Some people dream of finding the right lover. I dream of finding the right bathroom. So when, after spending months in a construction zone, I got to shower in my brand new bathroom for my birthday, well…it was a glorious day.
It really was a birthday present. Nathan-the-resident-carpenter dropped everything to ensure that, on my natal day, plumbing was working and things were usable (thank you, Nate). I suppose I should also thank my cold virus because if I hadn’t had a cold I’d be down in the Bay area right now, awaiting a final surgery on The Leg. (thank you, rhinovirus?)
On Friday night, Sept. 16, 2016, I fractured my left femur just above Elmo, my replacement knee. I lived in a wheelchair, facing hip-high amputation of my left leg, for about two years while I fought health care bureaucracy, cost-conscious HMOs, and myself to figure out a way to walk again. (Spoiler alert: Elmo won!)
I documented my adventures in remobilization in this blog. They’re awfully self-indulgent, occasionally icky, and probably only of interest to me, but on the off-chance that they help someone else with a catastrophic injury, I’m keeping them together here. If you don’t want to read them, that’s OK; I still love you. If you do, you might want to start from the beginning, on the archive page that lists all posts.
Aside from the day I bought the place, and replaced the omigodWHITECARPETinaBATHROOM? with tile, that bathroom hasn’t really been updated since the 1970s. This explains why the “before” pics of this bathroom are soooo awful–it really was a ratty bathroom, and kinda dangerous–getting in and out of the shower was a peril-fraught adventure.
SPOILER ALERT: What follows sounds like shallow, callow bragging, and it absolutely is. Sorry about that.
I’d been planning a small update to replace the ancient vanity and sinks, and thought I might update the wall tile and slap on a new coat of paint. Leave it at that.
Then I fell. Clunk. Ouch.
Post-op and out of the rehab center I’d planned to go home, but the medicos had a different idea. My occupational therapist took one look at the bathrooms in my house (and the stairs, driveway, and multiple levels) and said three words:
“Oh, HELL no.”
Turns out (as I’ve mentioned before) that if your house has stairs to every room and wheelchair-UNfriendly bathrooms, you don’t get to live there when you’re non-weightbearing on one leg, i.e., wheels on your butt. I called a realtor to put the house on the market but the OT suggested, in horrified tones, that I’d probably be able to live there if I made a few mobility fixes.
Just like that, I’m doing a whole-house makeover. The rickety old deck died, replaced by a solid concrete patio with (gorgeous) flagstone paths and low stairs. We built a coldworking/woodworking studio with plumbing and electricity in the backyard, to free up the garage for wheelchair-able parking.
I was already replacing the roof and modifying the family room; now we added an upstairs renovation.
My small planned bathroom fixup turned into a major, wallet-busting overhaul. Along the way, it’s also become one of the really cool benefits of all this Saving Elmo nonsense… because this bathroom is sorta like the inhouse spa of my dreams.
The new bath includes lots of storage, a giant roll-in shower with multiple waterspraythingees, a big stone bench for perching, leg-shaving and whatnot, artfully placed windows that become little works of art in themselves when you look outside, a remote-controlled toilet-bidet contraption, and…best of all…a makeup table.
That makeup table is my favorite, a cross off my bucket list. For the very first time in my entire life I can SIT DOWN TO PUT ON COSMETICS WITH A CLOSEUP MIRROR and everything! Farewell to perching on the corner of the bed, mirror in one hand, eyeliner in the other, while Lola and Nikki make off with my lipstick.
The toilet got an upgrade, too: An automated bidet toilet seat thingee that comes with a 64-page user manual, remote control, and a steepish learning curve. It cleans the toilet in between uses, cleans the users, has a heated seat, provides a nightlight for safe use after dark, and has a built-in blow-dryer.
It’s even programmable, with a proximity sensor that initiates a “prewash” sequence when you get within five feet of it. It can support two users with custom temperature settings (for sprays, toilet seat and air temperature). I’m hoping that programming instructions are in the second half of the manual, because so far I haven’t been able to figure that out.
