Nothing really prepares you for the poop.
Intellectually, you know it’s a possibility. You just don’t want to acknowledge it. And so when it happens, you simply are no longer able to live in that fantasy world where poop plays no role.
Since 2010, when we moved in to help take care of my mother-in-law, I’ve regularly studied the 7 Stages and tried to ascertain where we were at, how long we’d be there, and what we could expect as the disease progressed. We steered her through Stage 3, helping her buy Christmas and birthday presents, leaving sticky notes around her kitchen to remind her to turn the water off or close the back door. We talked her through her depressive episodes during Stage 4, and started collecting her mail, paying her bills, and ensuring she ate regularly and took her pills. In Stage 5, we started making sure she got herself dressed and undressed, noting that if this did not happen, she’d sleep in her jeans and sweaters, or stay in her pajamas all day. We realized she could no longer be left alone in the house. We hired aides to be with her on weekdays.
It was frustrating, but not insurmountable. My brother-in-law began taking her out on Thursday nights, and began bringing her more frequently to his house so we could get a weekend off here and there. She was addled, couldn’t really engage in any kind of meaningful conversation, but overall was cheerful and amiable.
But in the last year we’ve been witnessing and experiencing the slide into Stage 6. She hates the bathtub now. She refuses to take a shower. Even washing her hair in the sink is a battle in which I frequently have to admit defeat. I’ve been combing drugstores and medical supply companies for things like “pre-moistened bathing mitts” and “shampoo caps,” and as I buy these things, I whip past the “incontinence” section. Because we’re not there yet, right? Dear Jesus God please tell me that we’re not there yet.
We’re not there yet….entirely. But we’ve been teetering on the precipice of it.
It’s poop. I mean – I’ve changed my share of diapers. On babies. I have two cats. It’s not as though I’m a stranger to poop. And yet I live in near-daily terror of having to deal with it. With poop other than my own. We’ve had a handful of “situations” in the last few months, and I’m afraid I’m not a very big girl about this.
An acquaintance of mine is a CNT. She says that in her experience, the thing that caregivers are most afraid of is poop. Or rather, the impending likelihood of poop, as opposed to the poop itself. The spectre of poop. “If we ever let on to our clients how scared everyone is of it, it would be Poop Wars everywhere.”
Visit an online caregivers forum and at least a third of the threads are about poop. I’d say I talk about poop with fellow caregivers at least 4 or 5 times a week. Poop all over the hallway. Poop in the bathroom wastebasket. Poop stuffed down the drain and in the trash compactor. People with Alzheimer’s will fixate on things like spots on the carpet or twigs on the sidewalk, will do everything in their power to create some sense of order, yet think nothing of walking around with poop on their hands. Hygiene goes the way of the dodo, but by God, you’ve never seen a neater stack of dishrags.
But you do what you can. What you have to do. It’s just poop, after all. You smile and clean it up. You don’t argue with your loved one. You don’t scold her. It’s not her fault. She isn’t doing it on purpose. And your having to deal with it is not the worst thing in the world. You’re the one who’s still in control of your faculties, even as you’re learning that you have absolutely no. fucking. control. over anything else.
And it always helps to laugh. Because poop.