Role Reversal

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The bathroom faucet ran full blast while Ann Marie scrubbed her hands with antibacterial soap, wringing them over and over and willing the foam to cleanse her system of any germs she might happen to miss washing away. All the water being wasted never entered her mind as she muttered to herself, “Gotta get under the nails.” Her obsession to get them clean overrode even her previous distraction with the tasks that first dirtied them.

She swore she’d never admit it aloud to anyone. Not her mother or even her friends. She didn’t feel any natural inclination toward caretaking whatsoever and was ashamed of herself for it.

Fully realizing she wasn’t cut out for this type of work, she felt a responsibility to help out anyway. Ann Marie just loathed the aroma of it all. Such a noisome bother to her delicate sensibilities.

Cleaning up after other people’s bodily functions made her almost sick to her stomach, no matter how close the familial connection. Nursing was not Ann Marie’s forte.

Even a faint whiff of vomit or just the sound of another person breaking wind triggered her gag reflex and sent her scrambling for a waste basket. So helping care for her grandfather, at her mother’s insistence, exceeded her comfort level. She begged for any other task than his personal care – manicuring the lawn, cleaning out gutters, dusting the ceiling fans – anything except clipping ear hair or rinsing bed pans. Hearing other people’s bodily functions was just too intimate, especially at such close range in his tiny little house.

It broke her heart to so loath such closeness. The sights, the sounds, the smells.

Tears flowed from her eyes as water rushed into the kitchen sink. Having her hands submerged in floating food particles and dinner’s remnants didn’t compare, because she couldn’t see anything gross. Soap suds across the surface made washing dishes a thoughtless and impersonal action, one that lacked any human offal. Only imperceptible organic leftovers. No gas, urine or mucous.

She would willingly complete any other menial chore, clean the house or take out the trash. Flashes came to mind of how her parents left her with her grandpa when she was a toddler. He read her stories and helped teach her to ride a bike. No doubt he’d changed his share of her diapers, but she couldn’t fathom doing the same for him. Life’s circle brought her around to reciprocate nonetheless.

He called from the bedroom, “Ann Marie, come in here please.” His voice resounded with the pain that wracked his withering body, no longer the sturdy frame that previously towered above everyone throughout her comparatively short life span. An overwhelming odor took over her senses in crossing the door’s threshold. She blinked back a reaction so he couldn’t sense her disgust.

She feigned a smile and asked, “What do you need, Grandpa?” His kind eyes and gentle smile reminded Ann Marie how much he meant to her, how much she loved him. That’s why she was there. The phrase repeated in her head, “I can do this. I can do this.” Flipping on the table-top fan to sweep the smelly air in the opposite direction, she told him, “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

*The writing prompts “noisome or smelly” came from Studio 30+.

Studio30(top image: goodhusbanding.com)

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6 Comments

Filed under fiction, life, writing

6 responses to “Role Reversal

  1. I have wondered if I would be able to care for either of my parents like this if they were ever to get to the point they were unable to care for themselves. It’s not that I don’t think I could do what is needed, I just know how unsettled they would feel for me to have to attend to such personal matters.

    • So true, Tara. Nurses truly have a gift in caring for others selflessly. I don’t look forward to ever possibly needing that level of care for myself either, from either a stranger or family member. *sigh*

  2. Oh man that was hard to read. I was right there with you. Good job!

  3. Kir Piccini

    My mom is a nurse by trade and even when the twins were small I wondered how she did what we do (as moms, as caretakers) every day with strangers. She was a nurse before today’s standards etc and I call her my ‘hero’ often.

    I worry about caring for my mom or step-dad. Not that I wouldn’t but it is unsettling to think of them as helpless as children someday. God Bless those caretakers every day.

    This was really well written. So personal with the word used in a perfect spot.

    • Thanks, Kir! Nurses certainly do have a gift to provide a level of care that can be so very personal. It takes a special skill to treat people with dignity at such a vulnerable time.
      I’m glad you liked it.

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