Stepping into the Shower with Chronic Illness (Article written by Susan Watson , Butyoudontlooksick.com, © 2006) Ah, showering. That major task that, for those of us with a chronic illness, ranks right up there on the energy scale with oh, lawncare? Home renovation? Maybe car repairs? Why, I have to schedule personal hygeine days right along with doctor appointment days, grocery shopping days, and all those days which contain that one major endeavor, that spends all our "spoons" in one place. Okay, I'm exaggering a tiny bit, but we all know that staying clean and presentable costs us much more in pain and fatigue than our healthy counterparts. It's been years since I've been able to take a relaxing soak in the tub, because I rarely have a crane available to get me out. Therefore, I'm strictly a shower girl. For those of you who can relate to the problems associated with the endurance marathon of taking a shower, I'd like to share some of my adaptations. Preparation is key. Be sure to have all necessary items within reach, as you'll have more energy and wits to find them before your shower than afterwards. I find some bath items more helpful than others. For instance, using a 2-in-1 shampoo with built-in conditioners saves you a step in hair care and limits the amount of stretching and holding your arms over your head. Some of the brands who carry these combination products are Suave, Pantene, and Prell. Your own personal preference will tell you which to choose; however, I prefer the Pantene Pro-V version. Using bar soap presents two problems. They are often drying, which causes skin issues for some. In addition, that wet bar of soap can easily slip from your grasp during shower time, causing you to have to bend and reach for it on the tub/shower floor. This can cause muscle strain and even lead to falling in the shower. To prevent these issues, I use liquid soap. I personally prefer the baby baths that contain chamomile and lavender. They are pure and contain essential oils that are meant to calm fussy babies, but they also work to calm a fussy and achey me. You can find these baby bath products in either Johnson & Johnson's form or in the cheaper store brand, located in either the baby items section or in the standard soap aisle. [I personally like the Dove liquid soap! - jlh] Fluffy towels are worth the investment, even on a fixed budget. When used to wrap your hair turban-style, the thicker the towel, the shorter time you need to raise your arms to towel-dry your hair yourself. I also find that using strategically placed hair bands, barrettes, or other hair clasps during the initial drying time cuts down on styling time. You may not think you are "disabled" enough to warrant my best secret weapon in showering: the shower chair. However, even if you walk fine and can stand unaided, a shower chair will lengthen your endurance for a relaxed, comfortable shower. Mine stays in the tub/shower and is the same color as the tub so as not to be an eyesore. Shower chairs can be large or small, and can be bought sturdy enough to hold up to at least 450 pounds. They can be purchased through those health product catalogs we all get in the mail, like Dr. Leonard's catalog (or online at www.drleonards.com), or they can be purchased at your nearby living aids store. I recommend checking out yard sales and flea markets first to see if you can get one cheaper. The average retail price for basic shower chairs, aka bath benches, is $20-40. Another preparation for your best shower is a dual shower head that includes a hand-held shower. This way you can stand under the shower spray for all-over rinsing, train the spray on a particular set of muscles that ache, or you can hold the spray while seated and direct it where you need it. These basic dual heads range in cost from $20-30, and are available from health product catalogs or your local department store. You will more than likely need assistance installing your new shower apparatus. It is simple to do, but requires the ability to stand and hold your arms up for an extended time. Another good preparation is to install one or more suction-cup baskets to the wall of your shower which you will be facing. Be sure that the bin you choose has holes in the bottom so water can drain out. Once I am settled on my shower chair, there is a suction-cup plastic bin facing me at seated eye level which holds all my shower items: shampoo, razor, liquid soap, washcloth, etc. This way I do not have to bend or reach or twist my back to reach for items when I need them. And I always know where they are, brain fog or not! Once you have all the shower items you will need at hand, it is time to take the plunge. If you have a walk-in shower, so much the better. However, for those of us with tub showers, caution is needed in entering/exiting the tub. For many, the most dangerous moment is getting in or out of the shower, and for most, getting out after expending alot of energy is a tenous process. If you use a cane for strength or stability, make use of it when climbing in or out of the tub. Regardless of your shower configuration, be sure that you have a non-slip absorbent bathmat outside your tub, and non-slip surfaces on your tub floor, whether adhesive or built-in. Once you have settled in your shower, let the warm water melt your muscle cramps away as you rest for a minute, and then carry on, with all the bath paraphernalia you need right at hand. A long-handled bath brush, preferably with a wide handle as well for easy grip, will help in washing those feet that seem, oh, so far away. After you're pink and clean, step carefully out of your shower and wrap yourself in the one thing I missed in my preparation paragraphs: a thick, cozy, terrycloth robe with a hood. Let the robe absorb the water and go take a rest if you need it. Your clothes will always be there when you're up to it! You may think that all this is overboard for a few aches and pains, but if you are one of us who has fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or any of the other chronic illnesses that bring us enduring pain and severe fatigue, conserving our energy in mundane tasks allows us to save more for what really matters in life. Showering was once a task I'd postpone until I couldn't stand myself anymore. Now, with all these adaptations, it is more like a spa treatment where I can relax and feel pampered. With the right preparation, you will too, and your shower time will become less of a chore and more of a luxury!