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Caregiving Reality

How to Clean The Carpet

[Note: This is an except taken from The Sea is Wide: A Memoir of Caregiving]

One early morning in mid November 2008 Grandpa was wildly agitated. I suspected he needed to use the toilet for a bowel movement, but he refused to admit as much. Instead of eating breakfast he bellowed at the top of his lungs for “Ma!” and wrestled with the kitchen table. He was in such a fit that I wasn’t going to man-handle him down the hall to the bathroom unless he agreed it was where he needed to go.

Finally he stood up and declared, “My asshole hurts so bad!”

I said, “Well, maybe we should go to the bathroom then.”

He looked at me questioningly and said, “You think so?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I think we should.”

So we started toward the bathroom, Grandpa tottering and me at his side. After maybe two steps he exclaimed, “Oh, shoot! I just did something! I don’t know what it was, but I did it!” I propelled him—pronto—into the bathroom and got him onto the toilet. He had done a portion of his business in his diaper, but he did a lot more in the toilet.

This was the confused and disconnected relationship he now had with his own body. Sometimes he understood that his body was telling him something, but couldn’t make sense of what it was saying. Sometimes, he didn’t understand his body at all. Success in avoiding a loaded diaper was erratic at best. There were days he didn’t even agitate before soiling himself, and so there was no hint before it happened. Other days I had warning but he soiled himself too quickly for us to reach the toilet in time. And then some days he agitated, but I simply mis-guessed the source of his agitation. In the end I had to realize there were bigger problems in life than getting Grandpa to defecate in the toilet. It was better if I didn’t become obsessed with attempting to avoid a dirty diaper.

Not only did Grandpa sometimes have difficulty understanding what his body was telling him, but the problem was made worse by the fact that I was giving him the doctor-prescribed laxative to make him go. If we had a day where the dose was a little high for the amount of food I managed to cajole Grandpa to eat that day, the bowel movement coming through afterward would have made a normal man struggle to reach the bathroom in time, much less Grandpa.

I simply couldn’t win.

My greatest fear was Grandpa taking an unsupervised minute to drop his pants and empty his bowels in a most inappropriate location. We had some near misses of such a fateful event. Then, two days before Thanksgiving in 2008, it finally happened.

I was preoccupied at my computer, and didn’t register anything unusual coming from Grandpa in the living room. My first hint that something was wrong was the exclamation from Grandma. It was the sort of gasp that had me immediately out of my chair and down the hall.

Then I saw it.

Evidence showed that Grandpa had walked to the middle of the living room, dropped his pants and went poop. Judging by the state of things, he had then walked back and forth through the mess, smearing it across a ten foot stretch of the living room carpet before sitting his bare soiled bottom on the couch. On first sighting the disaster area, I felt overwhelmed with dismay.

It was gross. I was also thinking, “How on earth am I going to get that cleaned out of the carpet?”

I had dearly wished to avoid this kind of incident, but given the number of times I had stopped Grandpa from dropping his pants in various other inappropriate places in the house I knew this possibility was a continuing danger. I guess we couldn’t be lucky all the time, and I suppose part of me suspected it was inevitable, given the fact of Murphy’s Law. Nonetheless, a soiled ten foot stretch of the living room carpet was a house-keeping nightmare. Being two days before the entire extended family was scheduled to come over for Thanksgiving didn’t help, either.

Grandma later admitted that she had wanted to faint at the sight. Instead, she rose to the occasion and did the best thing she could under the circumstances—she retreated to her bedroom, shut the door, and left me to deal with the situation.

Cleaning the carpet involved plenty of scraping to remove as much of the initial material as possible. Then I advanced to scrubbing, along with the application of very small amounts of ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, prodigious amounts of baking soda, laundry detergent, and plenty of water—though not all of these things at once. I spent about two hours cleaning on the day of the disaster. I did not apply any hydrogen peroxide or ammonia the first day. I ended the first cleaning session by liberally sprinkling baking soda all over the carpet and working it in with a scrubbing brush. This was suggested to help eliminate odors, and it did seem to help a lot. The next morning after the carpet had dried somewhat, and with fresh daylight, I saw the stain was still quite visible. For round two I vacuumed up the baking soda and moved on to hydrogen peroxide.

It was very important to soak as much liquid as possible out of the carpet with fresh paper towels after every cleaning pass. This was key for lifting away the offending material and stain. The rule of thumb I followed was to keep cleaning until the paper towels no longer came away discolored.

After another two hours of cleaning the day before Thanksgiving, the carpet looked pretty good. I decided it would have to be good enough. On Thanksgiving day when the carpet had again dried I could still see a faint stain, but because I had scrubbed so hard and used so much cleaning solution the surrounding non-stained carpet was beginning to look faintly pale in color. Any further cleaning was likely to end up with a noticeable pale strip running through the carpet, even if I managed to remove the last traces of stain. The discoloration was faint enough that people might not even notice—and after prodigious amounts of detergent, hydrogen peroxide, and ammonia, it was pretty benign in any case.

I decided to let it rest.

Thanksgiving was saved. Grandma wanted to keep the whole incident hush-hush, but I wanted to greet every arriving relative with the salutation, “Who wants to lick the carpet?”

No point in letting all the hard work go unappreciated, right?


[Note: This is an except taken from The Sea is Wide: A Memoir of Caregiving]

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