Tale Tues: Dementia and Dependable Depends

“Have you seen your mother’s vagina?”

My mother’s aide was calling me, and this question, a proclamation really, was loudly blazoned via bluetooth–the mother of all microphones–throughout my minivan, just as I was dropping the boys off at school.

If the call had come through three minutes earlier, both my boys would have heard it all. Big Bro might even have been distracted enough to abandon his frantic search for his latest baby tooth which had, literally, just fallen out in the van. Here’s how that scenario would have gone:

“Gramma’s what?” (depending on whether or not Big Bro, at the tenderish tough age of ten, really understands yet about the big girly V, as he still thinks girls are gross).

I can imagine better Little Bro, at the buck-toothed-silly but mature-beyond-his-years age of nine, asking point blank: “What’s wrong with Gramma’s vagina? Is it okay?”

Luckily, Big Bro did find his tooth before this bluetooth call, miraculously, amongst the bits of gravel from their snow boots and dried Christmas tree needles (Yes, it was June, car had not been cleaned all winter).

And Big Bro then skipped off happily into school, first to head to the nurse’s office to retrieve a cool plastic tooth necklace which later he would come home parading:


So I sat in my dirty momma minivan, watching until the boys safely had disappeared inside the school, trying to decide whether this question about their Gramma’s – my mother’s – vagina was indeed a rhetorical question rather than a query that really needed answering.

The fact was, the previous week when my mother had been hospitalized for a kidney infection, I had glimpsed her “V” more times than I care to count; when she hadn’t been sitting on bedpans, nurses were whipping out wet chuxs (like pee pads for puppies) from beneath her sore bottom. She had become no more self-conscious about her exposed privates than my boys had even been about their spritzing pee-pees on the changing table.

But no, I hadn’t seen up that close, to perceive that her V was “red and swollen,”  as her aide went on to describe, as I was pulling out of the school parking lot, turning onto main street, and forgetting where I was going. Her aide went on to make tskking sounds of not disgust, but clearly great disapproval: “They let them sit too long,” she said, meaning the truth about incontinent hospital patients.

Incontinence. “It’s to be expected,” her aide had said–as if the “expected” were something that could soothe me–when she’d first asked me to pick up a package of Depends.

Witnessing this incredibly slow demise of my mother, I have never found anything at all to be “expected” about what has begun to feel like an actual physical disintegration,  of a woman once vibrant and strong. Certainly the dementia was never expected, her nonsensical insistence about the cherry tree outside her window sprouting ginormous limbs overnight, or people mowing her lawn at 3 am.

And never this, my mother in…diapers. Actually, the “Incontinence” aisle is a bit different from the diaper aisle. Nothing bright and colorful about the packaging, no cute pictures of rotund baby bottoms. Though the assortment or brands and sizes can be as mind boggling as that for preemies, newborns, toddlers, pre-toddlers…. It’s one thing to figure out your baby’s size — but your mother’s?

On my first foray down the “Incontinence” aisle, I was not fooled by the genteel commercial packaging of uproariously happy aged ladies sipping coffee, and of sleek modern tan couches covered with super-absorbent chux. Because I knew this: There was no way in fiery hell, my mother, even in her demented stated, would agree to wearing what she would know very well was essentially, yes, a diaper.

I settled on what seemed a fair compromise: what looked like gorilla-sized sanitary pads.

“These are pads,” her aide railed when I presented them to her the following week on my weekly visit. “I said Depends.”

My mother’s aide can claim she now knows my mother better than I do.

Not this time.

“You will never get my mother into diapers,” I said.

She handed me back the package with the receipt. “Please buy Depends. The brand.”

I relented, as thankfully, I would not be the one who would actually have to talk my something mother into wearing the damn Depends.

Back to the incontinence aisle (after returning gorilla pads, grateful that the twenty-something-still-acne-prone cashier kid didn’t look me over as if the pads were for me).

Just so you know, if you’re female and ever in the position of having to depend on Depends, there are far too many dependable Depend choices. Number one choice, what size? Because there is no small or medium size. There is only a small-slash-medium. Then large. Extra-large….

What style? Well that depends. On whether you plan on wearing a Depends beneath a pencil skirt–then you might need to slink into the Depends “Silhouette Briefs.”

Then there’s Depends “adjustable underwear,” for the woman on the go; you can take them on and off without having to remove your shoes!

If you need extra extra Depend protection, there’s “Protection with tabs” Depends (with a wetness indicator! Extra leakage protection! Six-tabs for “discrete open changing!” As if “discrete” and “open” aren’t oxymorons….)

The Depends choice which most closely mimics real underwear seems to be the “Fit-Flex.” I grabbed a package of those.

Since those initial incontinence-aisle forays, shopping incontinence has become as second nature as writing checks from my mother’s own checkbook with the kitty sticker on it. Both hateful stuff, but stuff, for the sake of my mental health, I’ve eventually learned not to think twice about.

Her aide told me how she finally got my mother actually to wear the Depends. After an accident one night, when my mother had to change her nightgown, sponge bathe, then have all her sheets changed, her aide opened the package and held up a pair of the paper lacy underwear: “They are so pretty,” she told my mother. “Wouldn’t you rather wear these pretty things and then not have to worry?”

While my mother has never been a pretty-lacy but more of a practical-cotton-underwear wearer, she had agreed. Which frankly still stuns me. But perhaps no more stunning than the first time she’d falsely accused me of taking the locks off of all the house doors  so that she could just run away, as well as have strangers steal her silver.

Maybe her aide does actually now know my mother better than I do. Or she knows the mother she has metamorphosed into, a someone I have never known.

And so I’ve come to trust my mother’s aide’s advice implicitly. Because this strong, ultimately compassionate, woman is a veteran of taking care of elderly and dementia patients; she has earned the right to pride herself on how she is able to rehydrate wrinkled dry skin with daily baby oil body rubs; pamper aching arthritic feet with epson salts; ease bed sores with her most trusted barrier cream Calmoseptine, the cream, the one she has sworn by with all her past (ie. now dead) demented incontinent clients.

So I continue to do as I’m told, as when she announced over my minivan mother-of-all-mics bluetooth, to pick up a tube of Vagisil. As well as more Calmoseptine. And Depends.

Since that original Depends conversation and now the big V one, we have had many discussions about my mother’s bodily functions. I am not entirely uncomfortable with these discussions, as I am familiar with them from when my children had their own share of diaper rashes, as well as the constipated episode (and its oxymoron). It was all part of motherhood. Now it has just become part of daughterhood.

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About Sandra

Author;editor of The Woven Tale Press at thewoventalepress.net; mother; weaver
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5 Responses to Tale Tues: Dementia and Dependable Depends

  1. Oh lord! I haven’t caught up with you and your Mom in so long! The humor is absolutely wonderful, but what a situation to have to apply it in!

  2. OK, went back to Rickey in the window, the broken wrist, the ruined salmon. So sad for you. I’m glad you can laugh and appreciate, but I ache for the lingering loss. I was still back at UTIs causing the worst of the confusion, but she’s crossed into another whole territory now. It makes me (ever the fantasy mind) wonder about third dimensions and whether it is only the dementia ridden and dying who can see into those spaces between universes. Maybe your Mom is not losing her mind so much as finding the cosmos.

    • Sandra says:

      Oh Jester, Ms. Queen dear, I would like to believe it was just that…how well put, that she is finding the cosmos.

  3. So glad to read you again, Sandra. And so sorry for the progression. Thinking of you.

    • Sandra says:

      thanks Laurel. I haven’t been writing a lot, life interferes, though of course those interferences are the best material. Catch 22:) Did you go to Blogher or is it still coming up?

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