Chapter Five - Home from the Hospital
2004 - Mom is 55, Scott is 30, I am 27
After nine days in the hospital, Scott has come home. We are all scared, but hopeful. Scott still has limited mobility because his staph infection is not totally under control, and he is still retaining a lot of water. He's got these "pads", we call them, his inner thighs have extra swollen balloon-like protrusions that are preventing him from walking very far, as his legs can't come together fully. But he can walk, a little bit. But he can't sit up really. He can't bathe himself. He can't cook his own meals or do any household chores. It'll be several weeks before he can do normal things again, the doctors say. Every time Scott goes to the bathroom, he needs to be cleaned, and his wounds slathered with cream, and bandages reset. Without any discussion, this has become a new part of my care-giving repertoire.
I think this is maybe punishment for something horrible I did when I was going to school in Ashland several years ago. I had been looking for an extra job, as my debt was piling up, and my student loans weren't cutting it. I answered an ad posted by a quadriplegic man, he needed help with cooking, cleaning, and other stuff. I went to meet with him. His house reeked like sickness and dirty toilets. It was dark, and dingy, and apparent why he was looking for some help. Whoever had done this job before was not very good at it. I wanted to help him so, so bad. I felt for him. He told me he'd had a hard time keeping help, that there were a lot of responsibilities that he just couldn't manage. And then he dropped the bomb - he said he needed help getting on and off the toilet when he wasn't wearing his pee and poop bags, and with bathing. I told him I would help, though I didn't really know how to transfer patients, or what to do at all. I told him I'd give it a try, that I'd be there for him. I left with a promise to come by on Wednesday, like we planned. I never went back. I drove away, knowing I would never go back. I didn't even call him to apologize until Wednesday morning, too late for him to find someone else to help. I imagined him sitting in his chair, staring out the window, looking for me to show up anyway. I imagined his disappointment, his anger, his hoplessness. I hated myself. I've never forgiven myself.
So, here we are now, getting ready to bathe Scott for the first time, making amends for a shameful past. Scott is crying, humiliated. I tell him to stop, it'll be over before we know it, it's gotta be done. I ask him to tell me about the new CD he got in the mail today, who is it, do I know any of the songs? He tells me it is some jazzy, soulful CD that I've never heard of. I ask him to sing me a song from it. He pauses for a long time, then while I'm soaping up his butt he belts out a verse quite loudly. It makes me jump and spill some of the soapy water onto the floor. Jesus, I say, you're a freak. We both burst into giggles until something I'm doing hurts him and he yelps. I say I'm sorry, I'm almost done. He says he can't stand to be in this position anymore, and I wonder if he means the position he is laying in, or the position of his life. He starts crying again. I dry him off, slather him up, and cover him with a clean sheet. He rolls over a little bit. I go take off the gloves, wash my hands and arms, and come back to him. I lay down behind him on his bed, prop my chin up on his arm, reach up and wipe his tears away.
"It'll be okay, I promise. We'll get through it, just you wait and see."
"It's not okay. I'm so sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
"You know what."
"Go to sleep." I get off the bed and tuck him in. Kiss him on the cheek and stroke his temple, tug on his ear. "Get some sleep, it'll be better tomorrow."
"Good night, Julie, I love you."
"Good night, I love you too."