Posted by: Kate | May 16, 2010

Someone Like Me

I’ve been trying, for the past three hours, on and off, to write a blog post.  I don’t think I’m failing, exactly, since I have been able to put words to my thoughts and retain them long enough to type them out – no mean feat, that, since I’m still struggling with ongoing dysnomia (the frequent inability to find the right word, though it’s on the tip of my tongue and I can describe it), plus my short-term memory is shaky and I’m easily distracted.  I just can’t tie those thoughts together in a coherent manner.

So I’m starting over, and I’m focusing on this one particular phrase that keeps coming to mind: someone like me.  It has so many different applications, doesn’t it?

It could be a simple comparison about medical condition: I have learned about someone like me.  A friend emailed me an article about a woman whose story is eerily like mine, except hers veers even closer to an unhappy ending.  I felt compelled to visit her husband’s blog and leave a comment, though I’m not emotionally strong enough yet to read the whole thing.  My story is rare – and thank God for that – but not unique.

It could be a plea: Please, someone, anyone, please like me. I’m so broken, and so confused.  Sometimes I babble on, each sentence making sense but not clearly relating to its predecessor or to the other person’s words.  Sometimes I’m so physically fatigued and/or mentally sleepy that I start to nod off mid-sentence, no matter who’s talking.  That dysnomia slows everything down, as I cast about fpr the right word or some acceptable substitute.  And so on… I have a whole list of reasons why I’m a less-than-stellar conversationalist lately.  Yet I crave conversation and company; I’m so grateful whenever someone is willing to spend time with me, and I’m terrified lest they regret it.

Or, it could be curiosity, an existential sort of thing: am I anything like I used to be?  I know I’ve changed tremendously; how could I go through what I’ve gone through and not change on innumerable levels?  Am I still someone like me, or have I become someone new?  Just how much can someone change and still qualify as the same person?  And then there’s the fact that I don’t remember what I used to be like so I can’t try and reproduce it now.

Did you know that, about the retrograde amnesia?  I don’t think I’ve written about it here, yet… not because it’s a secret, it just hasn’t come up.  It’s an odd thing, hard to explain.  The coma itself, that’s just blank, and from the days immediately afterward I have small bits of memory here and there, but I slept a lot and wasn’t able to encode a lot more of the times when I was awake.  Once upon a time, I remembered almost everything that happened to me, with near phonographic skill.  (That’s not a typo; my memory of visual things is about average, I think, but I used to be able to quote huge blocks of words verbatim – a helpful skill for my transcription work, not to mention a vicious weapon during any argument).  Now, I’m considerably less able to form lasting memories.  I’ll forget whole conversations and ask the same question several days in a row with no recollection of having already done so; this would be exasperating enough for Willem, I think, but must be even harder to deal with because it never happened before.

I can remember very-long-ago things as well as I ever could, and even up to about a year ago I have pretty solid recall.  But somewhere around then, things get very hazy – but in a strange way.  It’s not a big, solid wall of blankness; if reminded, I can recall most events, and can even come up with new details on my own.  So, if asked to list all of the vacations I took in 2009, I would draw a blank, but when someone mentioned that I went to Paris, the light would come on and I can remember where we stayed and what we ate. I actually have surprisingly clear recall of the days immediately prior to the coma; long stretches are lost to simple, overwhelming pain, but specific interactions and the overall chain of events are solid in my mind.

The weird thing about it all is that, even once I can independently recall some event, I seem to have completely lost any sense of emotional tie to it.  It’s like if you’ve heard your mother tell a story about her own childhood, and you’ve heard it enough that you can retell it yourself with a high level of detail… but it didn’t happen to you, so you don’t quite have the same set of feelings attached to it that you would have if you were talking about yourself.  So I can tell you a bunch of stories from the past year, but I don’t feel them… which is horrible, because that includes things like the pregnancy, the move, the birth… stuff I would  like to be able to relive, a little.  Even the unpleasant stuff, the spondylitis diagnosis and ye layoff, that’s all part of life and I’d at least like to remember what that felt like as a comparison, to know if I’m ever feeling worse.  But it’s all just very vague and removed, a distance between me and whoever I used to be.

