I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Remembering on a Sunday morning

Melanie took this of me at Lake Ann last Thursday
I didn't get this picture from my friend Melanie until Friday, so I couldn't put it into my post about the hike on my other blog. It's a favorite, though, so here you go, it shows how incredibly clear the sky was, and gives you a taste of the ordeal we had just accomplished to get here. A little more than four miles and much of it climbing up to this spot from the valley below, in blazing sunlight, punctuated with a hot breeze now and then.

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.

16 comments:

Linda Reeder said...

Fortunately, even though I have trouble with quick recall of names and even vocabulary words, my personal or episodic memories are still stored away and being added to.
Here's to more happy memory building this week!

Kailani said...

I was real proud of myself last night...the last show we watched was an episode of American Pickers, and they were at a place full of cowboy memorabilia. It reminded me of a 'famous' cowboy who came to my elementary school, I'd say 1960 or so (give or take a year or two)...and did lasso tricks for us. I just could NOT remember his name. Well, over 55 years ago, no biggy. I tried googling 'famous cowboys with lassos who goes to elementary schools in 1960, but no luck. Oh well, I thought...then lying in bed, you know how the mind starts to wander prior to sleep, and it suddenly came to me. MONTY MONTANA. A name I hadn't thought of for several, perhaps MANY decades. I grabbed my iPhone, googled him, and BINGO BONGO. Brain/memory in GREAT shape! :)

Interesting book you are reading!

Marie Smith said...

The brain is a mystery which is slowly being revealed. The book sounds fascinating. I will give it a look.

Marty Damon said...

Lobotomies are absolutely terrifying - kind of like intentionally inflicted Alzheimer's.

Carole said...

Great post DJan! I have read this story about HM. It is in some ways absolutely fascinating. On the other hand, it is a reminder, as you say, of prior barbaric practices. I wonder how many lives were destroyed by this.

It's funny about memory. Sometimes when I am trying to remember the name of someone from my long ago past, I find that if i just stop actively thinking about it, many times it will just pop into my brain. Many times I will recall the first letter of the name or word I am trying to remember. And then if I am lucky, my brain will eventually recall the correct name/word. I always joke that my brain finally got to the right file cabinet.

I also like to think that we prioritize what we keep in our brains. Who needs to remember the name of my 2nd grade teacher (Miss Gibson! Where did that come from??) But I like to think that our brains will do a better job of remembering all the really important stuff.

I think the memory problems you describe are pretty typical in folks our age. It is when we forget how to do things, such as balance a check book, pay bills, operate appliances etc, then that becomes more of a concern.

Friko said...

I think forgetting names is the most common form of age-related forgetfulness. The titles of books, plays, pieces of music, the names of acquaintances, of plants, even of dogs (!), I have to look them up. With people it’s a bit embarrassing.

But I don’t think that’s dementia.

As for barbaric mental treatments, I recently learned that women who had babies out of wedlock were considered in need of incarceration in an asylum! And some stayed there for the rest of their lives. Horrific. I am glad that times have changed.

Thank you for your good wishes, I’ll try to stay happy for the week.

Arkansas Patti said...

I do remember when lobotomies were in vogue and was horrified at the time. It was the new highly touted treatment for keeping mental patients "easily managed". A permanent catastrophic solution to an often temporary problem.
I think the thing that has made age related memory lapses bearable for me is the computer. There are few things I can't dig up via the Internet to fill in the blanks. I'm a bull dog about it.

Elephant's Child said...

I was horrified when I learnt that lobotomies are STILL performed in some circumstances. And while the brain is adept at finding new pathways it cannot regenerate.
Enjoy your day. Which you will.

Red said...

You put put one idea that I have always wondered about. What evil experimental things are being done these days? At that time they believed that what they were doing would help the patient. At that time many people were sterilized. Again mostly women. I don't think I'll read the book.

Far Side of Fifty said...

We used to joke that in the Air Force Lobotomies were given in Officers Training. I know it is not funny unless you knew as many brain dead officers as we did.
In the case of constant seizures what is the option...there is much that is only practice out there in the medical world. The medications that we infuse my husband with every week is not available to patients in the UK...so they are doomed to die...sad but true.
I hope you have a lovely week! :)

Rita said...

Lobotomies were another unbelievable medical idea. Let's give someone brain damage and see if they are quieter and easier to control. Electric Shock Therapy, too--lets see what forcing seizures on a person's brain with electricity will do--whew! We have made great strides, thank goodness. But--yes--what will we be amazed and shocked that we did to people looking back 100 years from now.

I was never good with names to begin with--LOL! I do notice that I occasionally forget the name of some object, though. So far, it's usually only for a short time. I agree with the not "trying" to remember it and it will pop in later. I am thrilled with google, too. Can look things up if you don't want to wait for it to pop into your head. ;)

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Electroshock was another favored treatment for women during that period!

gigihawaii said...

My cousin's mother had a lobotomy done and was never the same. It makes me shudder.

Glenda Council Beall said...

One of our neighbors was often sent to the State Hospital for the Insane, which she was not, to have Shock Treatments for her depression. I know in Florida they still do this but it is supposed to be safer and not harmful. I had an uncle and an aunt that were treated with Shock in the last decade.

Women have always been victims of things like this because they had no control over their lives. How horrible to be given a lobotomy that erases your memmory, My Mother lost her short term memory after a brain hemorrage when she was 70. She had to relearn the people in her family but I am not sure she always knew us. She told wonderful stories of her young life and I wrote them down. Focusing is my biggest problem. If I focus on things, I can usually remember better.

C-ingspots said...

Beautiful location you hiked to. And a wonderful picture of you enjoying your day! You look so happy and healthy - just beautiful. I would love to check into a yoga class, or some kind of group exercise that would get me moving and stretching on a regular basis. I walk and I ride, which is just not enough. I used to love to exercise, but find it's not so enjoyable these days because it's a lot harder. :( Even so, I'm thankful to be as healthy, strong and active as I am. Many of my family members who are younger than I am, are not nearly as active. That perspective thing again.

Reading that book would likely give me nightmares. I am already aware of many unbelievably heinous acts that take place in our world, that I just don't want to know of more. You're right that women have commonly been the guinea pigs in this sort of "medical treatments" though. Sadly because of their husbands in many cases. So happy we've come as far as we have!

The memory thing can be worrisome to many of us. I too, have incidents where friends or family can remember events that I don't and vice-versa, so I choose not to worry about it. My granny used to tell me that "worrying gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere". So I don't worry about it!

Hope you have a wonderful week!

Summer said...

The memory issue... Don't think too much of it! That is a nice photo♥ Happy Saturday♥

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