Friday, July 16, 2004

Fuddrucker's Bathroom

contained the world.  The workings of the universe was manifested in the confines of
twelve square feet of tooth-white ceramic tile and graffitti etched metal partitions with a white porcelain toilet at the center. 
The disease brought the world to Fuddruckers.   Supra neural palsy they call it.  It has eaten away at my father-in-law's brain stem for a couple years now.  He does things because he cannot think fast enough to do something else.  I know this because he lives with us. 
We take Gil  with us when we go out because we cannot leave him home alone.  When we do that we come home to him bruised or bleeding.  Once he fell into the fishpond in the back yard.
We found him wet and exhausted sitting on the ground.  It took him two hours to climb out of
a twelve inch deep pool of water. 
He shuffles.  Its part of the disease.  He also tips forward and backward.  He has to be reminded to take a step if he loses his concentration.  He walks like a teenager learning to drive a stick shift.  He had to go to the bathroom, so I helped him out of his chair and we started toward the restrooms, him tottering, me holding his arm and balancing his steps. 
I put him in the stall and pulled the door closed for his privacy.  Then I stood by the sink and waited.  Sometimes it takes him twenty minutes to use the restroom.  Its not his plumbing, its that it takes him that long to unzip and re-zip.  If he loses his train of thought he can stand and stare at the wall for minutes on end if no one reminds him what he was doing.
I hear a splatter.  I look under the metal partition and his feet are pointed toward the toilet.
His pants are down around his ankles.  I hear him groaning.  I see......
I run to the stall and open the door.  He is standing in front of the toilet, catching diarrhea in his hands and trying to throw it into the toilet.  It is running through his fingers, down his legs, into his pants at his ankles and onto the floor.  He throwing it but missing the toilet. 
His disease is debilitating, but it does not remove his awareness of his actions or limitations.
He knows what he has done and what is happening.  He is a proper man, a gentleman, dignified in his younger days.  Now he stands covered in excrement, helpless to do anything for himself.  He cannot bend over to tear off the toilet paper to clean himself, or even reach down to clean himself or pull up his pants, because he will lose his balance. He cannot take a step because the floor is now slippery and he will fall.  The only person in the room with him is the man who married his daughter.  The man he didn't like.  The man he told to grow up, cut his hair, get a real job, be more responsible, be more Christian...  He is helpless. 
I pulled hands full of paper towels from the dispenser.  I thanked God they didn't have hand dryers on the walls.  I started mopping his legs and his backside.  I cleaned out the large lumps out of his pants and pulled them up.  I got him to the sink and helped him wash his hands.
I told him, "Don't move"  and went and gave my wife the "we HAVE to go" look.  She knew something was wrong.  I went to the restroom and took his arm, and we started shuffling toward the door.  Gil's clothing was covered with large brown splotches and he tracked into the dining room.  He stopped at the condiment bar and leaned on the counter.  "Nitro" he gasped.  He was having an angina attack.  A couple customers nearby smelled the odor and grimaced, turning away.
We got the nitroglycerine tablets out of his pocket and gave them to him.  In a minute we started again for the door.  We drove home in silence.  I knew Gil was mortified. 
We got home and I got him out of the car and into the house.  He looked at me and said,
"Thank you."
From the heart of a helpless, diseased old man,  covered with feces... thank you.
We are all Gil.  Before one another and God, we stand like Gil in Fuddrucker's bathroom.
We are all looking on at the Gils before us.  Do we grimace and turn away or do we enter
the disease, bear the stench, dirty our hands.... but in doing so, heal something in both of us.
And say "Thank you."



Unknown said...

s-p, your story has been rolling around in my head all weekend. There is no good word to add to the story of your life except to say, I understand...but only to a certain extent...because I've been a caregiver to my aunt who is in the late middle stages of Alzheimer's. I can't help but wonder if the problem of her "lost" memory isn't a blessing compared to the torture your father-in-law lives every day. You, your wife, and your father-in-law are in my prayers.

I look forward to reading more of your writing. BTW, I got your blog url from the O-convert list.

Anonymous said...

Hi s-p,
I saw your comment on my husband's blog. (Jason Zahariades)
As I was looking through your blog I saw the pictures of you building the monastary that was very cool. And then I saw this story about you and your Father-in-law. It touched my heart. It reminded me of my Dad caring for his aging brother. A brother that was nine years older than him. A brother who never really played with him or formed a friendship with him as they were growing up. A brother who needed him in the end. Needed him to clean up his diarrhea accidents and his other accidents. A brother who somehow through all of that neediness finally broke through the walls and formed a connection with his little brother. Thank you for telling this story of love that goes beyond our normal limits.