If you’re new to this series, start here.
by Jenny Blaser
“Shelly, do you think this would be the same if I were a walking person? Like do you think I wouldn’t have had a test or treatment?” I look over my shoulder at Shelly who is standing behind me. She is going through the bags in my locker, looking for the one that contains my shower stuff. Shelly has an infectious smile and we always joke and laugh. Her outgoing personality and vibrant mannerisms are not congruent with her dark-coloured scrubs and staple black cardigan. Her natural brown hair is pulled back into ponytail every shift and her brown eyes seem to glow and draw you in. It did not take me long to connect to Shelly and I felt like I could trust her instantly.
“What do you mean?” Shelly finds the small grey plastic bag and grabs the hot pink towel that I am so thankful I have with me. Hospital towels are small and scratchy. It’s nice to wrap up in this big beach towel after my showers.
“I mean, I have been here for almost 3 weeks now and I haven’t had any tests or treatments. I am just…here. If I had started off all of this as a walking person – like with no disability – do you think that would have been the case? Or do you think they would have at least done an MRI?” Shelly is behind me again, pushing me towards the accessible shower room down the hall. I have a shower in my room, but it isn’t accessible. I can’t even get my wheelchair into the bathroom in my room and have the door close.
“That is NOT right! I am going to talk to the doctors, okay?! … That is so not right …” Shelly gestures for me to raise my arms above my head and begins to take off my top. It feels good to have some validation. I am happy someone agrees with me.
My top and bra are off and I grab hold of the bar and pull myself up. As soon as I am on my feet, Shelly pulls down my pants and underwear and I quickly lower myself back into my wheelchair. I position myself closer to the shower bench and prepare to transfer. Shelly clutches her chest as I throw myself from my wheelchair over to the small hard bench. My transfers terrify those around me, but somehow I always make it. As Shelly turns on the water and waits for it to warm up, I take some time to reflect.
In the last three weeks I have learned a lot about myself and the health care system. I have learned about my own vulnerability and comfort in accessing care. As I sit here, completely naked, in front of Shelly, I realize that I am completely comfortable. After just over two weeks of daily showers this seems normal and I have actually begun to forget a time when I bathed myself. It’s a big difference from the time when someone pulling down my pants for me to go to the bathroom was difficult for me.
“Let me know how this feels.” Shelly sprays the water onto my arm.
“It’s fine.” With that, Shelly starts to wet down my body. I reach over and grab my blue loofa and Shelly grabs the pomegranate-scented soap and squirts some on it for me. I begin to wash my legs while Shelly continues to spray me with water.
“Do you ever find this weird? Bathing people?” I like Shelly because I feel like I can ask her stuff like that and get a real answer. Other nurses would just say that it is part of the job or something, but I know I will get the truth from her.
“Sometimes. It depends on who it is. Sometimes men can say inappropriate things and I don’t like that, but with you, I don’t find it weird. You need help, I am here to help, you do what you can for yourself and I do what you can’t. I like that in a patient! It is definitely not weird helping you!” Shelly smiles at me as she says this, as though she suspects I am seeking reassurance. I’m not, but I am just wondering how she feels about this process. With that, I hand her the loofa.
Shelly holds my right arm steady with her left hand and gently washes it. Once she is done I turn my body to the side so she can wash my back. Shelly is kind and offers nothing but respect for me and my body. We rinse the loofa together, with my squishing the soap out and Shelly controlling the water.
“Okay, time for your hair!” I turn my body once again and hold onto the grab bar attached to the wall to steady myself while I lean back my head. “Don’t worry, I remember – don’t get water in your eyes!”
After my hair is wet, she puts the shampoo in my hand and I rub it through my short hair. I shaved my head about a month before coming to the hospital. I just needed change and it was one way to start fresh, literally and symbolically. I was somewhat thankful for that now because my hair, at less than inch long, was very easy to manage through this admission! I close my eyes and Shelly rinses out the shampoo.
At this point my shower routine is done. I grab the towel and immediately get all of the water off of my face. Shelly takes the towel from me and dries my body. We redress me and then head back to my room.
“Shelly, will you really ask the doctors why they haven’t done anything?” I really want answers. I want some accountability.
“Yes! It isn’t right. I’m so sorry about this. It just isn’t right!” Shelly helps me transfer back to bed and puts away my shower things. “I will talk to the team today. I have to go do meds with some other patients, but I will be back for yours at noon, okay? I will try to talk to someone before then!”
Shelly leaves and I am alone. I wonder if my life will ever go back to what is was. Will I ever get better? Will the spasms stop? What will it look like when I go to rehab? I don’t have the answers but I know I never expected my life to look like this – freely trusting people I barely know to bathe me and help me go to the bathroom. Before this I barely trusted the well known nurse at my family doctors office to take my blood pressure – uncomfortable with the physical contact involved. It’s amazing how quickly I adjusted out of necessity. It seems I value hygiene over privacy. A good thing to know about myself.
Jenny Blaser is a young, Deaf and Disabled Queer who loves all things pink and butterflies. She is a chronic story teller who uses narrative as an act of resistance and reclamation of identity and experience. To learn more or to reach Jenny, check out http://fiestydeafanddisabled.wordpress.com/