I love the show RadioLab (from W-Y-N …Ceeeeeee!).
It’s an hour-long show but I never get to listen to it because I can rarely find an uninterrupted hour to put aside to sit through a whole podcast. Sometimes, I’ll catch a bit on the actual radio in the car but I always regret it because I’ll catch it in the middle and I’ll make it home before the end of the show. It almost makes me wish I had an hour-long commute so I could hear a whole show.
Recently, I have been trying to listen to the show in bed and I try to get an hour in before I sleep. I rarely make it through the first guest before I drift off and I wake to find my wife pulling out my earphones and half the show is over. I have listened to half of many, many RadioLabs and, often, the same half of a RadioLab over and over as I tried to catch up on the one I slept through yesterday which, of course, makes me even more sleepy because it’s boring to hear the same stuff over and over and you don’t always realize you’ve heard it already until you’ve heard it again. With me so far?
Today, I have friends coming over to play silly games involving sheep and barrels of indigo. For one reason or another, I haven’t slept for a couple of nights so I thought I’d get in an hour’s nap so I can better monopolize the tobacco and the mating room. What better way to guarantee that I would sleep than by listening to a RadioLab show?
Trouble was, the show was incredibly interesting [isn’t it always? – ed] and about 10 minutes in I was trying desperately trying to stay awake so I could hear it.
The second segment was about a woman who temporarily lost her memory (something something locally something amnesia – I forget what exactly) and her daughter took her to the hospital thinking she’d had a stroke [been there -ed]. One of the fascinating symptoms was that the woman couldn’t form new memories and would ask the same questions over and over.
What day is it?
How long have I been here?
Why am I here?
What’s wrong with me?
And, over and over, her daughter would patiently answer the same questions. Eventually, she noticed that the conversation wasn’t just repeating a similar pattern; it was repeating EXACTLY THE SAME PATTERN with a frequency of exactly 90 seconds.
They have a recording of the whole thing and they were able to overlay one round of conversation exactly onto the next and see that they were exactly identical with identical pauses and identical expressions of surprise from the mother. Eventually, a little variation crept in such as, the daughter observing to her mother that, not only have we had this conversation already 183 times already today, we are about to have it again in 5…4…3…
Sadly, this was all eerily familiar to me too. I don’t remember that the repetition was quite so regular but I too took someone very dear to the hospital with temporary amnesia.
In the beginning, she knew that she was forgetting and worked hard, like the guy in Memento, to keep everything straight and apologized in advance for the fact that her memory was bad and that she was sure to forget things.
Our patterns of conversation were eerily similar to the lady in RadioLab.
Can you explain to me why I am in hospital? Why are my parents here from Malta? It must be serious, right?
I patiently explained one hundred – no, one thousand – times that she had a tumour that was pressing on the part of her brain where memories get made and that they couldn’t remove the tumour because the operation was too dangerous. Each time I explained her situation, her heart broke a little more but each time she amazed me with her bravery and stoic acceptance and determination that if there was a way to get through, she would find it.
One day though, she refused to believe my explanation and started to argue. Dick that I was, I argued back.
I am NOT losing my memory! My memory is fine.
I’m sorry but it’s true. In a few minutes, you’ll have forgotten all about this conversation and you’ll ask me again.
I will not!
Forget this conversation…
I felt like such a shit for arguing and redoubled my patience the next time around.
The lady in the RadioLab story made a full recovery and was able to laugh at a terrible and frightening part of her life. My story did not have such a happy ending and it pops back into my memory sometimes in those twilight moments between waking and sleeping. I hope I never forget.