The Kind Sister


By Anna Nogueira Nicolau

My struggles getting Dorothy to get in the bath and get changed, put on her make-up and look presentable for the day were just beginning. Although after the ‘tights’ incident’ she seemed to almost instantly forget what had happened, that still didn’t take anything away from the despair of the moment.
I would have to approach the whole thing as a process; a list of things to be done in a certain order, and ticked off respectively. So first: getting in the bath. I had to convince her to get in the bath. It was a nightmare.

Anna: Dorothy, do you want me to run you a bath?

Dorothy: No.

Anna: Are you sure? I could do it now.

Dorothy: No. I do not want a bath. Thank you.

Anna: Uh… I don’t think the water will stay hot for long today so I think it might be better for you to have a bath now.

Dorothy: I already had a bath today, this morning in fact.

Oh no, she hadn’t. But was I going to say to that? “No you didn’t you silly little liar”? Of course not! She was probably not lying, but instead confusing yesterday’s bath with a bath that she had in the morning. Either that was happening, or she really was lying, tricking me. But I couldn’t tell which one she was doing, or tell her she was wrong. That would just upset her and lead to an argument. If she happened to be tricking me aybe I could trick her:

Anna: Dorothy (sweet tone and voice applied)

Dorothy: Yes?

Anna: That bath you wanted is ready.

Dorothy instantly gets up: Oh! It was about time! I’ve been waiting for ages!

I couldn’t believe my luck! That was going in my notebook of tricks. Hurdle number 1 had been lifted off the dusty ground and jumped over by an inch! Now I needed to make sure she could get in the bath herself without getting hurt, struggling too much or falling. Before me her carer seemed to do most of the bathing, but I wanted to try things differently. I wanted to try to instil some independence back into her life. She was still in the early stages of dementia, and if she was slowly crawling towards a day when she might need to be looked after like a baby I thought it might be nice to allow her to do as much as she could by herself. But if I just turned my back and let her get in the bath by herself without assessing her capability first we might end up with Dorothy in a cast for several weeks, definitely having to be looked after like a baby.

So, I struggled having her accept my help getting into the bath, seeing her naked. So I would keep talking about silly things, the colour of the tiles, how I needed to clean the bathroom, the nice smell of the bubbles, and ‘boom!’ I would quickly say: “oh yes, by the way if you don’t mind I’d like to take your nightdress to wash” and in a bit of a daze after all my talking she would take it off and give it to me. Then I’d keep talking and talking and subtly mention how slippery the bath was with all the NICE bubbles I put in for her…she better hold my hand to get in the bath. The positive feelings about the nice bubbles that I filled the bath with made her forget how she hated accepting the helping hand.

So there. She was in the bath. I found a bath pillow hidden on the side, which seemed to not have been used in a while and stuck it on the bath for her. It was like heaven. I never heard complaints about short, cold baths again. Now everyday she had very warm, extremely bubbly, pillow-accompanied baths. She was truly happy about taking baths now. I was so proud of myself I thought I would fish for some compliments about my ingenious idea about the bath pillow.

Anna: Oh, it must be sooo nice to have this nice pillow to rest your neck now so you can stay in the bath for longer and really enjoy it, isn’t it Dorothy?

Dorothy lifts her head, looks at me slightly puzzled, seems to get a moment of realization about what I’m talking about, gladly rests her head back down on the pillow and says:

“Oh yes. Your sister did that for me. She is very good. She’s been doing all these nice things for me. She did my hair the other day too. If you see her, tell her I love this pillow.”

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Many thanks.  Anna

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