I learned at lot at Amherst College, where the ideal graduate was described as “the Whole Man.” The means to this end was the Core Curriculum of required courses and distribution requirements. Nursing was, decidedly, not part of the Core Curriculum. I’ve had to that learn on my own.
Wound care is definitely part of nursing, and I have successfully observed the hospital nurses, and then Genne’, change the dressing of Kim’s foot-long incision down the center of her back. My education was successful, as when Genne’ left on Wednesday, Kim’s wound no longer needed a dressing. Now I will watch for the steri-strips to fall out, a task well within my skillset.
Kim has to be very careful with her newly repaired spine. One of the doctors said she should avoid BLT: bending, lifting, twisting. Kim is fortunate to have me around to help her get dressed. This is harder than it looks. The first time I put on her socks I put one on inside out, and then I had to decide whether I should match the second one to the first or take it off and start over. I put on her pajama top backwards twice, but to my credit I did not put it on upside down. Kim is working hard to dress herself.
Kim is going to have to wear a brace for several months. Fortunately, this is not the turtle-shell device we feared, and she does not need to wear it when lying down, which is most of the time. A good nurse knows how to put on and then remove the brace. She has to put it on when lying down, which involves her log-rolling (hips and shoulders on the same plane) while I reach the device around her, in a nursely embrace, and then clip it shut. This act resembles a hug. Kim, my independent woman, is learning to do it on her own.
Then there are the bathroom related activities – not easy while observing BLT. We bought Kim a deluxe wiping device that looks a lot like the toilet brush that Kim bought for me, thinking I would clean the toilets, with a place to clip a wad of paper. We took it back. Kim found a way. My job as a nurse was to flush the toilet because Kim can’t reach back or down to do it.
Showers are another BLT challenge. I watched Genne’ give her mother a shower using the showerhead on a hose that I installed ALL BY MYSELF. Kim is a modest woman, so I tried not to look, focusing instead on the process and the equipment. Afterwards, Genne’ suggested that we hire someone to come in twice a week for the showers. She knows her mom – and me – pretty well. I would not consider this a nursing defeat because, after all, I did hook up that showerhead. Randy thinks I might enjoy bathing Kim. We’ll see.
Genne’, of course, was the real nurse for the week she was here – caring for her mom, analyzing her pain as a gifted physical therapist and then dealing with doctors to try to come up with the best solutions. She also coached Kim on the best ways to move, sit, recline, get up from the toilet, get into a car – all those daily motions that most of us take for granted. Then there was the occasional affectionate massage and the ongoing words of encouragement, paired with alerts that she had better take a rest.
And Scott came up to give her a break from our nursing. He took his mom for a walk outside, which for Kim was a spiritual experience.
Kim has been resting and sleeping on a rented hospital bed in the living room. It features a continuously inflating mattress that provides a pulsating surface that eases her back pain (somewhat). It also provides a sound track for our new life: the continuous hum of the air pump punctuated by shrieks and moans that the mattress emits when it’s pumped too full or Kim moves suddenly. Or it may be our haunted mental institution speaking through the mattress.
In some ways, things are slowly getting back to normal. Kim and I have resumed going for walks, though they are usually in the hall outside our door with Kim driving her walker. And we are just about out of carryout leftovers and gift casseroles, so Monday under Kim’s direct supervision I fixed mac and cheese – a success even though I’d bought Swiss cheese instead of Cheddar and topped it with slivered almonds. My efforts sometimes amuse her, helping her healing.
And Sunday she spent the night in our bed instead of the hospital bed in the living room, and I briefly made love to her right arm. Nice to wake up with your wife in bed with you!
On top of her ongoing pain and her feeling helplessly bedridden, Kim worries that I will resent all the caretaking I am doing – which is about half of what she has been doing daily for the last 26 years. No worries, Kim. Nursing, however clumsy, can still be an act of love.