Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Indignity of Incapacity

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a serious situation to deal with. My mother became quite ill and nearly died. For four weeks she lay in a coma in a hospital, hovering in a strange in-between place between life and death. Fortunately, she decided to return to us and is recovering quite well. The family is relieved and thankful. 

Now that the worst is over, my mind returns to those excruciating weeks. More than once over that period of time, the phrase ‘death with dignity’ popped into my head. Why? Because there was no dignity in hovering around not quite alive and not quite dead. The thought that this someday could be my future and the future of other loved ones sends a chill down my spine. 

My poor mother. The hospital stay was not kind to her from an aesthetic point of view. And yes, I realize looks are not important, at least not when one views the big picture of struggling for life itself. But still, had she known how she looked, she might never venture from her home again. I can just imagine her horror if I told her how it had been. “You saw me like that???” She’d never allow us to take her to the hospital for any reason if she knew, even if Jason from Friday the 13th showed up and hacked her limbs off all over the place. She’d bite us, screaming like the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail, “’Tis but a scratch! Have at you!” 

She's okay! It’s just a flesh wound.

I can’t say I’d blame her. Being thoroughly incapacitated is mortifying enough on its own. Few of us like to rely on others for anything. We take a lot of pride in our independence. 

But add on the rest, and it becomes downright humiliating. How humiliating? Let’s run down the list: 

First of all, bathing. People come in and wash you. All over. Thoroughly. Everything is on display. Sure, it’s just the orderlies and nurses for that part, but still. Most women, particularly those of us over a certain age, don’t want our parts on parade. Heck, we don’t even want to look at ourselves. For my part, I prefer to shower blindfolded. With the lights off.


My reflection in the faucet! NOOOOOO!

 Second of all, what is that gunk the hospital uses that masquerades as shampoo? It doesn’t make your hair look good at all. Half the time, Mom looked like an otter pulled from an oil spill. The rest of the time, she looked like Kramer from Seinfeld. Because like aspirin, a comb-out costs $50 at the hospital. 

Speaking of hair care, no shaves happen when you’re hooked up to every machine in the hospital. Hair does not take time off growing either. In fact, it seems to accelerate. My stepfather made so many comments of “Well, she was always the gorilla of my dreams anyway” that I wanted to practice my field goal kicking on his rear. I suppose I shouldn’t give him too hard a time about it though. I admit to wondering if I should bring in flowers or Jack Link’s Jerky. 

It’s okay, Sleeping Beauty. We still love you.

Possibly the most humiliating thing of all was that everyone could see Mom’s business. I don’t mean her accounting books and contracts either. I’m talking bags of waste. Right there. In front of every single visitor she had.  


Okay, she’s out cold. She can’t get out of bed. Catheters and tubes and holding receptacles are a must. But come on, does it have to be RIGHT THERE where all could see it? Couldn’t it be camouflaged or dressed up somehow? I mean, come on. There has to be some way of preserving this poor woman’s dignity. 

What about a nice tiny house at the foot of her bed to keep that stuff in?

Now we're talking dignified
Get the kids involved and make a cute paper-mache cover. If nothing spills, it can be converted to a pinata later.

Please replace original contents with candy first

For heaven’s sake, there has to be some way of covering that (literal) sh!t up, preserving the patient’s self-respect.  

I’m sorry folks, but my mother’s ordeal is one many of us will face as we get older and our bodies fail us. I’m coming to terms with that the way I come to terms with everything: by laughing about it. No matter what awaits me at the end of the journey, I’m sure it will be neither dignified nor pretty. I’m either going to go out quickly (and probably messily) or hang on to the bitter end. That end is bitter indeed when I’m bidding everyone goodbye with my pelt fully grown in, greasy hair sticking up in all directions, and a bag of poop at my feet.  

So let’s live it up and make life worthwhile as long as we can. I’ve got my plan in place. I will allow myself only one regret as I exit the mortal plane: that the bag of poop is out of my throwing arm’s reach for anyone who calls me the gorilla of his dreams.

No comments:

Post a Comment