Several years ago, during a lengthy, emergent hospitalization, I was angrily told that a visiting distant male cousin-in-law had been sitting in my hospital room with me while I was wearing only a flimsy, short hospital gown. I suppose the gown had become untied while I was fumbling around the perimeter of my stale bed. The fumbling must have been an arduous process. The physical therapist had recently given me permission to practice limited mobility exercises in my room. Twenty paces around the perimeter of my bed was permitted as long as a spectator was present. Finally.
I knew my first name. I could now remember it. And respond to it. It was also typed in large, bold, capital letters on my ID wristband just in case my long-term memory felt like I deserved another crippling blow to the head. But I didn’t know the visiting cousin. I didn’t know it was inappropriate to walk unsteadily, unclothed in his presence. I didn’t know that I was making a mockery of medical fashion. And I didn’t know that I was further shaming my immediate family.
My mother was aghast. She has admitted that she was unable to accept both the validity and the severity of my short-term memory loss. The combination of severe neurological impairment, marked physical immobility, and unsightly immodesty to boot, was simply too much for her. It triggered a bitter emotional implosion. My father has told me that when he wasn’t consumed with rabid physical rage he would kneel on the hospital parking lot pavement and weep imploringly, arms outstretched to his god.
I could not even begin to comprehend the totality of my memory loss – let alone recall its impetus. After my third month in the hospital, I finally began to recognize my college roommate who had reportedly been visiting me daily for a month. We had been rooming together for the first three years of college and had developed an enduring friendship. She told me that in the last three years I had taken more than twenty credit hours each semester in effort to complete the curriculum for three different concentrations of study. She told me that I had selected clinical psychology, English composition, and Japanese language and composition as my majors. She told me that my clinical application to the Harvard Intensive Summer Study program had been accepted for the following summer term. She told me that the Federal Bureau of Investigation at Quantico had accepted and approved my application for the six-month behavioral science internship. She told me that I had been pursuing various doctoral programs in clinical forensic psychology. She told me that I had been very much in love.
She also told me that the state did not presently recognize me as an independent, competent adult. She told me that my parents had become my legal guardians, and that I would not be returning to campus to live in our apartment. She told me that my doctors had strongly recommended that I withdraw from any type of academic curriculum because I would be completely incapable of undertaking any amount of coursework at that time. She told me that collegiate enrollment might not be attainable. She told me that the engagement ring had been removed from my hand and returned to him.
This deluge of information did not impact me immediately. My mother would tell me. My father would tell me. My doctors would tell me. And then my roommate would tell me again in hushed apologetic tones. Again, and again, and again. Even though I slowly began to retain the information, I was not able to process the emotional and cognitive weight. I remember being able to superficially assess that this was indeed a grievous situation, but I was not able to acknowledge the immensity of this loss as mine. I could only acknowledge the profound vulnerability that would remain with me to this day.
Despite the ache and disappointment of years lost, I understand that life, in happy and sad times, is meant to be lived.