Anyway, that’s what has been rattling around in my head all night.  Now it’s time for me to go to bed, before I get lost in another tangent…



  1. I remember after my back surgery going through something similar, not nearly at your level, but a definite before and after point in my life. Give yourself time and a little slack about the memories, they might come back. And like the numb strip I have down my leg, even if not, its like an ok exchange(not a great one mind you, but better than the alternative, for my case anyway). Hope this makes sense, it was a wine kind of night.

  2. Wow – that’s pretty weird. Still, you articulated it wonderfully in spite of all the challenges it must have taken to write it all down. You’re so great w/ words and such a gifted writer that I imagine the word problem (not being able to pinpoint just the right word) is esp. frustrating!!!

  3. I know this was not the point of the post, nor do you actually need to hear it but I had a wonderful visit with you this week and am actively looking forward to our next one. 🙂

  4. Oh My. That is so sad. You have the blog to read over hopefully that will spark some memories as well as the emotion that came with them. I hope that you wake tomorrow with full memory and feelings in tack. HUGS

  5. I had this after both of my neck surgeries. In fact, I couldn’t even read: I’d get to the end of a sentence and couldn’t remember what the first part was. I couldn’t form coherent thoughts, remember words to use (as you are experiencing), and would frequently get lost in conversation. After three months, I was going crazy, when a friend explained to me about “anesthesia amnesia”. What? It’s something they don’t talk about or want to “believe” in the US medical industry, but it is widely accepted and planned for in other 1st world medical communities.

    The longer, or more often you are “under”, the more protracted and intense the aftereffects. The effects may last from 3 – 6 months (4-5 in my case) or, if you are over 65 they may never go away. If you are over 65, they may disappear, somewhat. Over 65s may experience a permanent, 10% decrease in memory function.

    When I had my 2nd neck surgery, I explained, in explicit detail, to the anesthesiologist my plight from the first surgery and told him he *had* to do better. He said he’d check it out; he didn’t do anything except the exact same thing that I’d been through the first time. I just had to wait it out, again, in muddled anger.

    How adamant is the medical industry against admitting this condition? My counselor’s son is an anesthesiologist and he won’t even talk to his father about this other than to dismiss the whole idea. My counselor wobbled on believing me or his son for a few months until he had surgery and experienced it himself.

    We are a litigious society and the uncertainty of the after affects of anesthesia would open up a heretofore “safe” area of the medical industry to a legal quagmire that may be better left closed, much to the confusion and detriment of patients.


  6. Wow-I read the news story and couldn’t bring myself to read the blog yet. That story makes me so much more grateful that we still have you relatively intact, and that you have decent insurance. And makes me wonder why we routinely test for Strep B in late pregnancy, not Strep A.

  7. What everyone else has said, including the bit about writing coherently. THAT is something, even if it took hours or days to get the thoughts out.

    You know, speech is always the last thing to fall into place. It’s one of the hardest things for babies to acquire, it’s the last part to come in learning a language, and it’s the last part to come back after a trauma.

    I know people keep saying, give it time and it’s so frustrating to hear, but really, what else can you do? You can’t MAKE things heal faster, and it’d be madness to think of your body as separate parts, that something was left unscathed by your experience. Your body’s an integrated unit…and everything felt it when you were so ill.

    You’re gradually coming back on-line…but no one said you wouldn’t need rebooting from time to time or would avoid all sector errors 🙂

  8. You may feel you struggle verbally now, but your writing still does a great job of explaining what’s going on while engaging the reader. I’m in awe of how well you are writing after all you’ve been through.

    Throughout the day, on and off, I read Al and Katy’s story. Very moving, very scary, and very educational. I know it had Jim and I talking today about how far the other should go in medical situations. Al makes a good point that we all talk about the all or nothing questions when most decisions require degrees of difference.

    You may be chronologically younger than me, but you continue to educate me each time I read your blog.

  9. I think your sense of disconnectedness to things that happened before you went into the hospital is what everyone experiences when a major tragedy happens. I’m not discounting your experience in any way. It was so horrible and I get all quivery in my stomach thinking about how scared I was for you. The “before this” and “after this” thing happened to me too regarding the things that happened to me via my grandfather and others. I don’t have any sense of memory before those things really. Just kind of a big blank, but like you, if I’m reminded of something I can recall it pretty clearly. I guess I’ve said this to say that I don’t want you to feel that you are alone in the disconnectedness you are feeling. I think several people who read your blog can definitely relate to what you are going through. I can’t say enough to you how happy I am that you are still here on this earth.

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