Thursday, June 19, 2008

Memory Problems

One of my fellow bloggers is having memory problems. She went into the hospital for a procedure, and while I guess no one really looks forward to going to the hospital, this was not something that her doctors and family talked her into. She knew that she wasn't going to get any better doing nothing, researched her options, and decided that there was no point in putting off the treatment. She was not well, and she was at least looking forward to getting the hospital thing over with and getting better.

She knew that she'd have some problems. She knew that she shouldn't drive for a while and would have to take a cab home, etc.... But she expected to go home and get some rest and feel better afterwards.

Only now she can't remember stuff. She can't remember a lot of stuff from the past year or so. And now she's having trouble making new memories, and she can't remember stuff that she did like an hour ago.

This might be temporary. She's read about stuff like this happening to other people, and then they get better after a few weeks. On the other hand, no one knows for sure, and she's worried that she might spend the rest of her life being like that guy in the movie Memento.

There are other similar memory problems. One is described in the movie Fifty First Dates. When I first heard about this movie, I thought something like that's too bad, cause there are real people out there with this problem, and someone should make a good movie about it instead of this Adam Sandler crap. Only, after about twenty minutes of Adam Sandler crap, this actually turned out to be a good movie. It's mostly funny, but then you do start to see what it might be like for the family of someone who wakes up everyday thinking that it's a certain date on the calendar, only that date has long past for everyone else. She wakes up everyday thinking that it's her dad's birthday, and since they don't know what else to do, her family and friends all go to great lengths trying to pretend that everyday is her dad's birthday. And we see what it might be like for a person with this problem, if things don't go as planned and she has "a bad day." Then she meets Sandler, who isn't in on this, and her family wants him to go away because he's going to mess up their routine and cause problems. But then they realize that she likes him, and on his day off they still pretend that it's dad's birthday, only maybe she should have lunch or something with this nice guy she just met. After a while, Sandler suggests that they tell her the truth. They make video tapes and she writes notes to herself, and every morning she spends about an hour watching the tapes and reading the notes and being a bit upset, but then she realizes it is the truth and everyone tries to get on with the day. And it doesn't always go as one would hope, but things don't always go as one would hope anyway, even if you don't have this odd memory problem.

So if you can get through the first twenty minutes or so of Adam Sandler crap, watch Fifty First Dates, cause it is a good movie. And while Click isn't really supposed to be about a guy with memory problems, he does seem to have a lot of problems in that area. So that's a good movie to watch too, and it has a lot less crap.

I have seen a real-life guy with this memory problem do the talk show circuit. One day he had an accident or something, and he remembers everything up to that point just fine. But since then he can make new memories for one day, and then he goes to sleep and forgets everything again. Everyday he wakes up thinking that it is that day before the accident happened. That day was like twenty years ago. He's aged, his wife has aged, and his little kids have grown up and moved away. He doesn't know what day it is, he doesn't know who is president, he doesn't know about 9/11, etc.... He writes himself a note that he has to read every morning. This guy is somewhat lucky to be a math teacher, and with some help he can still do his job. Math twenty years later is still math. If he had another job, even say a similar job of being a history teacher, he probably couldn't do it. He could be lecture about something that happened many years ago, and that would probably go okay, but then if a student asked him to compare something in the lecture with Iraq, he wouldn't even understand the question.

While we were having this discussion with the fellow blogger about how she must feel, someone brought up the idea being able to selectively remove memories, like in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In the movie, it didn't quite work. Although the main character thought that he wanted to forget things, his mind rebelled against the procedure and tried all kinds of things to save some of the memories. Still, he signed up for erased memories, and that's what he ended up with. But only his memories were erased, not everyone else's, and while people were warned that he had part of his memory erased, people would occasionally mention something that they weren't supposed to, or someone would say something that just didn't make sense, or he would meet someone who didn't get the memo and talk about the very thing that he didn't want to remember. And after a while, wouldn't that all be very annoying, and wouldn't you get curious and go looking for the very thing that you thought you'd be better off not remembering?

I think that it would be very difficult to pick specific things to forget, but I think in the future that it might be possible to forget specific blocks of time. I think that you would have to make the horrible choice of forgetting everything within a certain amount of time and lose the good with the bad. And to really make it work, you might have to go back to a time before the bad thing happened and forget everything that happened since then. If the bad thing happened yesterday, maybe that would work. But if the bad thing happened a month ago, a year ago, or five years ago, that's a problem.

