The Soapy Reach Around

Since becoming disabled, I am unable to do many of the things you probably take for granted.  If you’ve ever been out for a nice juicy steak or prime rib (my favorite) with me, you know that when the waiter takes my order I ask him to have the chef cut my meat into bite-sized chunks since I cannot do that on my own and I do not like to impose on friends dining with me who have already been good enough to go to the extra effort an evening out with me takes, the only upside of which is use of my handicapped placard to park right next to the restaurant’s entrance; I’d like to think it’s the chance to spend an evening dining with me enjoying my encyclopedic knowledge of useless facts and other bits of trivia, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s the parking.

The relationship between a caregiver and a disabled person is difficult to negotiate.  It is highly tactile, in a completely appropriate, non-sexual way.  That said, there are times when it feels, well, intimate.  If you were to barge into my apartment while one of my caregivers was dressing me, you might blush, stutter, and just as quickly as you entered slam the door shut and run, because you would find a naked me standing, both hands on my walker, while the caregiver stood immediately behind me close enough that the front of his clothed crotch was indistinguishable from my bare butt cheeks as he pulled my pants up, reached around to zip my zipper, and button the button at the top of my fly.  The only thing missing from this scene you happened upon would be gas station roses and a Whitman’s Sampler of chocolates.  It took some getting used to, but having been dressed like this for the last twelve years I assure you there is nothing even remotely sexually gratifying about it.

Because I have no choice but to submit myself to this indignity, for it is impossible for me to dress myself, it has become as second nature and rote to me as I imagine tying your shoes is to you.  I honestly don’t think about it.  But a side-effect of this is that I’ve become inured to how someone new to caregiving might be experiencing what to me is just another day.

shower silhouette

Case in point.  In the last month, the long term care facility where I live has hired three new caregivers, all handsome young men.  I find one of them very attractive.  I am a human being; disability does not change that — my likes and dislikes, my taste in men, is, for the most part, no different than before I got sick.  I have become so accustomed to having a caregiver undress me, position me on a shower chair, run water over my skin, and work up a good soapy lather that I barely give the inherent intimacy of the occasion a second thought.  Last week, as one of our more seasoned caregivers was training one of these new hires — the one I quite fancy — how to give me a shower, the veteran was explaining to the newbie that I prefer to wash most parts of my body myself, and it is the caregiver’s job to stand at the ready next to me to ensure I do not fall off the shower chair, to hand me things like soap and shampoo, and to help me clean areas I cannot reach (like my back, my ass, and my legs).  This is called a “standby-assist.”

So as the experienced caregiver was instructing his handsome trainee, and I stood naked holding a vertical handicapped rail affixed to the wall of my shower, the experienced caregiver said, “Matt mainly does himself.”  Because it is not uncommon for me to be standing naked while a clothed man washes my backside with soapy water and a loofa, I thought what I said next would ease the awkward tension of the moment for the new guy:

Caregiver:  “Matt mainly does himself.”

Matt:  “But if you want to reach around, grab hold, and have a tug, I won’t object.”

I am informed by management that this was probably an inappropriate thing to say.

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