She barely whispers “Good Morning” when she comes into my room. She thinks I may be asleep. Most times though, as soon as her key slips through the deadbolt, I am instantly awake. My hearing that acute, my alertness that intense. I let her think she has woken me up, using those few sweet minutes to ready my mind because I know that I take time.
She always asks how I spent the night. I actually stop and think about my answer to her carefully. I know she is recording Me mentally, like any good Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) should. Changes in my sleep or eating or how I’ve been feeling could portend things later on, things that may be important for a re-telling. And so I am truthful and as accurate as my just awoken mind can tell it. She nods, listening intently as she makes her way to the bathroom to wash her hands. And there is this slight shifting of her weight from one foot to the other that she does as she washes her hands before she turns the water off, lifting her palms towards her, as if freshly scrubbed in for surgery. She makes sure not to touch anything but the paper towels. Drying her digits thoroughly, she reaches for the vinyl gloves, the kinds that don’t stick and tear my delicate-in-weird-places skin. Satisfied, she turns to me, ready to begin.
By the time she is done, I have felt around beneath the covers in front of me and unearthed the overhead light remote. With a light touch, I press the center “Light Bulb” icon button without having to lay eyes on it. The four absurdly bright LED bulbs compete only with the brightness of the sun. She makes small talk as she removes my water bottle, TV remote, light remote and cell phone from the space in front of me, careful not to pull the sheets back too fast or far. She turns then to head back into the bathroom to draw my washing up water. She lets it run hot before pushing the small basin beneath the faucet to catch the steamy contents, making sure to add in just the right amount of cold water to temper it. She sets up my portable white table with two wash clothes, a hand towel, my bar of soap on is silicone soap holder, the basin of still steamy water. Sometimes she gets the wet wipes. Sometimes a tube of ointment.
Satisfied with her set up, she comes close, almost asking if I am ready. “Okay.” I whisper, knowing there is no other real response but this one. She is here for two hours and the time is ticking. She doesn’t talk much unless I do; which most mornings I don’t. The quiet is easy; her in her ‘work’ of turning me, moving my arms and legs in ways they used to be able to move on their own, Me inside mySelf, mentally getting ready for this day. Each keeping space where we know best.
I say that she is in her ‘work’ of turning and moving me, washing my body, cleaning me up but I should really say she is in her vocation. The care she gives me makes me ashamed with how terribly I have ‘taken care of’ myself up until now. This depression I’ve been battling these months, has left me not asking for simple things like lotion on my dry skin or a damp cloth across the back of my neck most mornings. It’s left me just at the line of caring that my clothes are clean and that I am up for the day. But under Her watchful eye, she’s made sure to tend to the insides of my arms where my elbows bend, behind my neck and ears, she’s made sure that lotion kisses my skin often. And my skin, so thankful for these small attentions, glows, making me wonder if this is Me? Seeing my body now, as imperfect and unconventional as it is, it makes me sad. Not for its imperfections but for how I’ve long neglected it. When was the last time I cared to lotion my beautiful, robust legs and thighs even though they would be hidden beneath my pant legs? When was the last time I cared which blouse I wore, beyond it being clean? Her vocation to her work humbles me and makes me all the more thankful.
Pulling the covers all the way off, she surveys if any changes have happened over the night. Seeing as I can no longer roll or move much on my own, I am pretty much in the same position she set me up in the night before. I say nothing, letting her check off her last mental picture of how she left me, to now. Satisfied, she reaches for the green cotton canvas hoyer lift sling. She lines up two of the four metal bar sheathed corners away from me, before rolling me slightly towards her in order to slide the two bars closest to me: one beneath my shoulder, the other just behind my thigh, the thick fabric of the sling spanned and stretched between. Secure in it’s placement, She makes eye contact, asking if I am okay to be turned onto my back. “Okay.” I barely whisper as she places one open palm on my right shoulder, the other on the top of my right thigh and pushes firmly. She watches my face for out of the ordinary grimaces of pain as I arrive onto my back.
I grimace only because the achiness is so acute, though ultimately temporary most times. My genetically deficient muscles, squeak and panic beneath my skin every morning, reminding me how they don’t work right. I feel for any out of the ordinary hurts before relaxing my face. My relief causes her to relax in this moment too. She continues by pulling the draw sheet beneath me towards her, completing my turn onto my back. After a few mumbled adjustments for comfort, she begins her vocation of washing me…
In these moments, as soapy wash cloth meets my skin, I retreat; thinking of the potential challenges of the day, the laundry list of things I need to get done. I reassess and spell out the probable list of things that will get done. I think about where I need to go, what clothes I need to wear while I am there. Will it be cold? Is it nippy outside? Will I need an undershirt?
