he could finally relax and enjoy our visit.
Hubby and I checked into our hotel nearby. We planned to drive out to the beach early the next morning and check back in on Dad before heading home.
The Diaper Wars
I texted my sister with an update on Dad's UTI symptoms and our actions. The minute she read the word "Depends" my cell phone rang... and the battle was ON.
By her reaction you would have thoguht I had bound Dad into a straightjacket and tethered him to the bed to ferment in his own filth for the rest of his days. The shear vitriole of her response set me into that familiar sibling-on-sibling defensive stance. "OMG, I've f****d up again. I don't know anything. I'm incompetent. She's the nurse and I should always check anything and everything medical with her before giving Dad so much as a glass of water."
It took me completely off guard, but once I regained my composure I realized the truth of the matter. My husband confirmed what I was thinking,"She's not only out of her tree, she's way out of line here!!"
I didn't do anything wrong. A fellow medical professional, a geriatric nurse, no less, had brought Dad the diaper. She just beat me to the punch.
This morning I called Dad to see if he wanted me to bring him anything. He said, "Oh yes. Bring me some more of those male diapers. They're tremendous!"
And so I did. And I defended the decision later to my brother, who had obviously been kibbutzing with my hysterical sister. He tried to convince me that Dad is in danger of being kicked out of Springfield Place if he becomes incontinent. I checked that with the Wellness Director and it's categorically untrue.
My dad's final comment to Hubby and me as we said our farewells: "I really appreciate everything you did for me this weekend. Don't forget, I make the decisions around here. And I say you did the right thing. Thank you."
The morals of this story:
1. Some people are full of excrement when it comes to making decisions about other people's...
2. Urine over your head, so don't get pissy with me, sister...
3. All's well that ends well ... no ifs, ands, or butts about that!!!