Dishin’ Up the Soap

FullSizeRender-26The Soap Saga – Part Two.  For Part One, click here.

“Young lady, if you’re lying to me, I’m gonna wash your mouth out with soap,” my mother clamored.

I was ten, and swearing on the Bible had not been enough to convince my mother I wasn’t lying about where I had been.

I wanted to ask if she planned to use Ivory, Dial. Or, would she choose Saddle soap, which no self-respecting shoe store family goes without. Or, Mom’s selection could include the dreaded Fels Naptha, which I had used a fair share in my short life to fight off the unrelenting itch of poison ivy.

No, I wasn’t lying.

Regardless, my mouth still received a hardy cleansing.

Her choice? Ivory, of course.

That memory came to me, as I watched Mom, now eight-eight, lie restless in a hospital bed, hands restrained, lips and throat swelling rapidly.

I had thought the nurse at Mom’s care home was joking the night she called. “Your mom swallowed or took a bite out of some soap,” the nurse had said over the phone. “Her face is swelling from some sort of reaction. I called the ambulance.”

During my rushed drive, I couldn’t push away the memory of Mom washing out my mouth. Finally in the ER, when the doctor asked Mom to open wide and say, “Ahhh,” I swear I saw bubbles forming in the back of her mouth.

When Mom refused to open any wider, the doctor asked me, “Do you think she would let you put your fingers in her mouth and root around, see if you can get pieces of the soap out?”

Sure, that’s sounded exactly like something I wanted to do. Make my mother angrier than she already was.

Nevertheless, I snapped on latex gloves and poked around in her mouth, clearing out a few white bits that, yes, actually resembled soap. Then, she bit down. Hard.

Later, after the insertion of a breathing tube down Mom’s throat and her admittance to the ICU, doctors began to scrutinize Mom’s alibi. “What kind of soap? Where did she get it? How did they find her? Is she on any new meds?”

“Hotel or designer variety,” I answered. “Someone else’s room, which is not standard at all, probably brought in as gift or by a visitor. Found her in same person’s room during their quarter hour checks. No, they are really good at keeping out stuff that the residents might ingest without knowing what it is. No, no new meds.”

One medical expert remained adamant. “Soap wouldn’t do this.” He meant soap wouldn’t be responsible for such a severe reaction that Mom would not respond to standard medical protocol of Benadryl or steroids.

I pushed back. “No, its soap. The nurse told me she kept the bar. There are teeth marks on it.”

I repeated the story to the ENT, the pharmacist, the nurses and residents on ICU, the caregivers at Arden Courts, family and friends. And then I needed a respite and couldn’t resist.

I texted a group of writing friends that I wouldn’t attend our writing circle that night because of Mom’s predicament. “I’m trying really hard not to get in a lather about this.”

I joked how Mom used to wash our mouths out with soap if we lied or used swear words. Friends thought I was kidding.

But I wasn’t.

Then, I recalled how Mom, as of late, had taken to cussing a bit more than usual. Her crankiness level was directly attributed to how often she could get outside. Spring rains had become summer pours. August’s simmering heart had arrived in June. Her forays outside were limited and that often caused consternation on her part, thus leading to a few choice words being shared if Mom didn’t like the direction her life was taking in that moment.

I found myself saying to the nurse or anyone else who wanted in on my standup routine, “She’s had such a potty mouth lately, it was time for her to clean up her act.”

After a week, Mom had completely recovered and returned to her home. The nurse at Arden Courts asked me, “Do you still want that soap?”

She had been holding on to the soap, in case the doctors had wanted a sample to test. I was informed that might have cost thousands of dollars to determine any cause or effect. The doctors rejected my gift.

But I wanted it.

I brought the soap home and untangled it from the plastic garbage bag. The bar was of the Motel Six variety shape and scent, nondescript. I turned it over and over in my hands and ran my fingers across the indentations. That was a quality bite, as good a mold as was necessary for dentures.

No wonder why the doctors were challenged in believing me. Mom should have broken a few teeth after that kind of bite.

I sank into a chair, still reliving her ordeal. Earlier in the day, at Arden Courts, one of the caregivers said, “She gave us quite the scare. But I was so glad when I heard she was gonna be OK. She’s got nine lives.”

“Yes, she does,” I had to agree.

Finally, after two weeks of ensuring Mom had returned to her normal appetite, mobility and snappiness, I saw how effective soap could be in cleansing my conscience.

Mom really did wash out our mouths, questioning our honesty. But if I had to tell the truth now, with the threat of Fels Naptha soap hanging over me, there were just as many times we lied.


Lessons Learned:


  • As precaution, when bringing gifts or items to a loved one, check with the administrator or caregivers first. They will know if their residents are capable of discerning the danger of an item.
  • Recognize that your loved one will ingest items that you couldn’t possibly imagine. Mom has eaten a Styrofoam Easter egg from an artificial flower basket. She has also been known to gnaw at whole onions.
  • The easiest way to stay clean is to tell the truth.


  1. Once again you’ve nailed it, capturing with such clarity the saga. Mom had her purse initially, which we inventoried several times a day. The maintenance man gave her a straight pin like rod to open her bedroom door (which did not lock). One evening when she was insisting on leaving and not happy with me for not helping she tried to shank me with it! I’m happy your mom recovered from the scare. Thanks for documenting the journey. It’s beautiful and therapeutic. ..


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