In the spring of 2009, one of the aides who gave Bill his showers three times a week suggested we get a roll-in shower. This way, instead of transferring Bill from the commode to the shower bench in the bathtub, she could just wheel him right into the shower. Since I still had some money left over from Grammy Hinkley’s estate after paying off the mortgage on the house, I called A Plus Plumbers. I’d dealt with them before when we had sewer trouble. Jack, the firm’s owner, came with Garrie, a carpenter, to look at the situation and gave me a reasonable estimate. This was in the middle of April. In May, Dad and I planned to travel to Florida to visit Andy and his family in their new home. I arranged for the new shower to be installed while I was in Florida and Bill was at Sheridan Manor.
At the end of April, I was traveling home with Rose, another writer, from Casper, Wyoming, about a two-hour drive south of Sheridan, where we attended a poetry workshop. When we pulled onto the highway, I called Bill at Sheridan Manor to tell him I was on my way back and would see him the next day when he came home. After talking to him, I put my cell phone back in my pocket and reached for my bottle of Dr. Pepper I’d purchased at a service station before leaving Casper. Just then, my phone rang. “Oh, he really misses you, doesn’t he?” said Rose with a giggle.
Because I couldn’t read the display with a naked eye, I had no way to know who was calling so after flipping open my phone, I fought the urge to say, “Hi hunky poo.”
It was a good thing because the caller wasn’t Bill. It was Andy, calling to tell me that he and Kathleen were having marital problems. To make things worse, cell service on the highway was spotty, and we kept getting disconnected. A couple of times, Andy called back and poured his heart out to me but didn’t get far before we were both flung into the abyss of no cell service.
However, I gleamed enough from our conversation to realize that the last thing they needed was company. Besides, they were in the process of moving to another house in Jupiter, and when we visited them the previous year, they were also in the process of packing. It seemed like we always visited them at a bad time. After talking it over with Rose during the long drive back to Sheridan, I decided that it would be best for Dad and me not to visit the next month as we planned. When I got home, I called Dad and explained the situation, and he agreed.
I then called Andy, and it took some doing to convince him. We would have been a diversion for him, but the last thing Kathleen needed was a visit from her in-laws. After further discussion without interruptions this time, Andy reluctantly agreed. He and Kathleen patched up their differences, but a year later, they separated and eventually divorced.
I was actually relieved we weren’t going to Florida in May. After making the arrangements for the installation of the shower in Bill’s bathroom, I was increasingly apprehensive about strangers coming to our house while we were gone. Although I hated being around when power tools were used, it was good to know that I would be there while the old bathtub and shower were taken out and the new shower constructed and installed.
Bill still had to go to Sheridan Manor while this was being done since not even the toilet in his bathroom would be usable, and there was no way to get him into my bathroom. He took it in stride, especially when I pointed out that once the new shower was installed, we could occasionally take a shower together. We never did this because I realized later that I couldn’t have transferred him from the bed to the commode as easily as the aides from the senior center.
On a Monday morning in mid May, work on the shower began. By the end of the week, it was finished, or so we thought. Late Friday afternoon when Bill came home from Sheridan Manor, I wheeled him into the bathroom so we could explore the new shower together. We then discovered that instead of a roll-in shower, we had a step-up shower. Apparently, Garrie misunderstood what we needed. “This isn’t going to work,” said Bill.
“You’re probably right,” I said with a sinking heart.
On Monday morning, Garrie was planning to return to perform some finishing touches to the shower before it could be used. Bill’s next shower was scheduled for the following Wednesday. Before Garrie arrived, I called Bunni, our case worker at the senior center and asked her to come and take a look. To my relief, she determined that although he couldn’t be rolled into the shower, the aide could still position the bench inside the shower and then transfer Bill from the commode to the bench as before. “It’ll still work,” she said. “You just won’t get as much bang for your buck.”
I was willing to let it go, relieved that Bill could continue to be given his showers. But for the first and only time since his strokes, my husband took some initiative. He called Jack at A Plus Plumbers and asked him to give us an estimate on fixing the shower so he could be rolled into it. Jack and Garrie came the next day and quoted another reasonable price for raising the floor so it would meet the shower. This involved installing extra flooring in the bathroom. Jack and Garrie said they could start on Thursday and assured me it would only take one day. “I don’t have to go to Sheridan Manor,” said Bill. “I can just lie down and use the urinal.”
By this time, he figured out a way to use the urinal while in bed without making a mess. In the middle of the night, all I had to do was empty the urinal when he was finished. He eventually got to the point where he couldn’t do his business on the toilet at all and had to lie down frequently during the day to urinate and move his bowels.
