There is nothing new except what has been forgotten. —Marie Antoinette
Memories. Memories can be tough sometimes. Sure, everyone has things here and there they don’t remember. But for me, I only had things here and there I DID remember when I walked into that new hospital to help me recuperate after being hit with encephalitis.
My stay at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, Washington, was much different than the first one I had stayed in close to a full three weeks before. Since I was now physically fine – or for the most part anyway – the goal now was, before going home, to work of my ability to remember. Different types of therapists had well-structured class times in different rooms, covering different subjects, day after day.
Here’s a sample of what one of my many classes was like.
“Marianne, for starters, I’m going to hold up little pictures of things that are very common to most people,” my speech therapist said while holding up a photo taken from newspaper ads. “Let’s see if you can tell me what it’s called.”
Looks easy, right? Wrong. Of course, I don’t remember that exact first picture I was shown, but I’ll never forget how I felt: dumb. Here’s one of my common responses.
“I think I know what it is, but I’m not sure. What’s it called?”
The first time seeing each card was almost impossible. Usually, though, after being told what it was called, along with what it was for, it would finally click! I’d say it a few times over and over, and remember the name . . . for a few seconds anyway. Next, a new card. Once again, she told me the name and explained what it’s for. Then, oh, darn it, that first one again. Great. Back to square one.
“Don’t worry, Marianne,” she said, “This is very normal. Trust me, it will get better.”
As minutes went by, I remembered the names of the items. Then she added a third picture. Then a fourth. Not too hard anymore to swiftly see one, say its name, do the next, and then the next.
I felt so much better at the end of that first class.
Don’t get your hopes up like I did, because the next day I came close to starting from scratch. I remember how sad I felt, but thankfully, that day I got them all down a lot faster, even adding more.
“Soon you’ll have no problem remembering what it’s called the first time you see it!”
These are actually a few of those original pictures I was given to take home. They assumed that years later I’d like to reminisce on how sweet and simple my thinking was. Why the names of each with the photo? Days later, once it had become easy for me to say the name of each, then the hard part – writing down what they were called. Not fun.
But my speech therapist wasn’t done, and continued. “I do need to warn you that often, you’ll know what something is called but as soon as you try to say some words out loud in your sentence, that word may suddenly seem to disappear,” She told me that is an effect because of what happened to my brain. Thankfully, she then taught me how to describe things in such a way that would hide my new problem.
As an example, she showed me a picture of a dog. Now, in 2018, I can say dog without any thought, but back then, dream on. (Just don’t ask me now what KIND of dog.)
“So instead of telling your friend ‘I love your new… oh, sorry, I can’t remember what that type of animal is called,’ say something like ‘I love your adorable new family member.’ Does that make sense?”
“You mean, I can still sound like I know what I’m talking about even though I don’t know the right word?”
I never forgot how relieved I felt. There was hope. That was the best advice I think I got the entire two weeks I was there. Seriously, at least once a day, all these years later, I still hide the fact I can’t pop that word out I had just thought. I am proud to say, I have mastered that skill.