If you’ve lived long enough on this planet and have been out-of-doors for any period of time you’ve probably experienced it. One day you take an uninformed step on the ground beside you and you sense you’ve landed in a substance much softer than the surrounding terrain. Then the aroma of newly disturbed dog poop wafts its way up to your nostrils and your fears are confirmed.
Oh, what a mess! I can’t tell you how many shoe soles I have cleaned with a butter knife, kitchen fork, or even a stick from the yard.
The thing about dog poop is its pungency. No, it doesn’t compare to the odor a skunk leaves (we had to clean that off our dogs when we lived out in the country), but it has its own lethal properties. If you happen to get it on your hands – look out! The closest thing I can compare it to is gasoline. If you think you are going to go to the sink and wash it right off with soap and water . . . think again! It will most definitely linger for your olfactory pleasure.
We used to have a white shepherd/lab mix named Marshmallow. Oh, how I loved that dog; she was a beauty, striking in appearance, and commanding when she spoke. At that point in my life I was learning a great deal about myself: my temperament, my frustration points, my defects of character, etc. And I remember being tested and heated to the boiling point (back then it was much lower than 212º F for me) when Marsh would (seemingly) ask me over and over to take her outside so she could poop in the yard. Until one day . . . .
Dogs are notorious for lingering around the yard, sniffing every blade of grass (or so it seems), exploring and testing every foot of ground before deciding to squat and “do their business” as they say. They have to find just the right spot on which to deposit their poop. This, along with their need to be “let out” used to drive me crazy! I had “things to do, people to see, places to . . .” (you know what I’m talking about). Dogs just aren’t in the same fast-paced, rush to-and-fro world I’m in.
And then I’ll attend a seminar, or read a book that talks about slowing down your life, or I’ll watch an Andy Griffith show about “what’s your hurry?” and I’ll be reminded that my life probably should be more like my dog’s life, and . . . . Nevertheless, let’s get back to reality, shall we?
I was frustrated with Marsh until one day . . . I finally realized something. My dog is totally at my mercy when it comes to relieving herself; she can’t go outside unless I let her out. When she feels the urge to use the bathroom (figuratively speaking, of course) she must wait until I am ready to provide a place for her, and even then she is bound by my time schedule. Hmmmmm.
A new light was lit in my brain that day. And I remembered the times when I was a small boy, riding in the backseat of a black 1951 Plymouth, needing so badly to use the bathroom, but dependent upon my father’s timing. Dependent upon the time and place. Unable to even relieve myself at will. It was excruciating!
When I need to relieve myself I just walk down the hall to one of my two bathrooms and do so. Anytime I want. But my dog . . . has to wait. For me. These are the things I thought about. And my frustration with her began to disappear.
I was reminded of that just this past year. In what seemed to be an unlikely place. My mother had several crushed vertebrae and went in to surgery to have them repaired. She turned 88 years old while in rehab, and her body just didn’t seem to bounce back easily. She would sit in her wheelchair, often connected to an empty oxygen tank (I will never understand why this was allowed in her condition), totally dependent on the staff at the facility for most all her needs. Yes, even to use the bathroom.
On several occasions mother told me she had called the nurse’s station asking for someone to help her go to the bathroom (she had to be lifted on and off the toilet), and she had waited 45 minutes for someone to come. Forty-five minutes? Really? I am 59 years old now. And anymore, when I need to use the bathroom, I really need to use the bathroom. Right then! I’m sure mother’s need was as at least as pressing as mine, and probably more so. But she had to wait. On someone too . . . busy? Too . . . unconcerned? I can’t judge that fairly. But the result was unacceptable. That much I know.
I would call it an anomaly except for the fact that it was consonant with the way mother was treated while being showered at that facility. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for someone else to shower me, clean me up, etc. But I can envision what would be unacceptable to me, demeaning.
Mother told me that while being showered the lady in charge of bathing her would spray her in the face with no warning whatsoever. How degrading! I don’t even treat my dog that way when I wash him. I guard his eyes; I try to afford him a certain level of dignity. But mother . . . was sprayed in the face like . . . (I was going to say “animal,” but . . . that is not even accurate). Worse than an animal. Much worse. And why?
It’s not wise to draw conclusions without knowing all the facts, I know. I wondered if my own mother was exaggerating things, possibly beginning to suffer some early dementia, making up tales of how badly she was being treated. And so, I asked her room mate (who was quite lucid, and a few years younger than me, in rehab for a muscle and nerve related injury resulting from a stroke). Their story was identical.
And then I felt ashamed that I had doubted my mother at all. An aging and helpless woman, with all her senses and mental faculties fully intact, being treated in a way so bizarre that I doubted its veracity. How much of this goes on in these places? And we doubt our loved ones, because it so incomprehensible?
While dressing my mother one morning the attendant knocked off her $450 pair of glasses; they fell to the floor and were left there as if nothing had even happened. Then they were stepped on, and one lens was knocked out of the frame. They never even bothered to pick them up off the floor. When I arrived, she showed me her glasses, and I borrowed a small screw driver so I could repair them, tightening the frame, and cleaning them. But I found it hard to fully believe it had happened the way mother described. Now I know. It did.
This is not a blog about elder abuse.
There are many positive things I could say about the rehab facility where she was for those three months; I became quite close with a number of those employees, and witnessed their sincere care for mother before she left for her brief stay in an excellent assisted living facility (for which I have nothing but praise).
But the others, the abusers, the infractors . . . those were people with whom I never interacted. They were like ghosts, never present on the scene to talk with. I suspected they were employed to come out in the wee hours of the morning, or at some other time when no one was around to observe. Or in the showers. Secluded and to themselves. Where one person’s word was as good as another’s. They were nothing short of real to Mom.
I am working on forgiving these persons, whoever they may be. But the poop is on my hands (so to speak). And as you know, like gasoline, it does not wash off easily. It still stinks. The smell lingers in the air.
My dog deserves it. My mother deserved it.
It is mine to give.
When someone is dependent on me. Me! I will choose to give it.
So help me, God!