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sepsis survivor

The Beauty of a Shower


The Beauty of a Shower

This is a blog post that I wrote a few months ago. I was just recovering from a surgery on my right foot, which attempted to close up a wound created by my original amputation surgery 18 months ago.

Relatively speaking, the surgery was not a big deal. What was a big deal was the aftermath. My whole leg was in a cast, and I was labeled "zero weight-bearing," which means I couldn't put any weight on my right foot. This put me in a pickle because my right foot is my only foot. I was stuck in my bed; if I wanted to get up, I had to crawl. Or  hop on my left (prosthetic) leg with the help of a walker. I also couldn't get that right foot wet, so showers were not in the cards for me.  

Which led me to this post:

The Beauty of a Shower

Everyone (except my 12-year-old son) loves a shower. But today I had the most beautiful shower imaginable. It has been 6 weeks since my last one. 6 weeks since I have felt truly clean. 6 weeks since the hot, cleansing streams powered over my hair, down my arms and back and rolled down to my legs and feet. Sponge baths just. Don't. Do it.  

But today (about six weeks since my most recent foot surgery), the surgeon sawed off my cast and announced that I could finally get my foot wet! It is hard to run in a walking boot. But, like a kid "walks" on the pool deck when the lifeguard is watching, I raced-walked home to my brand new, beautiful shower. The one that my dad designed and his friends at Classica Homes donated and built for me.  It has a handicapped shower chair, but the rest of the space seems made for a movie star. Gorgeous earth-toned tiling surrounds this giant walk-in shower that could fit my whole family of 7. And since that family has not had time to vandalize it yet, it is wonderfully sparkling clean!

But the looks of the shower don't even come close to the FEEL of the shower. There are (count them) SIX powerful shower heads that shoot water at you from every direction. So many, in fact, that we can't use all of them all of the time because our water bill would amount to more than our mortgage payment! 

So my dear husband helped me get into this wondrous spa, turned on the shower head and all the jets (making up for all the water I saved by NOT showering for 6 weeks), and left me alone with my favorite, delicious-smelling, luxurious  guilty pleasure - Aveda Shampoo (thank you Megie for the perfect birthday gift).

We take our showers for granted. Most of us shower at least once a day. We stumble in with eyes barely open to have the streams wake us up. We jump in after a tough workout. Or we cleanse the dirt of the day away right before bed. Some of us do all three.

Being denied a shower because the hot water heater is broken or because the campsite has no running water is one thing. I have many times now had hospital filth on my skin that I wanted washed away, or my sweet husband has not had time between washing all of our kids to help me shower at home. So showers have recently taken on new meaning for me. But sometimes I do think of our homeless brothers and sisters who are truly denied the beauty of a shower. I am convicted by the truth- we are privileged and downright spoiled in the ease with which we shower.

All this thinking brings me back to a day in January 2014. At the time, I was staying at a rehab hospital/nursing home, awaiting the surgery that would save my life but change it too. My hands and feet were necrotic and gangrene, black and dead. My fingers were twisted, wrinkled, and shriveled like those of the wicked witch of the west. I had not showered since November 22nd, and, believe me, my body had been through a lot.

The ICU nurses had taken great care of me; they had gently bathed me during my coma and thereafter with warm, soapy water and a washcloth. While I was not trying to impress the male nurses and doctors with my hair and make-up, I never feel truly clean without a bath or shower. I have to admit, I was longing for the squeaky-clean feel of a 20-minute-long, scalding-hot, hard-hitting water-pressured, indulgent shower. The kind that leaves your skin red and inflamed.

On this particular morning, my occupational therapist came into my room for my daily session. She announced, "It's my birthday!" "Oh, Happy Birthday, Leena," I replied. She went on to tell me that, as HER birthday gift, she was going to give ME a shower. Now, this was not her job (and yes, many of the nurses and their assistants repeated that this or that was NOT in their job descriptions when I asked for things).

Leena did not have to help me shower; she could have just worked with me on holding a cup or sitting in a chair safely. She could have stayed out of it and let the nursing assistants worry about my required every other day sponge bath that did not include washing my hair.

Let me describe for you what a shower required at this point. Every limb had to be bandaged, wrapped in twenty layers of gauze (we called these my mitts), then covered in plastic garbage bags and closed with a ton of masking tape to keep the mitts completely dry. If any of my wounds (aka my hands and feet) got wet, they could get infected, which is what got me here in the first place. An infection could mean death. Or it could mean my amputations would need to be higher on my arms and legs. In other words, putting me under running water was not only a pain in the neck, it carried risk. Yet, Leena's overly kind heart led her to mark her birthday with helping me.

"Really?" I gasped. Leena nodded in reply, a huge smile on her face. I was anxiously excited, a bit scared of slipping and falling. But I wanted to do it nevertheless. I trusted Leena implicitly. But, for a fiercely independent, control freak like myself, allowing someone to carry my naked, fragile body and soul was a scary step into vulnerability and helplessness. The first of many. 

Once she stripped off my gown and safely wrapped all four nightmarish appendages, Leena lifted me out of my wheelchair (I was roughly 80 pounds at the time, so that part was easy) and placed me onto the shower chair. I was so weak from the trauma of the last two months that sitting up in a chair was difficult and tiring. Nursing homes are not known for their water pressure, but a sprinkle could easily knock me over now. So Leena slowly let the water flow down. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and thanked God for the blessing I was about to receive.

Then it hit me. More like patted me. Oh, the glory of water. Now I know why it is sacramental. Purifying. Baptismal. It warmly soaked my hair, rolled down my shoulders and back. I shivered in delight; then I blew out the deep breath I'd been holding. I opened my eyes and looked up at my Leena with a grin the size of Texas. I whispered, "Thank you, Leena." Then louder, "and Happy Birthday."