|Melanie took this of me at Lake Ann last Thursday|
That was three days ago, and I'm recovered from the hike, and even went on a very long walk yesterday morning with my Saturday group. This morning I'll attend my yoga class that will help me stretch out my well-worked muscles. I'm not complaining, mind you, because hardly a day goes by that I don't give thanks for the ability I still have to continue this level of activity. I do wonder sometimes how much longer this old body will last doing such strenuous hikes. Some of the Trailblazers that normally would have joined us considered the heat to be a deal breaker. It makes everything so much harder.
I've been reading a book for the last few days that has really got me thinking about life in general. I picked it up at the library after seeing an interview that told me of a young man who was given a lobotomy in 1953 to cure his epileptic seizures and lost the ability to form any long-term memories after that. The book, written by Suzanne Corkin, is titled Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient H.M. It's not the kind of book that you just can't put down, but I keep mulling over what I've learned about the workings of the brain and go back to read more.
The author is a scientist who studied Henry for many decades and became his friend, if you can call a friend someone who doesn't remember who you are. An excerpt from the above link:
Henry never remembered Corkin from one meeting to the next and had only a dim conception of the importance of the work they were doing together, yet he was consistently happy to see her and always willing to participate in her research. His case afforded untold advances in the study of memory, including the discovery that even profound amnesia spares some kinds of learning, and that different memory processes are localized to separate circuits in the human brain.She describes the endless testing procedures that were performed on Henry to discover how the brain encodes memories, and I have been pondering the memory deficits that I experience in my everyday life. The forgetting of the names of things, an inability to recall many of the events I've lived through, that feeling of a memory almost within reach and my inability to retrieve it — all perfectly normal diminishment (hopefully) but unnerving nevertheless.
Once you reach a certain age, you begin to wonder if it's normal to forget so much, or whether it's the beginning of dementia. What I've learned from the book so far is that the brain has many pathways for memories, and they are all handled differently. Yesterday I learned that two different kinds of memories, semantic and episodic, are encoded in separate parts of the brain. Semantic memories are those that you cannot recall directly, such as when you first learned that Columbus discovered America in 1492. Episodic memories are autobiographical events that happen to us personally. In amnesia such as Henry's, he could remember semantic but not episodic memories.
The operation performed on Henry removed so much of his brain that it's amazing that he kept his intellect and, in fact, found ingenious ways to circumvent the fact that he only remembered things for thirty seconds or so. Corkin provides a fantastic account of how the research questions raised by his case developed, how the studies were designed, and how new lines of inquiry were suggested.
All this happened because of a lobotomy. Of course I had to read up about it, because I knew it was in vogue during the 1940s and 1950s, but in reading this book I've learned how many lives were destroyed because of this "psychosurgery" procedure. Read all about it here, if you're interested in delving deeper into its history. I was simply appalled when I read that Wikipedia link, because I had little idea of how many people it was performed on: in the United States alone, it was more than 40,000 people (mostly women).
If you were admitted to a mental institution during that time period, you were at risk of having it done to you, even if you were there because a disgruntled husband, for example, decided his wife was "hysterical" and had her committed. It gives me chills to think of the horrors that women endured during those times. And it makes me glad to realize that we have come as far as we have from those terrible procedures. It does make me consider what is being done to our bodies these days that will someday be looked back upon and seen as barbaric. I wonder.
The sun just came up. It's happening later and later these days, and we're losing more than three minutes of daylight every day at this latitude. We are quickly moving towards my favorite season of the year: autumn, when the leaves begin to change color and fall from the trees. I saw the first signs of it last Thursday, but it was so hot and dry that fall seemed very distant. Today is supposed to be the first day of normal temperatures since our mini-heat wave, and I'm looking forward to it.
I'm also looking forward to my yoga class, which is in two hours. Between now and then, I need to get up, do my morning routine, and head to the coffee shop for my latte before class. Hopefully wherever you are in the world, you'll have a chance to enjoy this day and will store the memory of it safely away in your incredible brain. Until we meet again next week, I'm wishing you a wonderful and memorial journey. Be well and don't forget to hug your loved ones, just because you can.