When I became bedridden six years ago, bathing in bed was among the many challenges I faced. I didn’t have the option of using a shower chair with arms or even a shower chair with wheels (though now I love these things).
Getting (and staying) clean when you can’t get out of bed is incredibly difficult. I had to clean food and blood and urine off my body, and I had to do it without using running water.
At first my caregivers used washcloths, buckets of water, and spray bottles to help me maintain good hygiene. Because I was so limited in bathing options, I found myself becoming obsessed with getting clean. When I was healthy and could readily get up and take a shower, I wasn’t nearly as focused on it. I’d take quick showers every day (or sometimes skip a day), but when I was bedridden, I felt the need to get myself as clean as possible precisely because it was impossible. It would take me several hours to bathe, and even after all the time and effort, I would still feel unclean.
I’d start by soaping the dirtiest parts of my body, or what some of my caregivers called pits, tits, and bits. Then I would use a wet washcloth to wipe the soap off as my caregiver sprayed me with a spray bottle. Because I was on a mattress, I had to lie on absorbent pads, which often weren’t absorbent enough, letting the water seep into the mattress.
It was a long, messy, unpleasant process, and it took so long that I usually had to take breaks, sometimes waiting an hour or more between washing different parts of my body. But eventually my health started to improve and I graduated to using an inflatable bathtub, which was placed on top of my mattress. This was a game changer.
First, I lay on the flattened tub, then my caregiver inflated it around me. There was an inflatable pillow and a wand that connected from the bathroom sink, which was the first running water I had used in several years. When I was finished bathing, the water that filled the tub was then drained through a hose attached to a hole in the bottom of the tub. It was a genius invention, and improved my hygiene (and overall quality of life) for a long time.
Then, just in the last month or two, something even more life-changing happened. I began to walk again, which gave me the ability to get into a real bathtub and take an actual shower. It’s still a long, exhausting process, but it’s quicker and more efficient than my other bathing routines.
Now I start by standing up beside my bed, shuffling over to my wheelchair a few feet away. Then I navigate the hallway from my room to the bathroom. The bathroom doorway is just barely wider than my wheelchair, so I usually bump along the doorframe, leaving noticeable scrape marks. But I guess sometimes you just gotta leave scrape marks to get clean.
Once I’m in the bathroom, I stop my wheelchair and transfer into a shower chair with arms that I recently bought, its legs suctioned to the bottom of the bathtub. It’s around this time that I wish I had a walk in shower and a shower chair with wheels. But nevertheless, I carry on, using what I have.
On the shower chair is a memory foam seat cushion wrapped in plastic and the inflatable pillow. These modifications have come after a lot of trial and error attempting to make sitting on the hard plastic shower chair more comfortable.
Finally, once I’m settled on my new shower chair with arms, I turn the water on and savor the wonder of a warm shower.
Throughout my recovery, I’ve had a lot of renewed experiences like this — from leaving my room for the first time in two years to walking for the first time in six. I’m not going to say that taking a shower was more significant than those milestones, but collectively (and individually), these moments have made a significant impact on my life. They have shown how far I’ve come, how the little things in life can hold the most significance, and what’s possible when you don’t give up, when you keep going and keep fighting for better days.
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