What don’t you appreciate, unless it breaks down?
State education; the NHS; civil rights; security; the ability to do our thing without some nutter shooting us. That we can reveal our legs / hair / sexuality; practice our religion; swear in the street; express our views; go to work without being groped.
These basics aren’t as reliable as they should be. Not even in Britain, where we are ‘lucky.’ Not even in 2017, ‘modern times.’
This is the story of losing something else that I should have appreciated more.
Unaccountably, I was in Hospital. Someone explained the situation to me, but a few hours later, I woke to find myself in hospital again. I was just as surprised, because I’d forgotten waking up there the first time. It happened again, and again, and again- until some of it started to stick: I was in Hospital – in Bedford, actually (I didn’t need to remember that – it was helpfully printed on the sheets).
I didn’t know why I was there, so I kept asking. They said I had some memory loss. I asked them if they were sure. So they asked me who the Prime Minister was, and the month and year. I was wrong about both, but named some of the cranial nerves. Then I went to sleep for a bit and woke up bewildered as before.
Over time – weeks – I became able to understand that I’d lost my short-term memory. I still knew my friends and family. I could still talk. The nurses wished I couldn’t, because I repeatedly initiated the same conversations with them about differential diagnoses, worried I had a brain tumour because they’d ordered an MRI. Afterwards, I kept forgetting that they’d given tumours the all-clear, and then they decided to order another (more detailed) brain-scan and we went through the whole process again. ‘Don’t worry,’ they told me, smiling. ‘Just keep asking.’
So I did.
I still can’t remember the name of the lady in the bed opposite, but I tried to learn it every day. It was hard to decipher her speech so we wrote notes; I could look back at these for reference. I started trying to write everything down: names, diagnoses, news events, recent political history and, especially once I’d been moved to a hospital nearer home, my visitors’ news. We’d been visiting good friends in Bedford and they were amongst many lovely people who bent over backwards to help us in this period. I was later gutted to realise that I’d forgotten a years worth of their news. They were married! And that’s not all: other friends had more kids than I’d thought. A low point was asking a neighbour after his wife. I think I was at her funeral.
Even with visitors, I kept forgetting to thank people for things but repeating the same news over and over again. Someone else’s visitor said she’d once worked with my husband in an office: I refused to take her number because my husband’s a climbing guide, but later I remembered she was right and that I’ve missed the chance to put them in touch. En route to Sheffield, my wedding necklace came loose and I refused to let the ambulance guy look after it. Or at least thats what I think happened; several weeks later, I realised I didn’t have it on any more.
I tried to record visits and conversations; to cram my friends’ histories, love-lives and secrets back into my head. I tried to remember news events; what I’d had for dinner. I couldn’t reliably hold on to any of these things, and spent a lot of time in tears. One day I realized how exhausting all this was and tried to let go of the compulsion to know everything I ‘should’ know. Another day, I had the same thought and this time managed to write it down.
My glucose control in hospital was terrible, because it was hard to remember what I’d eaten and whether I’d had my insulin. The doctors wanted to take me off my amazing pump in favour of a system they understood. I fought them about that until they ran out of diagnostic tests, sighed and moved me on to neurological rehabilitation.
I must have been the most able-bodied person in rehab, but it took weeks to learn the route between the toilet and my bed. The rehab centre had a garden, and they found me a yoga space, and thanks to books and You-tube I started remembering what to do. It was a relief after weeks of a hospital bed, not allowed to do physical activities and unable to do cerebral ones.
Actually, that’s not entirely true: you don’t need memory for jigsaws – in fact, to my surprise, I enjoyed them. I also rewatched films I’d seen before, and remembered the plot. I became able to read novels I knew well in one sitting. This was best done at night, because I’d get lost if I was interrupted.
But now, I also did craft with therapists, sang with musicians, painted bad pictures and wrote tired inspirational quotations on them. I cried- a lot – after seeing a psychologist, who told me simply that it was okay to be sad. Losing your memory is distressing, especially when you forgot the fact you’ve lost it and have to relearn the whole trauma several times again.
After that, there was no more they could do to help me, really. They reckon I might get better, and might even go back to work in a year. Whatever happens, you can read about it here, because a friend reminded me about this blog. Welcome back, every body and if you haven’t enjoyed it, just be grateful that you can remember it so you won’t be clicking on it again.