I am catching up on material I should have posted a long time ago. This was originally written 10/10/08
Caregiving is not for the faint of heart, or weak of stomach. It is a bit like motherhood in that regard. One gets to become intimately familiar with all the bodily functions and fluids of the one entrusted into your care. Faced with some of the grossest situations in life, there is the option of either getting really sick, or laughing at the way life is. This post is a nod to the latter option, but if you have a weakness to the former, maybe you’d better not read on.
What is the most gross? It’s always a matter of personal sensitivities. Let’s review some options and make a decision.
Spit. Every parent has gone through the “fishing junk out of a baby’s mouth” experience. Usually it is prefaced by the exclamation, “Ahhh! That’s yucky! Don’t stick that in your mouth!” At which point the finger must be inserted to pry the offending object from the unwilling baby’s mouth. It can be kind of gross with the baby slobbering all over the place, especially if the naughty object was a piece of paper, or something else that can be wadded up and absorb a lot of spit in a squishy, nasty, sort of way.
I have undergone a lot of spit experiences. While I haven’t been required to take inappropriate objects from Grandpa’s mouth, I have been required to extract his teeth numerous times. Grandpa has dentures, and as his Alzheimer’s has worsened he grows increasingly unable to remove and replace his dentures. Early on he would try to take care of his own teeth, but as that become a process fraught with disasters I instigated a new routine where he was tucked into bed and I would then ask him to take out his teeth and put them into a container I provided. Afterward, I would clean his teeth. That worked for a while, but we have the occasions when he is either so exhausted he doesn’t have the energy to take out his teeth, or he is completely confused over the process. I will say, “Take out your teeth, Grandpa.” He will grip the end of his bed, or the blanket, and pull for all he is worth, saying, “I’m trying! I’m trying!” In these circumstances I must remove his teeth myself. This means firmly grasping his front top incisors and gently wiggling the teeth back and forth until the suction fit comes loose and the top plate pops out. Then I snag the bottom teeth. If Grandpa had a bedtime snack before going to bed there is often food goobering up the teeth, and they can come out with long stringy spit. Kinda nasty.
I have also needed to offer a helping hand with eating. Grandpa spits out a lot of food. Back in the days when his mind was still whole there would be the occasional bit of food he couldn’t properly chew with his dentures, and he would have to spit it out. Nowadays a lot of food is considered inedible by Grandpa, whether it really is or not. When his mind was better he would carefully spit the offending food back into his spoon and set it on the side of his plate, on the table, or–most often–into the small garbage can beside his seat. As he grew worse he began to have trouble with the garbage can, taking stuff out as often as putting his food rejects in, and half the time simply tossing his food on the floor instead of making it into the garbage can. So, the garbage can was removed to avoid Grandpa fishing through the trash with his spoon. What food he threw on the floor was swept up after supper. But the next progression of his decline was to throw his rejected food back into his bowl, or chuck his spat out food back into the serving dish. The problem with the former is that he would end up continually sticking the rejected food back into his mouth, and spitting it out again, getting no food into his stomach. The problem with the latter is obvious. To forestall all of these troubles, I began taking an active role in his disposal of rejected food. When I saw he had something to spit out I would hold out my hand to his mouth and say, “Spit.” He would spit the food out, I would dispose of it, and the meal would go on. Of course this meant handling his chewed up wads of food, but all in all it was the best solution.
Snot. Grandpa has a problem with a drippy nose and for years a roll of toilet paper or a box of tissues was always close at hand. As Grandpa began to decline, he began to increasingly mis-use the tissues. He would endlessly tear them up, stick them in his mouth, or use them to clean up his food instead of eating it. As a result, tissues and toilet paper had to be removed from his access. This means that when he isn’t wiping his nose on his sleeve, I must wipe his nose. As anyone who had done this knows, the snot bleeds through the tissues a bit, especially if it is really wet. A bit gross, but not real bad in my book.
Pee. Back in the day, it seemed like half of my time caring for Grandpa involved pee in some way or another–getting him to the bathroom so he could pee, or cleaning up the mess when he had a pee accident. Faithful readers of this blog will recall past stories and involved disasters. A big problem with pee is that there can be so much of it, and–being liquid–it easily goes all over the place. It is not fun to clean out of the carpet. Probably the worse way to experience pee is to set your bare foot in a cold puddle of pee in the dark in the middle of the night. That will really wake you up. And then you learn that pee makes things sticky so that if you simply wipe off the linoleum or your foot there still remains a certain sticky sensations that reminds you more cleaning must really be done.
Since Grandpa is no longer able to use the bathroom for his bladder functions my problems with pee have been almost completely isolated to the regular diaper change. After having mopped up vast puddles of pee, changing a wet diaper is pretty tame. And as nasty as stepping in a puddle of cold urine is, it still doesn’t make the top of my gross list.
Poop. It comes in different shapes, sizes, textures, and oh so many different smells. A veritable banquet of sensory experiences. Poop definitely ranks up there on the gross chart and is commonly the place where sensitive stomachs fail. It doesn’t bother me that badly. While certainly unpleasant, cleaning up a soiled bottom is more contained than a urinary disaster. Also, not breathing through your nose so you don’t smell the stench, and thinking about how it is all really just chemical compounds, helps. Plus, simply having years of experience helps. Familiarity kind of dulls the senses.
The real big problem I notice (and anyone who expects to face this in the future, take note) is that it is really hard (if not impossible) to completely rid your hands of the odor of poop if you should be so unfortunate as to get it on your hands. It can be the smallest amount, and double washing your hands can still leave a faint smell. Those infinitesimal cracks in your skin, those microscopic bits . . . it’ll have you boiling your hands if you’re not careful. The most fail safe solution is to wear disposable latex gloves when wiping a soiled bottom. But here is a tip: Do yourself a favor and buy gloves that have been pre-starched. When I was first getting started I bought a small packet of gloves pre-starched and they went on easy. Then I thought I would get smart, and I bought a bulk container of gloves. Only, these weren’t dusted with cornstarch, and they were impossible to get on, properly. Dusting your own gloves with starch is way too much work. Buy the pre-starched latex gloves. You’ll thank yourself.
When all is said and done, poop is not the most gross thing for me. That honor goes to . . .
Phlegm Goobers. What can I say–it’s a texture thing. My Grandpa smoked all his life so now he is hocking up big fat snotty goobers as a result. When he was more sound in mind he would dispose of them himself, properly. Now he requires assistance (I must have my ear ever tuned to the sound of his hocking up a goober) and if I somehow fail to realize he needs assistance the goober has a good chance of being spat on the floor wherever he happens to be. Cleaning up a juicy, quivery, slimey goober from the carpet is gross enough. But stepping in one with your bare foot, having it slick across the bottom of your foot, so moist, so sticky, and oh so slimy–it is enough to just about make this grown man scream.
That is what I think is the most gross. Your opinions may vary.