My Dad is having surgery in two weeks. The surgeon is confident, hopeful, that it will remove all of the cancer. That there will be no need for radiation therapy or chemotherapy. This is good news to cling to.
A side effect of any kind of prostate surgery is incontinence. It can vary from a few drips to full on opening of the floodgates. My Mum told me my Dad asked her to buy a plastic sheet for the bed, just like the ones we used to use when we were being toilet trained as children. He was embarrassed by the thought of it, slightly mortified; the first step towards his loss of independence.
In the scheme of things incontinence is a small blip on the radar. There are so many other things that would be much more unbearable, yet all day I mused on the indignity of a plastic sheet on the bed of a grown man. A man who values dignity above all else.
I often find that when I have something on my mind there will be an event that highlights it, that forces me to face it so I can see it for what it is.
That event happened this afternoon when I went to the hardware store to buy some rope Nick needs for a science assignment. It’s some kind of gadget he’s building with levers and ropes designed to make an everyday function easier.
But I digress.
In the hardware store there was a lady buying plastic sheeting. It looked like the kind you buy to protect carpets, very thick and sturdy. As the hardware guy unrolled it and I noticed the stiff inflexibility of it, I burst into tears. Right there, blubbering away among the hammers and cans of varnish.
The lady who was buying the plastic sheeting came over, thinking that somehow I had hurt myself and everything came pouring out of me. How worried I was about my Dad. How I felt I couldn’t cope with the fear in his eyes. The problematic nature of aging and the humiliation of plastic sheeting.
The lady, whose name was Sonia, put her arm around me and let me talk. She told me of her own father who had become incontinent after bladder surgery but was nonetheless, fighting fit. She gave me the name of a place where you can get plastic sheets for beds that are so lightweight you wouldn’t know they were there.
I felt better. I felt cheered. I wondered if someone had sent Sonia to the hardware store just to help me out. It felt that way. Definitely.
Plastic sheeting on the bed is not desirable. Most of us wouldn’t choose it if we had the option. But for many people it is reality. And they cope. Sonia made me see that. She also made me acknowledge another form of reality, a reality we all need, the gentlest and best sort – the unexpected kindness of strangers.