... and how to combat it
I am writing to provide insight for you into a growing problem my wife and I have been sharing concerning our Short Term Memory Loss. I say growing problem because STML can creep insiduously into many angles of your life, married or single. We are now in the advanced stages of STML and we are trying desperately to find strategies to beat the problem.
We have resorted to daily things to do lists which are often misplaced, to shopping lists for the supermarket and to notes posted in different places around the house, things like "turn off the water in the sink," "turn off the stove," "check the thermostat" and "close the refrigerator door."
We also have a system used by airlines when the pilot and co-pilot use a check list to cover equipment before the plane takes off. In a brilliant move we have adapted this technique before we set out in the car in the morning. My wife (the pilot - she likes to drive) will recite a list of memory items and I (the co-pilot) say "check" if everything is okay.
It goes something like this: car keys - check, wallet - check, pocketbook - check, credit card - check, stove turned off - check, morning medication taken - check. If anything fails the check test, I (co-pilot) run back into the house and correct the problem, much like the airline pilots. Only then do we take off in our Toyota Corolla.
How does this problem take control of your life you ask: it begins very simply. I am looking for my car keys. I turn to my wife and say, "I know I left my car keys on the table, what have you done with them?" She replies, "The car keys are on the bookcase where you left them."
This last phrase is especially mean and evil because it forces you to face the fact that you own the problem of STML and takes away your ability to continue in denial. From this simple beginning STML problems rapidly fan out in many directions in your life - to grocery stores, the bank, the public library and coffee shops. These are all places where everybody knows your name thereby making you subject to widespread embarrassment.
Allow me to illustrate from two different locations and situations how STML can damage your reputation as a thinking, aware human being.
I cite my recent experience at the downtown Dunkin' Donuts shop. At least once a week lately at the DD I have ordered my coffee, paid the young lady and then walked away leaving my coffee cup on the counter. The waitress is then forced to proclaim in a loud voice to all present, "Sir, you forgot your coffee!!" I slink back, never raising my eyes from the floor, while a couple of my lifelong friends standing behind me in line chuckle and one murmers, "Ed is really losing it." All this makes me believe that my long term memory is heading for the intensive care ward.
A second and perhaps more embarrassing situation occurs when you enter a large parking lot with a carriage filled with groceries that keep falling on the ground and you suddenly realize that you have no idea where your car is located. In this situation you have to keep the cart moving because if you suddenly grind to a halt others will know you can't find your car.
So, as you try to slow down, you begin spinning the grocery cart in ever narrowing concentric circles until you run over your big toe. We happen to own a red Toyota Corolla. In any large parking lot there are at least ten red Toyota Corollas parked in the area where you think you might have parked yours. I have, in desperation, twice even tried to enter someone else's Corolla. On one occasion the car owner was walking behind me as I tried to enter his vehicle. "That's my car you are getting into," he said with contempt.
Once when I was parked at the far end of a lot I decided that someone had stolen my car. As I was crossing the street to report the theft to the police, luckily I stumbled over our auto. During election season I am always the first one to put on a candidate's bumper sticker because that makes it easy to spot the red Corolla. It does not matter who the candidate is.
Misplaced eyeglasses present two problems because you can't see them even when they are right in front of you, or you may be sitting on them which leads to an expensive trip to your friendly optometrist.
A final and most traumatic experience occurs when you leave your wallet or pocketbook at the bank, grocery store or library. In these days you become immediately sure that a thief has found your wallet, has stolen your identity and is on the way to Las Vegas to play high stakes poker. What is really a wrenching experience occurs when you return to the supermarket and the cashier yells out, "Did anyone see a wallet?"
I hope I have been helpful to you in preparing you to face the world of STML. Actually, the secret of handling this problem is -- "Oh, I'm sorry I have to leave to shut off the water running in the bathroom sink before it floods down into the kitchen ceiling."
July 7, 2006