Friday, October 13, 2006

Don't Call Them Diapers

Humiliation is a daily fact of life when you live in a nursing home or even in an assisted living facility with a fair amount of assistance.
You get called "sweetie" all the time, even if you were a Ph.D. in your earlier life.
If you're in a wheelchair that you can't propel yourself, you may wait an hour or two to be taken where you want to go--to a meal or to the restroom.
If you can't remember where your room is or why you live there, you may have to ask these questions repeatedly.
But the worst humiliation of all comes with incontinence.
Mom has had a gradual slide into urinary incontinence over the last six years, as a result of bearing children four times.
At first she would put a sanitary napkin (the kind used for menstruation) into her underwear, but later the pad wasn't big enough and slipped around.
Finally she accepted wearing Depends, a brand of disposable underwear, instead of her own undies.
But her caregivers all refer to the disposable underwear as "your diaper."
"Let's change your diaper," they say to her instead of "Would you like to use the restroom?"
Of course, when she sits on the toilet, she is unlikely to urinate because she no longer has the ability to start or stop the flow. A trip to the toilet is mainly for the purpose of removing one Depend and putting on another.
Nevertheless, when I am with her, I ask if she wants to go to the bathroom. I don't say, "Okay, it's time to change your diaper."
I've used the brand name Depend to refer to the underwear over the past several years, but lately I noticed that she still calls them her "pads."
As a result, I now refer to them as pads. Any little fiction that helps to preserve her dignity is worth using.
For Mom the worst part of incontinence is having to have her disposable underwear changed at night, when she's in bed.
She'd prefer to get out of bed, use a walker or wheelchair to get to the bathroom, and sit on the toilet while her pad is changed, usually about twice per night. But that's too much work for a staff of two in charge of 28 people for the night.
Instead she has to lie in bed while her "diaper" is changed. The caregiver wipes her pubic area and applies A & D or zinc oxide cream before rolling her to each side to get a new disposable garment on.
"Roll over, sweetie, so I can change your diaper," the caregiver may say.
Mom hates this, but she cannot change it. If I ask one set of caregivers to use the word "pad," those on the day shift or the next night shift may not have heard the message. There's a high turnover in this kind of work and low pay--not much incentive to worry about the niceties of language.
The humiliation continues.

1 comment:

Loralee Dulany said...

It's a very touchy subject. There's nothing wrong with the word, or the item itself -- it's a convenient tool for adults who suffer from incontinence. Of course, it can be a big blow to a person's pride, so avoiding that word is for the best.