There is a house on your street that you pass everyday.
As you drive by, your eyes always find that familiar face in the grass- a faded garden gnome sitting lopsided inside a circle of weeds.
The house itself is nondescript, unadorned.
It is neither well kept nor neglected.
There is a large window in the front of the house, and the curtains are gently parted in the center.
Behind those curtains is a hospital bed, and there is a triangle of dull sunshine streaming through the space between the drapes. The prism of light across the blankets is the only light in the room.
In the bed is a woman who is 81 years old. She doesn’t know her name, or if she does, she doesn’t say it. She doesn’t say anything.
Her husband is seated on the couch, thin and frail, and fully dressed. The pointy edges of his collarbones press through the well-worn fabric. His belt is notched in a new hole he made to fit his boney frame. His pants are gathered at the waist like a little boy wearing next year’s hand-me-downs.
Every morning he makes two scrambled eggs, one for him and one for her. Most of hers falls from her mouth as he tries to coax her to chew and swallow. He gives her sips of water that seem to go down, but her coughs are wet and gurgily.
One street over is a similar house that is overtaken by boxwood shrubs. The lawn hasn’t been mowed since the neighbor cut it two months ago because “he couldn’t take it anymore.”
Behind the part of those window curtains is another hospital bed. In that bed is a large, friendly man with a sweet smile. Although he has the use of his arms, he is mostly paralyzed from the waist down by the slow degeneration of his vertebrae. The gradual narrowing of his spinal column has caused him great pain over the last several years, making it difficult to move.
He didn’t mean to put on all that weight.
Or to become a diabetic.
Or to lose his lower leg.
He also doesn’t mean to yell at her so much, but she’s always fussing about the way he’s positioned and the fact that his diaper is soiled and that if he gets another bed sore he’ll have to go to the nursing home and they can’t afford that and if doesn’t start moving more he’ll die in that bed and blah blah blah.
“Then just let me die.”
She tidily keeps her terror in check. She continues to fuss, to wash, to cook, to medicate… and to snap to attention at his bedside at his every demented whim.
And she thinks to herself, “Not on my watch, fella.”
There is a new, nameless epidemic in this country. It is caused, ironically, by the victories of modern science that prolong the human life span beyond the capacities of Mother Nature’s timeline.
And beyond the resources of the millions of caregivers sitting on the couch behind the slightly parted window curtains.