Saturday, January 30, 2016 12:32 PM
Caregivers are the big growth sector in the jobs market—as the population skews toward seniors, which all developed countries’ populations do, the need for people to assist the aged, infirm, or confused mushrooms with places, buildings, groups, and the individual caregivers around which such systems form. For as the need for caregiving expands, the reaction of capitalist free-marketry is to create an ‘industry’. Suppliers of equipment, materials, and medications form one sector while organizers/suppliers of the caregivers themselves form another—and they accrue protocols and regimens that conform to existing gatekeepers, such as the FDA and the AMA—and regiment themselves in such a way as to conform with business expectations. It’s a growth industry.
Meanwhile, for the less well-to-do, caregiving is more of a homegrown thing—people like me end up being cared for by our spouses, our parents, or (as with most seniors) our own offspring. In my case, my wife went back to school for her bachelor’s degree in computer science, went to work for Scholastic’s online encyclopedia, left to get her master’s degree in occupational therapy, and became an accredited occupational therapist—all while shepherding me through a decade of HepC, liver failure, three cycles of treatment with Interferon and Ribavirin, liver cancer, a liver transplant—and another decade of recuperation and infirmity while the HepC attacked my new liver—only to be stopped last year by the new cure for HepC.
I was one of the lucky ones—many people I knew with HepC are long gone—but I can’t help thinking that my wife may be one of the unlucky ones—having to subsume her own drives and ambitions to account for an ailing dependent. She is looking forward to a new career in occupational therapy, one which I presume will remit commensurate with the need for a master’s degree and passing an accreditation exam—but for over twenty years she has already worked as an unpaid caregiver. The millions like her will see only a handful reach the same success—most unpaid family caregivers find themselves hobbled by the constant needs of a dependent, finding it difficult to make ends meet, much less get ahead.
Caregiving can be, all familial sentiment aside, a form of involuntary servitude—and in this country, where we question even a mother’s need to care for her children over the demands of capitalism, we give little thought to the efforts imposed on those who care for the aged and infirm. Neither do we consider, as we are still embroiled in the debate over giving equal health care insurance to rich and poor, how caregiving takes on its double aspect—paid servants caring for the rich while indentured family members care for the poor.
Medical-related care and technology is unnatural—the Christian Scientists recognize this—whenever we delay the natural course of a life, we enter a somewhat science-fiction-y world. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say—I’m no Christian Scientist, but it is fitting that the religion with ‘science’ in its name has some logical basis for its eccentricities. But caregiving really reaches into the outer limits of this question. In the case of seniors, for example, how long is it a good thing to prolong the life of someone with ever-decreasing mobility and awareness? When do we ever reach the point where life is too much a readout on a medical monitor—and too little actual living?
I find myself questioning whether my own quality of life justifies the ongoing expense and effort—and that’s without even beginning to consider whether my needs justify my wife’s sacrifices. But of one thing there is no question—respect must be paid. When people give of themselves, whether it’s the raising of children or the caring for the old or the sick—they transcend the earthly plain of profit and survival and make of their lives an expression of humanity. We glorify those who express their creative passion, but we fail to marvel at those who express an even more transcendent quality—mercy.
Caregiving gives us a window into capitalism—for the rich, caregiving becomes something they pay money for, in lieu of gratitude—while they overlook the importance (and expense) of the same service among the less fortunate. For the rest of us, caregiving remains a sacrifice worthy of our respect and gratitude—and sometimes, a job for which no payment is sufficient.
I had much more to say, but the gas-tank in my brain is empty for now. Here are two piano doodlings from yesterday: