Two things happened this week. When I wrote them down in my calendar, I didn’t know how much they were tied together – mirrors of me from different angles. I got to see myself as I am now and as I could be one day – as I fear I might be one day. It was unsettling.
I spent the day at the Lighthouse for the Blind on Monday. It was a time to learn, to take in more ways of living in a world of shadows which at times becomes a world of clarity, limited as it is. I watched my trainer “see”. She saw differently than I do. More severely impaired yet willing to take visual risks that, while they didn’t scare me, hadn’t been entertained as being part of my realm of possibilities. I came away with a renewed and exciting set of possibilities that could be my future.
The other thing I saw was, coincidentally, right after that. I had made plans to meet a couple – former patients of mine – for lunch. I hadn’t seen them in a long while and didn’t yet know that Mrs. X had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her ever-attentive husband, her protector and her guide, had brought along an iPad loaded with pictures of a life now slipping away. A life’s worth of memories that were growing increasingly faint until they might become events that may have never happened or had happened in someone else’s life.
She would point to and tap a small icon and a picture of her children would appear. I remembered some of those photos, taken when the children were five or six years old and also patients in my office – in the office of a much younger me. These children are much older now, with children of their own about the same age as the children in the photos. I met these children recently on one of the bike paths in town, learning to ride their bikes, free from training wheels. It was a measure of time passed for me. For her, the photos were a measure of time passing out of existence. Time was slowly slipping away from her – a tide receding from the shoreline, taking with it the memories of a life once lived.
It was a warm moment seeing them. When I thought back on it, it was also an unsettling time. Studies have come out as of late that point to an increased incidence of senile dementia in brain injury patients. While I can argue that I’m not senile with some degree of plausibility, I cannot argue the fact that I have injured my brain.
Memories sometimes pass through my mind much the same as the fleeting, shadowy images that I have as I re-learn how to see. Are the faces I am challenged to see the result of facial agnosia where I can see the parts, but cannot fit them into a recognizable framework or are memories slipping away as if they never happened? I try not to let myself perseverate on such matters. There is no current answer to the question. Still, it leaves me with an unsettled feeling in my gut. Will I slowly lose the ability to recognize my children, my family and my friends? Will I need to tell and re-tell the stories of places and events in my life in an effort to keep them alive in my mind? And most frighteningly, will I lose the sense of who I am and then, of whom I was, as the tide of my life recedes and I no longer recognize the person looking out from the mirror at me?
I count and name the bones of my hands. I call out the names of the muscles and the nerves that give them directions. I touch them to augment my visual sense.
I am learning to see and to recognize anew. Yet, I am scared. Am I learning to forget at the same time?