I have actually given this matter some thought.

About two years ago, some really bad stuff happened to me, and I knew that I'd never get over it. I've tried, but some things just can't be fixed, and some of the things that can be made better I can't do by myself and other people involved refuse to help. So I'm stuck. I can't go back and undo what was done. So I said, from this point on, it would be best if...but that didn't happen either. And a bit after that, I made some decisions and tried to get on with things, but someone interfered with those plans. Later, I made other decisions and made more plans, but again there was interference. So just nothing seems to work out that would allow me to get on with my life, and even on my best day I still have this bad stuff hanging over my head.

About a month before the really bad stuff happened, there was another bad thing that happened. And I had a rough couple of weeks, had some physical problems after that, and just about the time that I started to feel like things were getting better, more bad stuff happened. I've had some health problems since then, and while most of it isn't as bad as it was, it is just always lurking in the background on top of the other bad stuff that I can't seem to get over. The really odd thing is that the week before this was a pretty good week, and while it wasn't my favorite week of all time, it was one of those times when I seriously got to thinking about my life, how it wasn't really what I had wanted it to be, but it wasn't that bad either. And that Saturday was a day that I was thinking how I had a good life, but I was wasting it waiting for things to get better, things that I couldn't fix by myself, so maybe while I was waiting for a time when those things might be better I should concentrate on just things that I enjoyed that I could do without anyone else's help.

And then Sunday there was a really bad flood, and more bad stuff happened later. Wouldn't it be nice if I could just go back to that Saturday. Physically, I can't do that. But if I was given a choice to mentally go back to that Saturday and forget everything that happened after that, would that be a good idea? I don't have a career, or even a job right now, so that's not a problem. I don't have children or even pets right now, so that's not a problem. I'd forget more than two years of my life, the good and the bad, but they were the worst two years of my life. On the best day when I'm on a trip and having a good time, I'm never really at peace like I was before, and I probably never will be again.

If the memories of the last two years were gone, and I felt better and had a good life again, what would I lose? Two Halloween parties and two Christmas seasons would be gone. I have taken four college classes of ceramics and sculpture, and three of those were in the last two years. I was just starting to knit, and I'd have to learn some of that over again. I'd forget two years worth of books and movies. I'd forget about trips that I've taken and people I'd met. I'd forget that my friend J died a few months ago. I'd forget my friend from the great white north.

If that were all, then it would probably be okay. Christmas was good, and I especially thought so of Halloween, but they would be better in the future if I were my old self. I like ceramics, but I liked learning them the first time around and I'd probably like to learn it again, and relearning the knitting wouldn't be as much fun, but I might still do it anyway. Getting to see the good movies of the last two years for the first time again would be a good thing, as would reading the books, though that would take time. I liked the trips, but they are places that I could go again, and be in a better mood and maybe enjoy them more. My friend J would still be dead regardless of my memory, and I'd known for a long time that he could just die at any time.

I had met my friend from the great white north before the bad stuff happened, but we didn't really get to be friends for a while. I think that if I did forget the past two years, he wouldn't, and we would both still like the same things and would end up being friends again. So that wouldn't be so bad. But even if it really meant a choice between having my friend and being a whole person again, I think that I'd have to choose being a whole person again. If it could really work that way, I think it's just too important to get the rest of my life back even if I had to give up parts of life that I like now.

But I don't think that I'd ever get a choice like that. Even if there was a way to safely remove that part of my memory, I don't think that I could do it. I think that without the memories of the last two years, I think that I might do something stupid and maybe end up having things just as bad or maybe worse than they are now.

