Saturday, January 23, 2010


I was at a memorial service today for a friend's mother and during a conversation I couldn't remember a word that I've used a million times if once. The person I was speaking with initially brushed it aside as happening to him "all the time." I hear this a lot these days and I appreciate the perspective.

It is true that I have recovered from the brain surgery to such an extent that what I am observing and reporting on here often sounds like "senior moments" or the general forgetfulness we all have when we wonder where we put that thing or what we were on our way to doing etc.

But because it's happening in this single individual's brain, mine, with a history of such forgetfulness that is natural (or the result of earlier personal practices that might have created a few missed synapses) I know the difference.

It's like this—when I forget what I went into the kitchen to get, or where I put my cell phone, or what that person's name is etc. in the old ways, it feels like the record skipped, or like when the satellite or cable connection breaks and the image on the TV screen does that strange cubist kind of break up of the image into odd squares and rectangles etc.

But when I can't remember the word I'm looking for or how to close a bag of cookies with those tabs on the sides at the top or what directions mean in terms of where I live and am familiar with, and it's a result of the brain surgery, it isn't like a record skipping or TV image breaking up, it's like the record player or the TV has been turned off. Nothing. Nada. My mind goes completely blank and feels like an entire area of it has gone missing.

Or another simile, it's like my brain has frozen, as though where there were images and words and what usually makes up most of my mental life when I'm awake or dreaming is turned into a vast white horizonless landscape of white.

I don't know if that helps, but I'm sure anyone with a brain injury will recognize what I'm trying to describe. And once again let me be clear, I know how lucky I am to be able to use my brain at all and the extent to which most of my cognitive abilities have returned. I am so unbelievably grateful for it all, but I am also a writer/observer, and have been all my life, especially OF my life, seeing it since I was a kid as some sort of work of art that I have some control over at the same time I'm also enjoying and critiquing.

Thus this blog and the books and etc.


Elisabeth said...

You describe this process so well here, Michael.

I promise from now on I will not ascribe the things you describe, these blips on the horizon of your awareness to what I suffer, from time to time, because clearly they are different.

I read this post, a beautiful post, and I think of Oliver Sacks's writing and work.

There is a difference between physiological trauma suddenly induced and the slow process of aging.

Thank you for persevering in trying to get this across to us. And so powerfully, too.

harryn said...

beautiful - i'm starting to understand ...
i'd love to hear how your neurologist would explain what's going on after reading this ...

Lally said...

Elisabeth and Paul, see my next post, and thanks for the comments and concern.