Saturday, August 19, 2006

Changing A Brief (Elderly Bedridden Person)

First thing every morning I change Bea’s brief.

You would think this task would be quite straightforward but it actually has become harder than ever. A month or two ago, my mother could actively participate. Now she no longer has the strength to stay up on one side. Changing Bea also is complicated by knee pain. Her knees hurt whenever they move.

“Good morning!” I say and lower the bedrail.

“What’s your name?” Bea mumbles absentmindedly.

I scoot in close so she can recognize me.

“Sandy,” I say in as cheerful a voice as I can muster.

Her eyes stare straight into mine without a glimmer of recognition. Inside, I pang like a violin in the hands of an awkward child.

“I’m your daughter. Remember?”

Bea furrows her brow. Somewhere, in there, lies the memory. This is what elderly care must be like every day for people whose parents have Alzheimer’s.

I position Bea on the mattress to provide a runway of sorts. Off come the adhesive tabs. I tuck the far side under her body, then swing her up on her hip.

“Hey! Don’t be so rough!” Bea protests. “Makes me feel like a bale of hay.”

I can think of a simile that would be more apt. Every time I push her up into the air this way, I feel like I am manipulating a fragile glass vial which may, at any time, shatter into a million pieces. I have to keep one hand on her body, so she stays up in the air while I clean her.

Changing a bedridden elderly person is not like changing a baby. Newborns are tiny, so lifting their bottoms is easy. One does not lift up an elderly bedridden adult.

Also, babies are resilient and quickly become padded with baby fat. Elderly people are the opposite. Bea’s thin skin is now stretched over her bones which all seem to poke out, revealing her skeleton.

Once Bea is on her side, I quickly administer a baby wipe or two or three, remove the soiled brief, and tuck a new one underneath. She doesn’t complain once the process has begun and appreciates being changed. I don’t know whether this ordeal is harder on me or on her. I am always relieved when it is over …

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