Nathan, who installed it, calls it “The Bumwasher.” I call it “The Throne of Significant Surprises.” I suspect it will take a LOT of getting used to, and likely will extend the whole bathroom process by an additional 10-15 minutes.
We reconfigured walls; chopping the wall between bathtub and toilet in half to open things up to the light.
I’d built a mosaic of iridescent glass tiles behind the toilet years ago, same time I did the floor tile. I liked the way it came out, but it was behind the wall, down the toilet tunnel. The only way to actually see it was to stand in front of the toilet.
With the walls torn down, the room not only looks bigger, but you can also see the mosaic, blending into the textures. We converted the long, nasty window in the toilet area (who the heck puts a window in front of the TOILET?) into three foot-square windows to match the three in the shower.
Those windows originally were designed for panes of glass I’d fuse to pick up the wall tile texture. Now that they’re in, though, the clear glass is acting to frame outdoor scenes–tree branches, city/mountain views, clouds and birds–like small, exquisite pieces of art. The windows are too high for privacy concerns, so I’m just going to let them be.
We also moved the closet door, which used to take up a bit more than 3 feet of wall space, so that it opens from the bedroom. That gave us a lot of extra wallspace for more cabinets.
I need the extra storage space because we’ve eliminated the old hallway linen closet to make room for an upstairs laundry.
Hauling clean clothes up two flights of stairs is especially difficult from a wheelchair; this way the washer and dryer are on the same floor where most of the dirty clothes are generated.
Nathan added really beautiful bifold doors to the front. The guys added tons of extra insulation to keep things quiet–that washing machine can sound like a jet aircraft taking off–and we’ll build shelves overhead for supplies, dirty clothes and whatnot.
I christened the new shower on October 2 (my birthday), and pretty much stayed there until I ran out the hot water. The shower bench holds me and everything I need; about my only regret is that I didn’t put heater coils underneath the granite seat. It’s a wee bit cold for a situpon.
At the moment, I’m getting in and out of the shower with a walker, balancing mostly on my arms. Most of the water stays in the shower without any kind of barriers; originally we’d planned to put glass panels in front and side. Now we’re going to simply add a shower curtain to the front and leave it at that.
That leaves me with a lot less glass to make than originally planned. But I’m still framing three mirrors for the vanity.
I’d originally planned to make the frames from a mosaic of tile, glass, and the little irid Italian tiles that graced the mosaic and floor. Then I brought in an old tempered glass picture frame I’d done years ago, and changed direction again.
I made a series of picture frames with this method awhile back, and really like the way the mirror backing adds a glow to the piece. This time around, I’ll make a desultory attempt to mimic the wave texture of the tiles in the glass–not very close, just enough to give the idea–and run things horizontally instead of vertically.
The frames will have to wait until I’m out of surgery and back home; I leave Sunday and there’s not enough time to start making glass now (even if the garage wasn’t stuffed full of construction supplies). Nathan’s moved into the main house and will house-sit the cats (Nikki has fallen madly in love with him) until I get back.
The final touches–adding a towel warming rack to the wall, mounting a shower curtain rod to the ceiling, and replacing the busted old window with a full-length picture window in frosted glass–won’t happen until after I’m down south for surgery. Nathan’s promised to send pictures as they complete.
Right now, the guys are dealing with the bedroom: New maple floors instead of the white carpet destroyed while I was living at Mom’s. The original balcony was mostly dry-rot (the guys were pulling it off the house with their fingers), and has been completely removed.
It’ll be replaced by a window seat with additional storage, some side shelves for more art, and operable windows. Finally, I’ll be able to open the windows for a breeze in the bedroom! And we’re installing recessed smart lighting throughout, so at last I can tell the difference between black, grey, navy, and brown clothes without taking them down to the kitchen!
Hopefully, it’ll be complete by the time I get back from surgery. Here’s hoping, anyway.