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Why I Smile While Other Women Shower My Husband

It's not what you think.

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illustration of nurse bathing old man, couple drinking wine, ailing husband
Kati Szilágyi
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When I repeated the vows “for better, for worse,” I was young, naive and very much in love. I planned on riding that love into the future, where it could only get better.

As for the latter part of that vow, well, I figured as we aged, “for worse” might involve a kidney stone or bladder issues. And like most couples, we would probably argue over small things such as the proper way to squeeze the toothpaste or load the dishwasher. We had talked a great deal about what we wanted out of life, and we were on the same page.

Yet, we hadn’t always been on the same page, or even in the same book. Years before we met, while I was carrying a sign and protesting the Vietnam War, my husband was carrying a rifle aimed at what he thought would kill Communism. Those war years came back to visit him a decade ago.

His exposure to Agent Orange caused a rare tumor — one more prevalent in dogs — to develop in his brain. Because of this tumor, his right leg doesn’t always follow his brain’s commands.

Unlike those endearing four-legged pets, my husband only has two legs. And when one stops working properly, simple chores become a challenge. Things he used to do such as cooking, taking out the trash and climbing on ladders to change light bulbs fell upon me.

He underwent an eight-hour surgery years ago to remove the tumor, during which time I walked around the hospital grounds and promised God I would stop arguing about trivial things if he helped my husband through this operation.

My husband made it through, but due to the tumor location, 20 percent still remains.

Life became a bit more normal for several years, allowing us to travel and for him to retain part of his handyman chores. But recently there has been a decline in his mobility, and he’s now in a wheelchair or an electric scooter most of the time.

So when the Veterans Administration determined he was eligible for a caregiver, who was I to argue with some household help? Folding laundry, doing dishes, making beds. I gave up those tasks easily.

Helping my husband shower? Well, that was another story.

For years, I’d been helping him in and out of our shower tub. Throughout the decades we’ve had fun in various spas, with and without each other. I didn’t mind our “shower hour,” but it was beginning to feel more like an obligation than something spontaneous. The night before the first caregiver arrived, we lay in bed, wondering what she would be like. Since I knew she was from Singapore, my mind landed on the stories my husband had told me about his bachelor days, back when he was young, naive and wanting to fall in love.

Betty arrived the next morning, and she was middle-aged and strong with a take-charge personality. That first day I couldn’t tell you what she looked like, but I could tell you about her hands: long fingers, smooth skin, no wedding band.

“Are you okay with this?” I asked my husband as Betty wheeled him down the hall toward the bathroom.

He looked back at me and shrugged. I took that to mean yes. Getting touched all over by a soft-spoken woman with gentle hands. Who wouldn’t like that?

During that first shower time, I sat in my office, listening to them talking and laughing. I felt as if I were eavesdropping in my own home. It was like reading a secret text message. And like stumbling upon a clandestine event, I was glued to my chair, not making a sound.

I wondered what part of my husband’s body Betty was caressing. What made him giggle like a teenage boy? Of course, my imagination kicked into overdrive. As I’ll let yours do too.

Later that night, my husband explained the process to me. Betty started with his back and slowly navigated to his underarms and chest and down to his feet. She only washed places he couldn’t reach. And as we know, all men can touch their private parts.

Betty loved to talk politics while she washed him. I would hear her tell him to move a little to the left while they discussed issues leaning to the right.

After Betty came Elsie. She, too, was middle-aged. She brought Filipino treats into our home along with a hearty dose of energy. Elsie elevated folding underwear to a fine art, and she loved sports. Along with the sound of splashing water, I hear them talk about basketball, football, baseball. Anything involving a ball.

Our current caregiver, Spanish Alana, doesn’t speak English very well. Her words ride on the back of a giggle. There is no language barrier when it comes to laughter — those peals of joy sound the same in Spanish as in English. And I hear a lot of it while they are in the bathroom. I have no idea what they talk about, or if they talk at all. He always emerges clean-shaven and smelling fresh, with a grin on his face.

To be honest, I don’t miss our shower hours anymore. I don’t even stay in the house. I take that time to go for a walk, thankful for these caring women who have enabled my husband and me to once again enjoy each other’s bodies without it being a household chore.

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