November 13, 2009 by David Gillaspie
WITH GENTLE CARE
Ask any family caregiver who’s gone for the cycle to recall their best memory. Just one. If they cared for a loved one from diagnosis to death they’ll have a lifetime of memories, but one always stands out.
Since it’s a family caregiver memory it stands apart.
Mine is giving the old man a shave for the first time. He learned he had Parkinson’s but didn’t show the signs in the beginning. Still, he didn’t trust himself with a blade. He didn’t trust anyone else, apparently, but he trusted me. I’ve been trusted before, but he gave me the eye, an expression I couldn’t figure out.
I’d never given anyone but me a shave. How hard can it be? There are more decisions than you think. We can shave in the shower blinded by soap, but this is another face. Do you stand in front and make a big mess with the water and shaving cream while he’s got his nose pointed up? If you do, you only do it once. A shave isn’t always a bathroom thing. Shave and a haircut, two bits? There’s no bathroom mentioned.
Instead, a shave is a chance to make a big production. Start by dusting a chair. Have the old man sit down and lean back. Slap on a warm wash rag. Add a thin layer of shaving cream next and start dragging steel. Yes, a quick electric buzz is the most efficient way to mow the yard, but the blade acts as a memory link to earlier shaving days.
It’s all about staying as connected as possible. You can whip out the Norelco on anyone, but you need cooperation and patience for the blade. Yes, it takes a lot longer, but it’s the old man; why not give him the old-school treatment? At least as old-school as a Bic shaver allows.
Now if your loved one is on blood thinners like mine you’ll be extra cautious deciding which device to use. I can tell you a tiny nick is pretty productive. Be prepared isn’t just for the Boy Scouts.
I learned what his expression meant years later when the gears were pretty well stripped and everything was getting harder and harder. We talked about that first shave.
“I thought you were faking it back then, that you wanted a shave just so you could be a pretty boy. That was it, wasn’t it? So you could go down to the marina and brag to your buddies that your son in law just gave you a shave. I know how it is. You probably still do it.”
He stared out from his lift chair in another world. I could have left him alone, that’s what a good caregiver would do. But we are family caregivers. We know where the bones are buried. He could be dazed anywhere else, but not if it was just me and him. Not on my watch.
“You remember that shave?” I ask. “I think you had surgery afterward to sew your nose back on. You’re lucky you didn’t ask me to cut your hair. I’d have a shot at both ears.”
His head bounced enough to notice. I was reeling him in.
“There you are. I’m looking at your ear. What do you say we get a shave and go downtown and get an ear pierced? Everyone’s doing it. Get a tattoo while we’re there. What’s yours going to say. I’m going with “Lucky,” my old dog’s name. That way no one feels left out. The wife. The kids. What’s your old dog’s name?”
Ken’s eyes refocused and he rolled his head my way.
“The Great Dane. You had a Great Dane. Big dog. Really big. Biggest dog I’ve ever seen. What was his name? Binky? Daisy? Something.”
He leveled that trusting eye at me, the one from the first shave. He seemed to transform from a sick old man in a cushy chair back to Commodore Kenny, The King of Marina del Rey. A regular caregiver wouldn’t know the difference. His mouth started working.
“Your dog had a funny name. Something different.”
His head bobbed a few times, his lips stretching to talk.
“That’s it. Satan. Big black dog named Satan. I’ve seen pictures. Now come on Kenny, I’ve never asked, but who in the hell names their dog Satan? Was that already his name when you got him? Did the dog come when you called him Satan?”
“Was it male or female?”
Once he started I wanted to keep him going. You break down that verbal damn a little bit at a time.
“This dog here? The one on your lap? Her name might be Daisy but she acts like she’s possessed. I’ve never seen a more destructive animal. Maybe that’s what you get with all miniature dachshunds. Pound for pound that dog is the toughest thing on four paws. Do you think Satan would like Daisy?”
He looked at the dog lying across his thighs. One knee jerked.
“Did Satan like you?”
“That’s good, I think. Well look at the time. It’s Matlock o’clock. You ready to solve some crime? Are you ready? Today’s a tough one.”
“Then let’s get ready.”
I moved his arms and legs in ranges of motion and tipped up a sip of thickened juice. I rubbed his cheek.
“How about a shave in the morning?”
“Then here we are, The Dude Club planning their next move. We’ve got it down. Alright?”