O where o where has my memory gone?


[Black hole in my brain that sucks out memories of writers whose named begin with E; image from LSC/NASA]

I spoke at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation not long ago. It's right across from the Obama residence, and while I was on the way there, I felt a little lump of pride/excitement that Our President lives (more like lived) right there. That he is from our city. That I know people who know him. That I heard him speak about three years ago or more, about 10 feet away from me. That I almost asked for his autograph then, though he might not have even been a senator yet. This is the difference between therapy and no therapy. I started therapy again in fall 2008 because I was at Grant Park on Election Night and didn't feel anything.

But back to the Jews. I spoke to about a dozen people or more. It started out as more then went down to a dozen. I read from my book about Passover and one title had Elvin Hayes in it. One guy said, irritated: I don't know who Elvin Hayes is!! As if he thought I wouldn't have explained it in the piece. He got up and walked out in a hurry, if not a huff. But maybe he was on his way somewhere.

After I spoke a woman came up to me and said we'd met before and mentioned Effie Mihopoulos. I said that I knew of Effie but she hadn't known me, and that I knew she had recently died. Then the woman said that Effie knew who I was and that Effie had introduced us, at a gallery in Wicker Park, and that I had spoken to Effie for about an hour then.

I did not remember. She said that Effie had had cancer but had decided not to get chemo. There is a hole in my brain, through which Effie fell through, as well as the meeting of this other woman, R., though her name sounded familiar. I felt very bad because I knew that Effie was dying but didn't send her a card or email because I figured she didn't know who I was.

Chemo brain, I explained apologetically.

At home I looked Effie up and she looked familiar in her photograph and I thought it was plausible that we'd conversed. But when? Where, exactly? What galleries have I been to in Wicker Park?

[Effie Mihopoulos, Chicago Examiner]

Spring Quarter started this week at Smart University and I told the class I knew everyone but E. Then E said she had met me, and reminded me when, and then slowly it came back to me. She also fell through the hole. Maybe it is reserved for women writers whose names begin with E.

My memory started fading when I was 30. That's almost a quarter of a century ago. Now I'm age-appropriately forgetful. Johns Hopkins tells me in a health alert about what is normal for a brain that's been around for fifty years:
Processing speed slows further. It takes more time to recall names and words.
Learning something new takes longer. Once learned, however, the information is usually retained.
Multi-tasking (doing several things at once) becomes more difficult.
Attention to detail wanes. You probably will remember fewer details of a novel, movie, or painting than a younger person would.
Placing an event in time and place becomes more difficult. You may remember the event but not exactly when or where it occurred.
Visuospatial processing is more difficult. This might translate into more trouble in copying three-dimensional designs or in reassembling an appliance.

I went to the gyne this week for a Pap smear and asked about suggestions for memory and also for relief for hot flashes. The nurse practitioner called back and suggested I take Cymbalta, Zoloft or Prozac for hot flashes. I am already taking the max amount of Effexor. I've tried Cymbalta. I used to be on Zoloft and Prozac; both interfere with the estrogen-blocking mechanism of tamoxifen. I've tried Strattera and Adderall for ADHD.I got my shrink to prescribe meditation for memory and focus. The nurse said I should ask my oncologist about improving memory. The onc spoke at the cancer Town Hall last year and all she recommended for memory-helpers was lists.

I used to be offended when people didn't recognize me. Now it seems that I'm the offender. Everyone looks familiar and everyone looks unfamiliar. Depends on how long I look at the face. I must brace myself; I'm going to a conference next week, where I will see people I know, people I don't know, and people I've forgotten. Please forgive me if I don't recognize you.

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