In the Caregiving business, it becomes evident very quickly, that our lives (all of us for that matter) revolve around activities of our alimentary canal — input and output.  It is how we survive.  There is input that brings with it the raw material from which is mined fuel for burning in cells of one sort or another so that we can simply stay alive — be who we are, do whatever it is we do.  Then there is what is left after the fuel has been mined.  In Picher, Oklahoma, there are toxic Chat Piles, a Superfund site destined for cleanup.  The output must be dealt with.  It is called Waste Management. 

For humans the management of input and output is primary parent activity.  Those tiny people after they pop out have clear goals in life: eat, sleep, fill their pants and cry (or coo) to manipulate the big people in their homes to manage their input and output needs. 

As adults, we often collaborate on the input.  Someone or both provide the resources for purchasing the food to be prepared for consumption.  There are any number of options for getting the food ready, maybe one does the grilling outside and the other deals with the range and oven.   For the most part, we do our own personal waste management. 

When Chronic illness joins the family, not only does full responsibility for input become the responsibility of the Caregiver, but sometimes output, waste management, becomes the full responsibility of the Caregiver. 

At the risk of becoming indelicate (there is nothing delicate about waste management), I now am in charge of output in our household.  Understand that “in charge” does not connote control of when, where and how much, just dealing with it when it does come. 

There are certain rules provided on the training CD.  One is that there will be multiple expulsions of wheat colored liquid during the night.  Those events demand help from the one in charge of waste management, so that what is expelled ends up in the bedside commode (Medicare will provide that tool).  By the way, the color is important.  Too much color (dark amber) suggests dehydration and the need for more liquid input.  Red means it is time to call the doctor. 

The rules say that at least one of those trips to the commode will happen during  the Caregiver’s deepest sleep, that deep sleep we are told must not be interrupted if we are to stay healthy and functional.   Some nights there are two or three trips, other nights many more.  It is no wonder that sometimes Caregivers are not always sharp and bubbly and upbeat about how things are going.  Anyone who tells a full time Caregiver to buck up and stop whining, other people have it worse, any such person may be harmed physically — at the worst it would be categorized as justifiable homicide. 

My task is simpler than those who care for male Loved Ones.  It is far easier to contain liquid waste that drops into the commode than that for which aim is more of a challenge. 

Then there is the management of solid waste.  Those who have Parkinson’s or some other chronic illnesses may no longer have the dexterity to reach the place most in need of being reached when dealing with output.  That is where the one in charge of Waste Management springs into action.  (That just sounded silly, but please bear with me.  I am trying to say all this in a way that doesn’t gross anyone out or embarrass the ones who to their horror are in need of such help).

The rules of solid waste management are these:  it comes when it comes, and often without warning.  Almost without fail, it comes in the middle of a meal.  I suspect I can move that transfer chair (wheel chair with small wheels for indoor use) from zero to thirty-five (the indoor speed limit at our house) in a matter of seconds — pants down and seated measured in fractions of a second.  My motivation?  Need I ask?  As the one in charge of waste management, it is my responsibility no matter where it lands.  By the way, it has come to be so, that performing my   duties does not impact my ability to finish eating the meal.  Sometimes I wish it would — every time I step on those silly scales at the doctors’ offices, the ones calibrated purposely to publicly humiliate anyone who stands on them. 

The rules of solid waste production also include emergency needs during trips out to social gatherings, grocery stores, restaurants, church or synagogue or mosque or society meetings.  It happened again tonight.  Waste Management has gender implications.  For those of us whose Loved One is the other gender, there are very unsettling complexities to fulfilling the role of chief of output. 

I dread it, just dread it.  No matter how understanding people are, a busy women’s restroom with multiple stalls is not a welcoming place for a man.  When she needs to go, she needs to go.  I have learned to seek out one-holers –  men’s and women’s restrooms that have one stool and a door that can be locked behind us.  Most Casey’s General Stores, some Arby’s, often Subway sandwich shops, some Taco Bell’s, some Pizza Huts, many small convenience stores have one-holers.  Of course the greatest invention in the history of humanity is the family bathroom.  Some newer rest areas, airports, Walmarts have them.  Gratefully, there is almost always someone around who can be enlisted to guard the door while we are both in the ladies room.  Then there was the time we entered a large but quiet ladies room, only to discover that while we were in there, a busload of thirty-one Second Graders came and were standing outside, their little legs crossed, while we had a substantial need to deal with on the inside.   

I suspect that other Caregivers share with me a quiet terror that lies in the recesses of our minds all the time, a fear fueled by horrible memories of past experiences with it — the dreaded diarrhea.  How many times have we changed bedding, maybe thrown away a mattress we just couldn’t clean, tossed clothing or sheets because we couldn’t face again the task of trying to get the stains out, scrubbed bathroom floors and walls, cleaned carpeted areas. 

I have to say something now that will probably seem sort of pollyanna in its tone.  I don’t like the job of waste management.  Sometimes it feels as it the smells will never leave my nostrils.  Sometimes it seems as if we cannot have much of a life as long as we are ruled by providing input and manageing output.  For me, it has come to be part of my job.  It is what I do.  It is neither good nor bad.  It just is.  When waste needs to be managed, it gets managed.  We use what we call pads (absorbant paper underwear), baby wipes, chuks (absorbant, plastic lined fold out sheets) for under the bottom sheet on the bed.  We put fitted plastic sheets under the mattress pad.  We have a bedside commode right there so that few steps are needed at night.  There are pads and babywipes in her purse.  We take just the right balance of over the counter Miralax and Senna to keep the activity somewhere between constipation and diarrhea. 

We do it for our babies, we do it for the people we love who can no longer do it for themselves.  It is the way we express the love we declare with our words.  However stupid it sounds to say it, I find Waste Management to be a nobel profession.  It is not for sissies.  When the job has been the most difficult and frustrating and messy, afterward (not usually during) I feel as if I have just been engaged in the game of life, living it to the full, not watching it go by from the sidelines.  I am somebody, doing something that actually makes a difference for someone I love.  By the way, talk about heros — thank a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) who serves in Waste Management at hospitals and nursing homes, next time you see one.   

There!  I did it!  I knew this had to be written.  I just didn’t know how to do it and when to do it.  Caregivers in Waste Management, maybe we could form a Union — however, no striking allowed.

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