“Alexa… how cold is it?” Alexa rattles off a list of numbers, probabilities, words. We both listen. I mumble something about needing to wear an undershirt because the appointment I am going to is always cold. She nods and keeps on washing me, careful about the skin on my body that never gets sun, as not to pass the washcloth too hard and tear it. I stay present for a moment, only to retreat into another thought, a persistent problem, a snippet of a song lyric, wondering if my arms will be strong enough to carry out the days tasks or my health up to the days challenges. There really isn’t anything else to do in those moments, when my body is being cared for by hands that are not mine. Thinking about what I can no longer do for myself doesn’t help. So I do my best not to do that.
When Her hands stop moving over my skin, I snap back. Aware that she is heading back to the bathroom for a water change. There are generally three of them every morning. She is careful to pour the cloudy water into the toilet and flush every time. She is careful to make the water run hot to ensure it stays warm through every washing. She is careful to make sure that I am okay every step of the way. And Her care of me is curious if only because she does it so well without Me having to micro-manage every one of her moves, which is refreshing and not at all what I have been used to. Did I say that I was thankful?
She wheels the hoyer lift over my bed, engaging the hooks into the four points of the sling beneath me. She signals that she is ready to begin pumping the handle and I whisper my standard “Okay…”. Each crank of the handle lifts me off the bed, until just the heels of my feet are touching it. She moves my feet off the bed and I am cradled by the green cotton canvas through the air. I try not to stare into the obnoxious LED lights, though this is hard since I am so close to them. She maneuvers the lift over my wheelchair and slowly turns the knob, which lowers me into my seat. “I’m good…” I let her know before she removes the hooks from their places. After some adjustments, she straightens me into an upright sitting position. My back feels stiff as a board. I am, for the moment, unable to turn my head at all because of this stiffness. Sometimes I am dizzy. But she holds onto my shoulders, her face near, waiting for my signal that I’ve regained my balance and all is well. I take a deep breath, “Okay. I’m Okay.” She moves her hands away slightly to make sure, then goes about the rest of the routine of my picking out my bra, undies, clothes.
She doesn’t judge; might give her input on what may match better. But always, I have the final say; she respects my autonomy. “Remember your undershirt!” She’ll say before snatching it up off the hook by the closet. Right, I think. And nod my head in approval. She does the rest of the washing of my body. She doesn’t cringe as I go pee or that she has to clean me after I do. She goes through the motions of brushing what’s left of my Celiac ravaged hair as if it were a Queen’s luxurious mane. We pick a hat (or wig) that may work well for where I am going, what I am wearing and what I feel like that day. Satisfied that I look put together, she backs away from the back of my chair and I roll into the mirror-less bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face from rote.
I find this puzzling these past few months, that I have no bathroom mirror. Of all the things I do and have other’s help me with, I wonder why a mirror in my bathroom hasn’t been one of them. What part of me, hasn’t wanted one? As I brush my teeth, she makes my bed. As I wash my face, she tidies up my room where my weak fingers and hands routinely drop things that I deem unimportant to bother Nephew about retrieving. But she sees them, and she fixes them, without remark or complaint.
Exiting the bathroom, she hands me a paper towel and I am surprised. The look on my face must have asked what’s this for? because she replied, “…to dry your hands.” I reach out hesitantly, wondering why I feel I don’t deserve this small gesture. She goes about readying the trash bins in my room to be emptied. I watch as she surveys the room for anything she might have left undone. I too scan, not sure what I am looking for in my own room. I timidly pipe up that I need help taking my vitamins and need help getting some food heated before I head out. She acknowledges this almost apologetically, as if I had told her this before and she’d forgotten. Only I hadn’t so there was nothing for her to be apologetic for.
We walk in easy silence to the kitchen, where she pours out a measured amount of my liquid vitamin and puts the flexible medicine measuring cup to my lips. I tilt my head, letting it fall back slightly to drain the entirety of the liquid before swallowing. It tastes like dirty metal water. I wince. She pours a bit of water into the cup and I take the rest down. I tell her which tupperware of half-eaten food I will finish this morning before I go. Placing it into the microwave, she punches in the numbers as I forgot to grab my reacher. We leave to finish get me ready.
I show her which shawl I will be wearing out today and that I want to wear it like a scarf and not across my shoulders. She fixes it. Next she grabs my purse and puts it on me body-wise: against my left shoulder, under my right arm. We position it. I ask her for my key clip, which she puts on my seat belt, which she tightens, since I will be taking the special transportation. My food beeps. We look at each other and I tell her, “I’m all set. You can get it, so I can eat before I leave.” She hustles to the microwave and is back absurdly quick. She fixes my arms so I can eat.
Two hours. She asks if I need her to do anything else for me before she goes? I tell her no – she’s done everything. I tell her that I’ll have the driver lock the front door for me when he gets here. She does a once over, of me, of my room, of her work, before grabbing the garbage bag and heading out.
I take time. I take time to be readied every day. I take time to be put together. My showing up anywhere, takes a minimum of two hours, of planning, work, thought. I may be slow in getting there, but if I give you my word, I’ll arrive.
Understand though: I take time.
-Protect Ya Life <3