I ask what I can to do make you feel better and the response is so simple, it stops me in my tracks. You want me to wash your hair.
This, I realize, is one of the things I take for granted. I am healthy. I am strong. The shower is no great obstacle for me. You can’t remember the last time you walked. The last time you bathed yourself, instead of having your daily bed bath. The last time your hair was clean. I think way that the hot water rolls down my body and sluices away the stress of the day. Of Tolkien’s bath song, “Sing hey! For the bath at close of day, that washes the weary mud away…O! Water Hot is a noble thing…”
I make the water warm and wrap the towels around your shoulders, knowing they will not catch it all and we will have to change your sheets anyway. I gently pour warm liquid. I watch it make rivers through your hair and soak into the towel. You lean your head back and close your eyes. I massage the shampoo in with my fingers. You sigh in pleasure. More water.
We roll you back and forth to change your sheets. You don’t mind the wet but we do. And finally you are dry, you are clean, your bed is changed. I find a comb and begin to work the tangles from your hair. My hair is so long, you say, delighted. And finally, you smile.
I am not a nurse yet but this is, it seems to me, the language of nurses: to be able to do for someone what they cannot do for themselves. To be trusted with the basic needs of a stranger and to, even if just for a few minutes, help those in your care feel like people instead of patients. I love this job.