Scott L. Joyce
The Baby Monitor
I talk a lot about getting older. I don’t consider myself old, not in the least, although some days my bones do creak like an old ship moored in a harbor. I think perhaps I am just hyper-aware of changes that have been happening over the past few years. Not necessarily physical ones, although that has been part of the glorious big picture. I think it is more a change in the filter with which I view things. So many things with which I have been preoccupied have withered away. Much like yellowing leaves on a potted plant, wilted but still attached. Their limpness and fragility have overpowered their purpose, and it becomes necessary to pluck them away, so that newer, stronger leaves can replace them.
With the sudden death of my mother at a very young 59, my auntie’s heart attack and stroke the following summer, along with my own considerable illness, attaining new perspective is surely quite inevitable. I was never really close to either of my parents. My relationship with my mother was a particularly rocky one. We found our way just a bit in the months before her death, and I am grateful for that, but there were so many things about each other that we didn’t know. I think that this probably would have always been the case.
I have a difficult time allowing people to get close to me. I do not always function well on a personal level, which is probably why I write about so many extremely personal things. It is my way of opening up while still allowing myself that arms-reach distance. Writing allows me to edit myself, to rewrite things that come out awkward, to silence some demons, and give voice to others.
I am very much an “if it’s on my mind, I most likely will say it” kind of person. This does not always serve me well in day to day existence. Many people just aren’t quite sure what to make of me, and that’s okay. I have plenty of days when I’m not too sure what to make of myself. I try not to avoid confrontation. If there is a problem of some sort, I might gnaw on it for a bit, but inevitably I will address it. Sometimes I pull others kicking and screaming into my working-it-out conversations, and I am not always well liked for that; but I do believe that keeping things bottled up, not discussing them, just leads to resentments and bitterness. Lord knows that I have those two pieces of fun in spades, so I don’t like to add to the pot too terribly much.
When my aunt first became ill, she’d had a severe heart attack and was taken by med-flight to a larger hospital. The doctors nearly lost her three times during surgery, and that is when her stroke occurred. After many weeks of hospital care, followed by several more in an in-patient rehab facility, she was allowed to come home. I was ill-prepared to take care of her in the manner that she needed, and I was terrified. She was confined to a wheel-chair, although she could take small steps with the aid of a walking frame, and she wasn’t able to get into or out of a chair without assistance. An electric hospital bed was also required, which she needed assistance climbing in or out of. A special inflatable mattress topper, working on a pump, helped in moving her about in the bed. Rails had to be let down and then back up in order for her to use the bedside potty at night.
When she arrived home, the first thing that I was given – along with 18 different medications, doctors’ orders, home health instructions, schedules for physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy – was a baby monitor. This simple item would become so important over the course of the next 8 months. Our house is built in a U shape, with one set of bedrooms on one side of the U and another at the opposite end. During the night, when my aunt would need to get out of bed to use the bathroom, she would call for me over the monitor, and I would travel from one end of the U to the other in order to release the bed rails, lift her legs out of bed, bear-hug her up, and then help her to the potty. This process would be repeated three to four times each night.
The monitor was vital for keeping tabs on what was happening in other rooms while I did fun things like mopping floors, cooking, or doing dishes. My aunt would become easily confused, particularly if someone was not immediately beside her. It is quite impossible to stay in the same room with someone 24 hours a day, so the baby monitor became my all-important listening device. It was my one way walkie-talkie which allowed me to hear things like commercial breaks on TV when I could check to see if she needed to go to the bathroom. I could hear when therapy sessions ended, when the nurse needed me, and most importantly, I could tell when my aunt would fall asleep or wake up.
At night, after putting her to bed, I would stumble, exhausted, to my own room. I would lie in the dark listening to her breathing over the soft static, accompanied by the pops and clicks of the furnace. Soon her labored breathing would relax and slow, signaling that she was asleep. I prayed often in those days, in that dark room, too terrified to go to sleep, too numb with exhaustion to remain awake. I prayed to God, the Heavens, Buddha, Allah, Jehovah, Barbra Streisand, choose one and I most certainly said a prayer to them. I prayed for my auntie, I prayed for myself, I asked for help, for understanding, and for strength.
What I knew about taking care of an ill, elderly person you could fit in one pocket with room to spare, and here I was taking responsibility for her well-being, trying to help her to get better, to recapture some of what she once was before the stroke. The weight of what I was trying to do wasn’t lost on me, I understood, and I understood how miserably and disastrously I could fail.
We made it through that first winter, and by spring she was out of the wheel chair entirely. By the summer she was no longer using her walking frame, but a quad cane instead. When she began driving in the fall, it really was something unbelievable to see. The first Sunday that she drove alone to church, I cried a little, but not so that she could see me. I cried for her, with happiness because driving again had become so important to her, to re-establishing her independence. I cried because I was terrified of her driving alone. I cried in relief that she was so much better. I cried just a bit for myself too, for a scared little boy who was able to pull his crap together in order to do what was needed of him, and to make it through.
Ultimately, I am grateful that my aunt and I have become so much closer. She has always meant the world to me, and having almost lost her, just after losing my mother, was very troubling. I am also very thankful for that baby monitor. No matter what your religion, whatever faith you consider your own, whether or not you pray to God, I truly believe that we all have something inside of us that reaches out in times of distress. We reach out to the universe, to the Creator, to Nature, asking for help, for guidance. Fundamentally, we understand that we cannot always accomplish things strictly on our own.
It occurs to me that for whoever is out there listening, it must be very much like using that baby monitor. Whoever is at the other end isn’t necessarily able to talk back to us, but they are listening. They hear what we need, and if we can be open enough to accept help, help is almost always given.