My dad had hip replacement surgery last Friday. The procedure went well, and he was discharged on Sunday, with physical therapy scheduled for Monday. My mom got sick on Sunday night, and couldn’t bring him to his appointment. I volunteered to transport him to and from therapy. He called that morning and explained that he really needed bathing. Could I pick him up early and bring him to my Nana’s house so he could use her walk-in shower? An hour later, we were standing in her bathroom, unloading my dad’s Pert Plus and Irish Spring from a ratty blue duffle bag.
He turned to me and said, with gravity in his voice, “You’re going to have to be somewhat involved here, Stace. We have to remove the old bandage first, then cover the incision with plastic wrap and tape around it so the wound doesn’t get wet.
“Ok, Dad,” I said, unfazed.
I have a degree in health education. I’m pretty ok with the human body. Besides, I’m a mom. I do gross things all the time. Last week, in the basement, Miles tried a bite of my cottage cheese and blueberries, and immediately spit it out of his mouth. It landed with a splat on the playroom floor. I didn’t feel like going upstairs for a paper towel, so I scooped it up and ate it, then wiped the wet spot with my sock. I’m not saying I’m proud. I’m just saying it happened.
My dad, however, is super private about his body. He never takes his shirt off in public, not even in a swimming pool with close family members. It’s just the way he is. He likes keeping things under wraps. He also would never eat cottage cheese off the floor.
So the idea of undressing in front of his daughter and letting me come in close with scissors and a roll of medical tape made him squirm.
I told him to drop his drawers as I tore off a substantial piece of Saran wrap, eyeing the tightly-sealed tray of cold cuts pictured on the box.
Stretches to seal. Chlorine-free.
I got to work, positioning the clear wrap over his eight-inch incision.
My dad is in the habit of giving orders, so as he stood there with his navy sweats around his ankles, he was already instructing me to place his soap and shampoo in the shower.
“Just a minute, Dad. Let me finish Saran-wrapping your ass first.”
I kept working, smoothing the wrap, cutting long strips of tape that barely held to his right cheek. Could they have just sent him home with a roll of Press ‘n Seal?
“Getting old takes some humility, Stace,” he said. “I remember when Aunt Sue and I stopped at a gas station on a road trip, and a woman came out the bathroom asking if I had a sister named Sue. I told her yes, and she said Sue needed help in there. She was stuck on the can and needed a boost.”
We chuckled, and I told him I had stood in this same bathroom five years earlier helping Papa hoist his pants up when his back was hurting him. “You do what you gotta do,” I said. “And you’re thankful to help and be helped.”
I finished up with the crack sealer, and Dad shuffled into the shower.
I waited outside the door, listening to make sure he was ok, hoping and praying that I wouldn’t have to scoop a gigantic naked man off the slick tile floor. I imagined myself carrying him fireman-style through the doors of the ER.
I thought back to my childhood. When I got sick as a little girl, it was dad who took care of the gross stuff, who held my hair back while I vomited into the toilet, who grabbed the plunger when one of us did a number in the bathroom.
I thought of the first week of my marriage. Chad and I honeymooned in Mexico, and between the food and the travel, I became SO constipated. I’m talking blood-vessels-ruptured-in-your-face constipated. I laid on the bathroom floor, sniffling, my new husband knocking on the door and asking if I wanted him to give me an enema. What a delightful start to married life! During the very first week, shit got real.
I thought of Papa’s final days in the ICU with pneumonia, coughing violently, spitting into a tissue and handing it to Nana. Not once did she cringe or hold out the wastebasket. She took his blood-streaked mucus right into her own hands.
That’s Love, people.
We live in a society that likes to pretend Love is pretty and sparkly and smells nice. And sometimes it does. But Love is willing to do the nasty stuff too. Sometimes Love is sitting beside you on the bed, holding the bucket you’re getting sick in. Sometimes Love is in the bathroom with you, changing your bandages or emptying your colostomy bag. Sometimes Love is pinning you down on the couch and pouring medicine down your throat. Sometimes Love is standing in your bedroom wearing a headlamp and a rubber glove, saying WOULD YOU JUST HOLD STILL?
This is the human experience. We’re all made up of flesh and bones. Blood and guts. And despite our efforts and our pride, we’re not in control of these unpredictable bodies.
At one time or another, we all get broken. We all get sick.
We age. We hurt. We bleed. We need help.
Not one of us gets to take all of our dignity to the grave.
Chances are, there will come a day when the one sitting on the pot hollering, CAN ANYONE BRING ME TOILET PAPER? is you.
At some point, you’ll be the culprit of the staccato machine-gun fart released during yoga class.
You’ll be asking someone to clip your gnarly toenails or run to the store for Depends and Milk of Magnesia.
Someone will have to wipe your something.
Like it or not, the ass that’s being Saran-wrapped may one day be your own.
We’re fallible. We’re mortal. We’re beautiful and disgusting. We’ll never stop needing each other.
And that’s a wrap.