For one thing, since that Sunday I have had health problems. A lot of little things, but added together they tend to upset things a great deal. I don't want to get into anything too personal, and I don't want to get into the unpleasantness of UTIs and yeast infections and such. So probably the best example I could talk about would be the high blood pressure. That, and a bunch of my little health problems are probably stress related. Like most people, when I started to get older, I started to hear about watching my weight and cholesterol and stuff like that, and I was a bit concerned about becoming a diabetic if I didn't cut back on the junk food, but I was not ever in any danger of anything blood pressure related. I'd always been told how good it was. And then suddenly it was up twenty points, and maybe sometimes it was up thirty points. My own personal theory was that my blood pressure was up temporarily because I was upset about the other problems, and the high blood pressure problem would go away if I could just deal with the other stuff. My doctor at the time did not agree and gave me some meds. She did little to help me with the stuff I was actually worried about. She would upset me by trying to talk me out of tests that I wanted, by asking over and over again why I thought something was a problem and why I needed the tests. The questions were embarrassing enough the first time, and it really upset me to keep having to tell her over and over again. In the end I did not get all of the tests I asked for, I had to go somewhere else and pay extra for some of the tests, and I really didn't feel like I was going to get better under her care. So what happened with the blood pressure is that when I would test it myself at a drugstore or something it wasn't as good as it had been before, but it wasn't really bad either, but it went up when it was taken at a clinic or something, and then it really went up a lot whenever I had to deal with this particular doctor.

I thought that pretty much confirmed my suspicions that it was temporary, that my blood pressure was going up because I was worrying about other health problems, and this doctor was just making my pressure go up even more because she wasn't listening to me. The medicine she gave me for the high blood pressure didn't seem to be doing anything, and I quit taking it. A year later, I still have some health problems, but not as much as I did, and when I had my last checkup my blood pressure was back to the healthy level it was before all this happened.

But I still have to check it once in a while, just to be sure. So what if I forgot the last two years? While a lot of my health problems seem to be stress-related, and those would probably get better, what if some of them didn't get better or got worse cause I didn't know to check something? What if the high blood pressure comes back because of something else and I don't remember that I have to check it and I have a stroke or something?

What if something bad happened to a person and after that the person was paranoid or couldn't do his job or couldn't go on a date or was terrified of going out after dark or couldn't even leave the house. If you could remove the memory of that week or so when the bad thing happened, would the person get better? If something happened to make a person paranoid or terrified of the dark or whatever, and the memory of the thing itself is removed, but they still remember that something happened to make them paranoid or terrified of the dark, do they recover or does it still worry them that something did happen to them even if they don't really remember the thing itself?

We've all had things happen that we wish hadn't happened. And we think that if we had been armed with the right information at the right time, we could have prevented it or at least limited whatever trouble might come after. If you remove your memories of a certain block of time so that you forget something bad, would you just end up getting into that same mess again? And in a way, all knowledge is power, so if you remove your memories of a certain time, might you deprive yourself of something else that you might need in the future? If you are in a terrible car wreck, and you had a painful recovery, maybe you could just forget the time you were in the wreck and the hospital stay and such that followed, and not remember anything until you are well again. What if while you were recovering you watched the news and heard about some scam and saw a drawing of a suspected serial killer, and you forget that period of time, and after you are well you fall for some scam that everyone else knew about, or you went on a date with someone who's picture you should have recognized?

So, for the most part I don't think it is going to work out even after we have the technology to do this. And we have already seen how unsafe some of our current medical treatments are, so we can only imagine that future ones will not always work properly either.

Still, one can't help wishing it could somehow work.

1 comment:

dmarks said...

I have yet to see a Sandler movie, but I hear that "The Wedding Singer" is OK.

Science-fiction wise, I think the "Total Recall" movie, and the original Philip K Dick story (I think it was called "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale") is relevant here. There was even a related TV series. Once those bad memories are gone, the company in the story can fix you up with some good memories.

I have an ongoing situation (with bad things) that has been going on so long, but is so intertwined with everything else in my life, there is no way that I would dump the memories of these years.

If you look for solutions in science fiction (in terms of future inventions), the time machine will do the trick for getting rid of bad memories or periods of time: no need to erase bad memories of events that happened when you make sure that the bad events never happen.

In terms of you (the generic "you")
having memories removed, and friends still remembering, there is that. Your same life, your friends, your family would still be there. Even if friends were clued in on the memory-erasing operation and made efforts not to tell you of stuff, there could be accidental clues, rude people anxious to tell you, or the person's own curiosity of what was lost. So then the memories creep back. I suppose that if you put someone in the witness protection program, away from everything, that might work. Otherwise, those memories might get put right back.

"Total Recall" involved false vacation memories. Those are probably the easiest to erase, too: if someone went alone on a two-week vacation in Sri Lanka, and it was hell on earth, you might have a better chance of erasing that two weeks than you would of erasing a stretch of regular life.