My wonderful, fit, and very active sister had a stroke when she was 35. Thankfully she recovered, but she still has occasional memory issues and doesn’t like big crowds with lots of noise. A good friend got a concussion 15 years ago when she fell and still has short term memory loss. I have seen many parishioners struggle with memory loss from dementia, Alzheimer’s, or the effects of a stroke. All of these people are the reasons I recently picked up the book “I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia” by Su Meck with Daniel de Vise.
Su was a 22 year old homemaker when a ceiling fan fell on her head while she was standing in the kitchen, causing traumatic brain injury. Although the only external injury was a small cut on her head, the injury wiped out all of her memories – growing up, getting married, having children. The book is a memoir of memory loss and the difficult recovery of a life when there is no memory of how it had been or should be lived.
Su had to re-learn to read and write alongside her preschool children. She learned to mimic how other people acted because she had no idea how she should act. Situations that most of us would see as day-to-day living became obstacle courses that Su no longer had the ability to overcome. She could not understand when a situation was abnormal, because she had no idea what normal looked like.
The book is a very readable account of how Su, step by painful step, reclaimed her life. She still has difficulties with memory, especially with time, but she has persevered and earned a college degree. The book tries to honestly reflect on the impact this injury had on not only her life, but also the lives of her children and her husband.
Notably absent was any help from the medical community, which released her from the hospital after only three weeks and very little therapy. Su and her husband gave up on doctors after several suggested that Su’s amnesia was “all in her head.” I would like to think that doctors, with improved imaging capability and the increase in head trauma research, would treat Su more effectively today.
Brain injuries are getting much more attention now, almost 30 years after Su’s injury. But Su’s book reminds us that the brain is a delicate and most important organ in our body, and even seemingly minor injuries can have life-long consequences.