I had a really hard time titling this post. It’s mostly about a specific event that happened, but I need to give a lot of back story for it to make sense. So I chose to not title it.
Before I was born my Grandpa was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Some of my earliest memories of him are him wheeling his electric wheelchair up behind his simpler wheelchair and using it as a brace to stand up and exercise his legs. He couldn’t walk, but he could put weight on them.
As a military veteran he was well taken care of by the Army. He had one of the first electric wheelchairs. In the header of this post his was very very like the one on the right. On the left you can see it being invented. He had racing stickers on the side, and it was my task to dust it, and keep it shiny.
I mentioned he had a simpler chair, it was a very standard hospital chair. We used to play on it all the time. He also had a what I’ll call a bathroom chair. It had a plastic seat with a hole in the center and he used it both for showering and when he needed a toilet.
They had a cool crane-like system for moving him from chair to chair and into and out of bed. It’s not exactly like this picture, but similar. There was a cloth strap that went under his legs/hips and another behind his back. Then there was a handle we would pump to raise him up and then it was on wheels, so we could move him wherever we wanted. Of course the grandkids played with that a lot too.
It’s not really germane to this post, but I would be remiss if I didn’t note that there was also an elevator in the house. Not a commercial one, a custom made one. The tube was made of wood, and there was a big motor hanging from the ceiling from a chain. When you got in the elevator box (also wood) there were ropes on either side, and you simply had to pull a little on one to go up and the other to go down.
His wheel-in shower was in the basement. I loved showering in there, it was HUGE. At age 10 I could literally run around in the shower.
The Main Part Of The Post
When I was about 10 years old one time I was spending a week at Grandma’s. I was sitting at the kitchen table doing something, and she was at the sink. Then she said “Chris, Grandpa is on his toilet, he’s just had a BM and needs to be wiped. I need to be here, will you please go take care of it.”
I had never before been asked to care for him in any way. I didn’t move him, feed him, clean him or anything. Except for greeting and goodbye hugs, I never touched him.
This was an extreme pivot.
Since You Don’t Say No To Grandma, I said “Sure” and started down the hall to Grandpa’s room.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about Grandpa’s nature, mental acuity etc. I never saw him be anything but kind, to every single person he ever met. He was super smart, and as far as I know retained his mental faculties until he died. He loved to teach us things. I suspect it pained him that he didn’t have the body to DO things with us. He loved audio stuff, so he built radios, and collected Edison players etc. He would give me old machines and tell me to tear them apart and understand them. I know he wished he could do it with me, but he always made the best of what he had.
So I walked into his room. He was on his bathroom chair, pants around his ankles. He didn’t express any embarrassment at all. Maybe he didn’t feel any because this was old hat for him. Maybe he hid it to make me feel better. That would have been like him.
The chair was mostly like a normal wheelchair, with a hole in the seat and a plastic pan 6 or 8 inches below that. He told he how to reach in from the side with a handful of toilet paper. I peeked in there so I wasn’t just reaching in blind, but it was very dark.
I had never seen a butt before. The only one available to me on a regular basis was my own, and I’ve never been able to twist enough to see my own butt. I knew from wiping myself where poop comes out, but I had never SEEN it before, especially from the side. I saw something that looked like it should be wiped, so I reached and wiped it all carefully. I came to understand years later (literally) that what I saw was his tailbone. Those of you who HAVE tail bones may think through this and realize I did a terrible job. He couldn’t feel anything, so he couldn’t tell.
Then he said “Please take a few more sheets of toilet paper and dab the end of my penis, there’s often a few drops left over. If I had the use of my hands I’d simply give it a good shake”.
Again, it wasn’t until years later than I understood that he was trying to teach me something about being a Penis Haver. Passing on Grandpa Wisdom to his grandson. Giving it a good shake at the end is what you do.
Anyway, I wrapped up and went back to the kitchen and told Grandma I was done, and she went in and finished whatever else needed to be done.
This even never happened again, nor was it discussed or talked about in any way. I wasn’t critiqued on my butt wiping skill, I wasn’t asked how I felt about having done it, nothing at all. I suspect no-one but the three of us ever knew it happened until I wrote this post.
I didn’t really feel anything strongly about it. I was prepared to become a more active care giver if that’s what was asked, but it never was. I don’t know the real reason I was asked that one time. Was it a test? Maybe.
There’s a very unique level of intimacy and trust involved when caring for the body of another human being when they are completely helpless. Whether it’s a baby, an old person, or someone whose body simply doesn’t work for them. Helping them maintain dignity and respect is the job of the care giver, because they hold all the power.
Grandpa was never anything but kind, and I was ready to return it in that unique way if it was asked. It just never was.