Oct 18 2012 in Caring for Partners by ejourneys
1. Adventures in Foot Soaks
These days I am extremely thankful for being able to live and work on flex time. My elasticity is being reeeeeeally stretched.
There’s my partner’s healing toe (from toenail ablation). Combine that with her overall disorder and time becomes a kind of Silly Putty.
But first, a bit of background…
Last year, when her other big toenail had been ablated, she had been adamant that she didn’t want to soak her foot in plastic. She argued that you couldn’t get plastic clean enough even with repeated washings.
I caught her before she put this arrangement into action:
She was about to set her fifth burner on the kitchen floor, plugged into an extension cord plugged into the wall by the sink. She was going to sit on the rug (she hates chairs) and balance the Pyrex pan on top of the burner. She was going to put a quart of water and 2 capfuls of Betadine into the Pyrex pan and then put her foot in there to soak.
She insisted nothing could go wrong. Here, she said; she could put the burner into the blue tub in case the water overflowed.
In the podiatrist’s office my partner had insisted she needed constantly warm water. I had suggested that she could sit on the shower stool, with warm water continuously supplied by the shower. The podiatrist thought that was a good idea.
Once we got home, that idea went right out the window.
My partner didn’t want to soak her foot directly in the plastic tub for fear of mold. She ignored my concerns about mixing (a) water and electricity, and (b) foot and heated coil, not to mention the glass. (I told her about my first attempt at cooking, when I was nine. I had inadvertently destroyed my mother’s favorite Pyrex bowl by exposing it directly to a stove burner.)
When she went to the bathroom that day last year, I took away the burner and the extension cord. I hid the burner. I heated water for her, mixed in the Betadine, and scooped out and remixed when the water got cold. She still insisted on soaking her foot in the Pyrex, so we placed the Pyrex inside the blue tub in case of spillage, since the Pyrex barely held the quart of water the instructions said to use.
Everything had to be just right. She complained the water was too hot and then she complained the water was too cold. She complained she needed the burner because she had to soak her foot right now!, and then she complained (while dawdling) that I was rushing her.
It was one of those days. My partner accused me of being controlling. I said, “I’m sorry,” and she said, “No, you’re not.” I resigned myself to being the bad guy.
That was before I picked up better communication tools, which sometimes can be summarized as: Whatever.
Near the end of last year’s after-surgery care, she found a combination of her saved bits o’ wood and used them to stabilize the Pyrex. She set her fifth burner to low heat, enough to just keep the glass and its contents warm. We did a test run with me ready to throw the switch on a surge protector in case of spillage. My heart was in my mouth the whole time.
But it worked.
Fast-forward to this year:
My partner has since found a shorter piece of wood than that long stake. That stake was in case a vampire tried to attack us while she was soaking her foot.
The Betadine made her foot itch this time around, so the podiatrist switched us to a saline solution. Redness at her last checkup indicated possible infection, so she is now taking two antibiotics, one orally and one topically. (We’ll find out on Friday if she has an infection.)
I haven’t counted the number of steps in each soak, in part because they keep multiplying. They include turning the A/C on and off depending on how my partner feels, turning lights on and off (each done four times this last round), donning and removing woolen hat and pajama top, moving the wood blocks, placing aluminum foil on the burner (our next-to-latest added step) before adding the Pyrex, arranging a cork board topped by a Ziploc bag for her to place her foot on before she applies the topical antibiotic, saving the soak water in a bucket for toilet flushes, plugging and unplugging the extension cord, wrapping the extension cord around a different bucket, assembling plastic containers into a tower for her to put her foot on while the topical antibiotic dries, and wrapping and unwrapping a roll of paper towels stored inside a multiply-twisted plastic bag big enough to hold a Shetland pony (slight exaggeration on that last one). And much more that is not in the podiatrist’s instructions but that are my partner’s personal added touches to the routine.
Add to that array of steps her latest, which involves her artful cutting apart and application of packing peanuts. The peanuts really deserve an entry all their own — after I’ve gotten enough sleep. Right now I’m still giggling.
A procedure that I estimate would normally take maybe 50 minutes (bandage removal + coating her little toes with Vaseline + heating/mixing the saline solution + 20-minute soak + toweling the Vaseline toes + applying the antibiotic to the big toe and letting it sit for 20 minutes + rebandage) takes close to two hours. Everything must also be done quietly, to cut down on her anxiety, more so if she needs food.
That’s after she’s decided that she’s gotten enough sleep.
And has had enough to eat.
And has gone to the bathroom.
There’s no knowing when an urge for any of the above will hit — which means that after my partner has called me to go through the advance prep stages, we might suddenly need to put on the brakes. She’ll call me for a 1 a.m. soak, which will finally get underway at 3 a.m.
Her procedure, with its unique touches, would make Rube Goldberg proud.
I keep a little folding stool in the kitchen, to use during the twice-daily soaks. Some nights (and, because of sleep deprivation, some afternoons) I practically snooze on it.
But — after a couple of close calls — she raised the idea of getting a (gasp!) plastic heated foot bath to use! *fist pump!* Nothing like a little spilled salt water dropping into my partner’s beloved burner from the 1970s to change her mind. Because she really likes that burner.
This weekend a memorial service is being held for her father, 3000 miles away. On Monday we received an email from one of her brothers, asking when we’ll be arriving.
We’d known about the service. My partner had no intention of going, considering how her father had abused her. She’s commented that although she hadn’t been consciously aware of it at the time, her decision to have her toenail ablated this close to the service was not a coincidence.
I have no idea if her brother knows the details of the abuse (I know her sister does). From the sound of things, just about everyone else in the family will be there.
I felt conflicted about this every which way including Sunday — not the part about going versus not, but about contact with her family, period. I don’t know who knows what or how much, not only about the abuse but about my partner’s current condition. Her sister is the only person to whom I’ve spelled things out.
I felt like an outsider looking into a black box. I knew the brother was someone my partner trusted. It’s just that she wasn’t in contact with him. I asked myself: Do I push? How much do I push? And, given her anxiety, when and how do I broach the topic?
I have felt extra-cautious and protective in this area ever since my partner’s hysterectomy in 2009. I had contacted her family while she was in surgery, to let them know what was going on. For a long time after that, my partner felt as though I had betrayed her.
I waited until she seemed pretty relaxed (foot-soaking was not going on), rested, and fed. I gave her printouts of the emails, even though they had gone to her email account as well as mine.
I started off by saying, “I know that this is not about me. This is about you. That said, I am concerned about…”
I asked her if she was okay with sending an email response to her brother. Or even calling him. I told her I would defer to her wishes.
She said she was interested in calling (yay!). We discussed things to say, all of it neutral but focused on communication. For example, we wouldn’t be at the memorial service or at the weekend’s other activities, but maybe we could touch base via Skype.
Finally (after my partner veered off into talking about neuro-ophthalmology, ingrown leg hairs, adrenalin, and more, tying them all together in her latest theory while I kept an eye on the time), we called! We had a good conversation. Afterward, my partner said she was happy that she had asserted herself in making suggestions — like having some time in the future when we could all get together.
I had been hoping for a resumption of family communication (that is, beyond the annual year-end letters we receive — we used to send one but that stopped years ago). But I also knew it was not my call. I also knew — and know — that whatever happens will have to happen at the best pace my partner can manage. I know what I want. But I also know — aside from my application of the gentlest nudge — that what counts is what she wants.
But that call and that contact was a real shot in the arm for me.