Jack and Garrie were true to their word. They arrived bright and early Thursday morning and by late afternoon, the project was finished. Bunni came in the afternoon to inspect it, and to my relief, she said, “This is great. It’s going to be so much easier.”
The original floor in Bill’s bathroom was made of linolium. The extra flooring was tile, and the process created an upward slope from the kitchen into the bathroom which was easily negotiated with the wheelchair. However, the tile was slippery so I had to be careful when the floor was wet. I occasionally slipped and nearly landed on my back side when I encountered a wet spot I didn’t see. Fortunately, I never slipped while transferring Bill to and from the commode.
It was a relief having the new shower, especially since it made the aide’s job easier. In the fall however, she complained of pain in her lower back and thought it was caused by transferring Bill from the bed to the commode. Bunni came one morning and observed her to see if there was anything she could do differently that wouldn’t cause strain on her back. After watching the aide transfer Bill from the bed to the commode, she said, “I wish I knew how to build a better mousetrap.” I thought, okay, maybe we didn’t have a solution to this problem, but I had a great title for a poetry collection. Hence, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver was published in December of 2011.
Bunni called in a physical therapist to see if he had any ideas. Michael, whom I knew when I worked at Sheridan Manor, was now employed by an outpatient physical therapy program. After observing the transfer, he suggested a lift that would make the transfer easier. Bunni then told us that because of the risk of injury to the aides, her agency could no longer provide the personal care Bill needed until we acquired the lift. She gave me the name of a medical supply store in Billings, Montana, where we could order the lift, and Medicare would pay for it.
We weren’t left to fend for ourselves, though. Bunni contacted Sheridan Manor to see if Bill could go there just for his showers. Jean, the director of nursing, whom I also knew when I worked there, immediately called me and we arranged for a time when Bill could go there three times a week to get a shower.
After a month of red tape, the lift finally arrived, but we discovered another problem. It was a hydraulic lift, and because of the way our bedroom was set up, Bill had to be raised out of bed and moved a few feet to the commode before being lowered onto it. The lift was hard to push across the carpet without Bill’s weight. Pushing it with Bill on it would have been almost impossible. We needed thinner carpet.
My funds from Grammy Hinkley’s estate were pretty much exhausted after paying off the mortgage on the house and for the shower renovation. Fortunately, Wyoming Independent Living Rehabilitation, a private agency, had limited funds for such purposes. We applied for and received funding to replace the carpet.
This meant that all the furniture in the bedroom had to be moved out while the old carpet was removed and the new laid. Fortunately, the project would take only a day, and Bunni found volunteers to help us move the furniture. “All you have to worry about is taking care of Bill,” she said. “We’ll do the rest.”
She was true to her word. Early one morning in October, she arrived with a couple of strong guys, and everything was moved out of the bedroom in record time. An hour later, a crew from the carpet store arrived, and much to my relief, by one o’clock that afternoon, the project was completed and furniture and other items moved back into the bedroom. During the process, the living room was crowded with the bedroom furniture which made it impossible to get Bill to his recliner. Fortunately, he was content to work on his computer before going to Sheridan Manor to get his shower. He returned around lunchtime, and by the time everything was done, he was ready to lie down.
We then discovered another problem we didn’t foresee. Our bed had coasters which wasn’t a problem on the original carpet. With thinner carpet, it moved more easily which made transferring Bill more dangerous. Fortunately, Bunni had a solution. She called in another volunteer who put blocks of wood underneath the coaster so the bed wouldn’t roll.
At first, Bill didn’t like the lift because it suspended him in mid air while he was transferred from the bed to the commode and vise versa. I almost laughed when I saw the process for the first time because it reminded me of the song about the man on the flying trapeze. Because of his lack of vision, I could imagine how insecure he felt during the process. We kept reassuring him that he was securely fastened into the sling and wouldn’t fall, but after his first shower, he said, “I’m not using that damn lift again.”
It took one month to get the lift and another for the carpet in the bedroom to be replaced. For two months, Bill trapsed back and forth to Sheridan Manor for his showers. I had to dress him every day, not just on the days when his showers at home weren’t scheduled. I was ready for a break. “Please, honey, just try it for another week,” I said. “It takes some getting used to.”
Bunni assured us that Bill could continue to have his showers at Sheridan Manor indefinitely if he no longer wanted to use the lift, but I wasn’t about to settle for that. Because Bill joked about girls seeing him naked, I got an idea. “Okay, honey, just imagine you’re naked on a flying trapeze in a big circus tent, and fifty women are in that tent who paid $50.00 each to see you naked on that flying trapeze, and you’re going to get all that money in the end.” It sounded outrageous, but it worked. After another week, he seemed happy as a clam, being propelled across the room, hanging in mid air.