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Shuffle the Cards

Personal Stories

Shuffle the Cards

Living with short term memory loss is a really disconcerting daily experience after acquiring a brain injury.

Much of the time it doesn't really matter, but there are some times when I wonder if people who know me are really taking "the mickey" out of me. For example, my wife and I often play a hand of cards after breakfast. Though they are just simple games, they still require a certain amount of concentration which in itself is a challenge.

The challenge of remembering
The rot sets in at times like these. When it's time to shuffle the deck, "It's your turn - I did it last game" I declare. "But this is our first game" comes the response! Or I say "that's it - I won two out of three" with the response "but this is only our second game"! Unless I write these things down, they get lost in the mist and maze of neural networks that might be working or not! I think there are times when I'm quite certain I'm right, but I'm unable to call her bluff because I can't remember! All in all, it's a good challenge.

Strange almonds
This morning I put some almonds in my right pocket, and some dog bits in my left. It was "walk the dog" time, and the bits were rewards for sitting before crossing the road, heeling, and so on. The almonds tasted particularly strange until I discovered that I was feeding the dog my almonds and myself the bits. Wrong pocket! Yuk.

Journals, notes and post-its
How much we depend on short term memory, and what a windfall for the manufacturers of post-it notes and small cheap writing pads. However, I must confess that I hardly ever use notes for these daily trivia. It is far too much of a bother. My journal is a much richer mine of information. The note writing is most handy when it is written by my wife in point form - an instruction sheet for the day's activities while she is at work: clean your teeth, take the meat out of the freezer, hang out the washing, make sure the taps are turned off, make sure you turn the stove off if you use it, and so on.

Even though I some times feel as if I should have a handkerchief pinned on my front, and my play-lunch in a handy bag, I really am glad for the notes. I return to this decorative note on the kitchen bench many times through the day. It is easier if I tick off the ones I have completed, and I've only had a few accidents. If I start the washing up, I have learned to stay present at the sink until I turn the water off.

One memorable day I started the taps running, turned around, got distracted (the mail man came) and then spent quite a while mopping up because I had forgotten what I was doing.

The only really dangerous one was leaving the hot plate on. Fortunately I came out to make a cup of coffee and discovered it before any damage was done.

Do you know me?
New social relationships are problematic. I have changed my query from "Do I know you?" to "Do you know me?" I think I've really upset some people when I used the former question. The latter just seems to be less pointed. I think I also need a photo album to carry around with me, complete with names of people I meet, and a miniature biography. The diary system I used to use in pre-ABI days had a pad of tear off leaves to insert into my diary called "Significant people" or something like that. I think they are out of print now, but it is a good idea. The little sheets had all kinds of information spaces like name, address, wife's name, kids names, likes and dislikes and so on - all great information for the business man, but I guess all a bit useless these days!

A rock and a hard place
How strange memory is! I have my passwords securely locked inside my head. I can recall them when necessary for banking, or eftpos, or my phone number. It will be a shock some day if these get lost inside my cranial custard. And yet I don't want to commit them to a hard copy for security reasons. Kind of caught between a rock and a hard place on this one.

I CAN remember visiting the neuro-psychologist for help on various matters. He was a kindly older gentleman, and very helpful in some matters. However, when I asked him about memory, he went into a convoluted explanation, using his hands to show "up here" and "down there" and so on, and I was completely bamboozled. Other questions attracted a far less detailed answer: "If the haemorrhage was on my right side, why is the burr hole on the left side of my forehead?" "I don't know" is the only specific question/answer I can remember. But there were a number of questions that elicited the same short answer.
Selective memory

I'm still trying to work out why it is that I CAN remember some things, and find it difficult to remember others. All is not a complete blank. It seems that many of the routine things get lost, and some stand alone events stay memorable. I'm sure there is a reasonable answer to this, but all-in-all it is a mystery. We must have inside our head a facility for filing memories in some kind of sequence, so they are both meaningful AND accessible. Maybe my sequencing programme has been wiped or something. Maybe it would be useful to work out some new filing arrangement. But then, so much of what happens is SO forgettable, maybe not! Perhaps I'm ahead already.


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