Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Jack Giles: Dealing With Memory Loss

Some things about a stroke are easy to talk about - others are difficult.
Waking up to an unfamiliar world is bad enough - but, though it took time, I adjusted to it and learned how to use these things. These are just material things.
The real stuff though, with memory loss, are those things that I can never experience again.
I was present when my first daughter was born; I was there when she spoke and took her first steps. Those are the things that are lost forever. A whole life that was lived in thirty years - it is as though it has never been lived.
How do you tell your wife and children and grandchildren that you don't know who they are?
I chose to keep quiet and grunt in the right places.
Except that it does not always work.
I felt confident when the doctor asked me if I knew what year it was - it was 1999 I had seen the date on a newspaper.
Any history of strokes in the family?
I was about to say no when my wife mentioned that my dad had died of a stroke. Just the sort of thing I didn't want to hear while lying on a hospital bed. So, I discovered later, had my grandfather - and I could not just ask who else in the family were dead.
Later, I would discover that most of the family that had been a part of my childhood had gone. Both sets of grandparents and many of my uncles and aunts. My mother was still alive and living in Australia where my sister and brother-in-law had emigrated to.
Sooner or later I would have to own up - but I was content to build on what I had.
About a month after the stroke I had to attend Rehab. There I had to do simple physical things like balance co-ordination that entailed being able to lift my left arm and right leg together and balance on my right arm and left leg. Sounds simple but the number of times I raised my left arm and left leg and fell flat on my face were quite a few. Got the hang of it in the end though.
The one person I remember was Heather the psychotherapist. She was very attractive and the 24 year old me opened up to her - though the 54 year old me had to keep on reminding me of my age.
Pretty soon she cottoned on that I could talk openly about my past (childhood and teenage years) and present but faltered and was vague about the thirty years in the middle. In the end I confessed and she talked to me about ways to talk to my wife. As she said I wasn't the first that this had happened to nor would I be the last.
It wasn't easy and, though Sandy understood, she found it difficult to accept. There were a number of reactions from the kids but time heals and now no one mentions the fact. Having said that one of the boys might say 'Do you remember....?' and I still grunt and they laugh and tell the story anyway.
Memory loss is no joke.
There are those who have lost a complete life and for others memory loss continues to the point that a person could walk to the shops and forget their way home. It has happened.
I know how that feels.
The first time I went into town on my own I went into a shop and came out a different door to the one I entered. I stood there in a panic before retracing my steps and finding the other door.
My wife used to take me into town until she felt sure that I would be able to find my own way around. She had to show me how to use money and how to price things. We had gone from pounds, shillings and pence to decimal currency. So many adjustments - my numeracy had gone to pot and I couldn't remember a simple thing like a PIN number. After explaining my difficulty to the bank we managed to devise a number that I could remember.
There were other things that I had to learn like I could no longer smoke on the top deck of a bus.
Also, on a visit to the library, that time had moved on and the popular writers of the past were no longer on the shelves. Thank goodness for westerns. There were shelves of these but all the writers were unfamiliar but I selected a couple and took them home. They were the best therapy for me.
But that's another part of the story.


Steve M said...

Ray, another superb thought provoking post.
This post has brought back some sad memories for me as my Grand-dad suffered a stroke and he hadn't a clue who I was, or anyone else in the family, including his wife.
Your writing of this time in your life is helping me look at those memories of my Grand-dad in a different light.
All the best,

pattinase (abbott) said...

This is sad, terrifying, brave, honest, lucid. Thanks for sharing it.