This is a question I don’t think many of us ever really have to think about. We are who we are, because well, we just are. Unfortunately, this week we got to see just how closely our identity, our sense of self and experience in life is tied with our memories.
On Tuesday, Britton and I both went about our daily routines of going to work. He drove to work in Longmont and I went to do inspections in the Denver suburbs. While I was finishing up an inspection he called me and said he was going home sick and just wanted me to know. I thought that was fairly normal until he said that while at work he had felt some weird brain stuff (whatever that means) and when he came to he looked at his computer screen and saw emails he had written but didn’t remember writing them.
That worried me.
I asked him a few more things and realized it was not just emails that he could no longer remember… Thanksgiving and even the night before were wiped from his memory banks. I asked him where he was so I could meet him there and he said he was en route home…in other words, driving! I was so scared he would forget where he was or what he was doing and just drive some random place, but thankfully he made it home and my mom and I were there shortly after him.
We spent the afternoon in the ER with him as he tried to piece his day together. He said it felt like he was in one of those movies where you wake up and have to figure out how you got there. He had a working memory of only about two or three minutes before he would once again ask us where he was, what day it was and how he got there. Early in the afternoon he thought it was still 2011 and he didn’t know who had run for president this year, but at least he knew his basic identifying information and who we were.
They ran some tests such as a blood test and CAT scan and after waiting about four hours we found out that everything showed he was healthy which is both good news and frustrating at the same time. Britton had had a tonic clonic seizure almost 6 years ago, but this episode, whatever it was, was not the same. No one at his work saw him do anything strange.
Here is a short video that evening after we can home from the hospital where he is unable to recall the night before and forgets again after being told just a few minutes before:
We are going in for the EEG tomorrow, but today most of his memory has been restored. The only patch of memory that is missing is the hospital visit. He said when he woke up he thought it had all been a dream. That he had had a long elaborate dream about going to the hospital. The twist of course, was that his “dream” was what we all call “reality”. Very trippy.
Britton says his mind keeps floating to long-ago memories of his childhood which may be a sign of his brain/mind trying to sort through the tangled mess and put it back together. He has needed a lot more sleep and someone (me) to watch him and is on driving restrictions for a while.
It really makes you appreciate some of the things we take for granted like our memories and our friends and family. It was really scary when Britton couldn’t remember our anniversary or Thanksgiving. All the memories we have together. It made me feel that philosophical question I posed of who are we without our memories? We don’t really exist unless there is some record, even in our own minds. I think, therefore I am. But more than that, I remember, therefore I was. I can see why stories and movies like The Notebook, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Memento even The Hangover or 28 Days Later, explore this theme a lot. What if our waking reality looked more like a dream? What IS reality, really?
While these questions are great when they are simply philosophical exercises or from entertaining fictions, it is much more difficult when we are confronted with actually dealing with them. We are thankful that Britton is ”logging” memories again and able to access nearly everything except the day before yesterday. We are hoping that we can get to the root cause and sort this all out so we can continue to make -and keep!- many more happy memories.