2017
two thousand seventeen
Twenty-Seventeen
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By John Addyman

   Part of our course of study in nursing school involves giving a bed bath – cleaning a patient head-to-toe and in every nook and cranny while he or she lies comfortably in bed.
   We learn about the procedure in one lab, then get tested on it about a week later in another lab, with a different instructor. Many of my classmates are Certified Nursing Assistants or have worked in healthcare somewhere. They’re all very good at what they do…but for me, this is all new stuff.
   So I observe what they do and pick up tips along the way.
   Then I go home and practice.
   In the lab, we use anatomically complete mannequins.
   At home, I use my wife. 


   But last week, I wasn’t home. The last stage of getting our floors refinished was in full swing, and once again I was at my daughter’s house for a couple of nights to stay away from the dust and fumes in our house.
   I still had to practice.
   “No,” my daughter Amy said. “You’re not going to practice on me.” I didn’t argue with her because she was making dinner.
   I looked across the room, where Amy’s husband, Chad, was standing. I never said a word. I just stared at him for a couple of seconds.
   “Forget about it,” Chad said. “Don’t even think about it.”
   But I still had two possibilities to practice on.
   “What’s a ‘bed bath’?” asked my granddaughter, Lucie, who was reading a book on the couch. She’s 6.
   I explained it to her.
   “Sounds like fun,” she said.
   “I want to do it, too,” said Jeremy, my 3-yeard-old grandson.
   “We’ll do the bed baths right after dinner,” I told them.
   Lucie, ever the fashionista, was already thinking way ahead of me.
   “I’ll wear my swimsuit,” she said.
   “Good idea!” I said.
   Jeremy ran over to his mom and whispered something to her. My daughter smiled.
   “That’s a great idea!” she told him.
   Dinner was great, and the kids were bouncing on their chairs during dessert, waiting for the bed baths to start.
   I got the towels and wash cloths and other stuff ready – we were going to use the guest bed as our hospital bed – and told the grandkids I was ready.
   Lucie popped around the corner in her bright swimsuit.
   Jeremy jumped in the doorway in his superhero jammies.
   “Ta-daaah!”
   I put Lucie on the bed, got her arranged and covered and comfortable, just as one of my patients would be, and started the routine. We weren’t using water and soap, just a dry washcloth and pretend soap. And Lucie was a little slippery to move around in her swimsuit. But we proceeded.
   Everything was fine for a minute.
   Then the tickle monster showed up.  
   And he showed up with a vengeance.
   Lucie was patient while we pretend-washed the first half of her body, but after that, no matter where to put the dry washcloth, it was ticklish. Her elbow. Her knee. The middle of her forehead. If I put the washcloth on Jeremy, who was watching and waiting his turn on the other side of the bed, Lucie giggled.
   We finally finished up and Lucie pronounced herself clean. She especially liked the lotion and back rub that ended the bath.
   Jeremy decided he’d like to start with the backrub, so we did that first. And while I was doing the head-to-toe wash routine with him, Lucie was still giggling.
   Amy, standing in the doorway, watched in admiration as the kids pretty much sat still, despite the giggles, through the whole thing. In fact, they were so enthusiastic that the next night, Jeremy asked if we could do it again.
   Because I’m new to all this, my concentration in class is to get the bath right, to make sure I don’t miss anything and do a complete job. I keep thinking about the possibility of me lying in that bed, and how would I want to be treated. I want my touch to be warming and comfortable and for a patient to feel that they’ve been compassionately and professionally cared for.
   This is all stuff going through my head. But then I see my classmates – many of whom are working in healthcare and some of whom might bathe a dozen or more patients a day – I see an extra level of caution and care and grace that I don’t have yet…and I wonder when I will.
   Friday I get tested in class on my bed-bath technique and my instructor complimented me at the end. When Lucie and Jeremy and I were having pizza that night, I told them how well I’d done at school that day and thanked them for their help.
   “You’re welcome, Granddad!” Jeremy said.
   But Lucie was thinking, and had a wry smile on her face, like she had a secret. “What are we going to practice next, Grandad?”
   Gotta love grandkids.

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