Like a science fiction storyline, my memories were wiped from my brain. All I can do is feel a sense of disgust and fright.
Apparently, it wasn’t enough that the strange hands had moved inside the walls of my abdominal cavity or that things were placed into every orifice of my body while I was drugged. They — those I’d feared in my narcotic painkiller-induced paranoia — had shaved parts of my body that should not be shaved. Even slicing my very body open and removing part of a vital organ was not enough of a violation of my person.
My very thoughts have been taken from me. I cannot trust my own memories.
Weeks after the surgery in which my right colon was removed, I had an epiphany during a discussion with my wife. In a moment, I realized I had been conflating my experience of the surgical suite before my colonoscopy with another surgical suite before my two-day later colectomy.
Try as I might, I could not pull up those memories. I’d been doing a mashup of two events in my head, believing them to be accurate memories, for nearly three weeks. Ten-weeks post-op, I still cannot find those memories.
They are gone.
This is not the kind of memory loss that can be jarred by others who were present. It doesn’t feel the same as walking into the next room and forgetting why you went into the room. When I walk into another room, I immediately know that I’ve forgotten. I do not replace a lost thought with another.
I imagine a cavernous space in my head.
In a typical reaction to certain kinds of anesthesia, surgical patients often lose memories before and after administration of the necessary medicine. All this was explained to me by the anesthesiologist before I left pre-op. Or so my wife assures me.
My knowledge that I’ve endured this type of memory loss frolics with doubts about trusting my own mind. It holds hands with my other feelings of personal violation following major surgery. It’s not that I’d have wanted to have my belly cut open with a local, but…
But it is unnerving to have lost a memory so fully and completely. My humanity has been violated.
I thought again yesterday about the nature of memory. Memory is a subjective view of an experience. It is fickle. Trying to catch a memory can be as elusive as the butterfly that flits from bloom to bloom.
As I struggled to climb Dog Mountain, I was reminded a little late of the trail’s steepness. Dog Mountain is a popular Washington State hiking destination along the Columbia River just west of Hood River, Oregon. The difficulty of this trail flooded back into my consciousness through straining muscles and heavy breathing. Either I was in better shape when I last climbed Dog Mountain or I’d forgotten the challenge of the ascent. Both are distinct possibilities.
Much too close to the trailhead, I found a rock to catch my breath upon. I pulled out the small book in which I jot down notes and thoughts when hiking. Turning through the pages I read what I’d written when I last hiked this path.
“No vistas [yet]. Just heavy breathing and ears filling up,” I wrote.
In a moment, memories of that hike returned. Yes, I was in better shape last time but even in better shape, I remembered. I recognized the pilgrimage as “challenging.”
Though memory can be fickle, a few written words and my thoughts returned. Details of that particular journey were fresh.
I thought about other times when I remembered forgotten things. Sometimes, the re-membering is triggered by a place, a smell, a song, or a similar experience.
Often re-membering comes about in the midst of relationship. We need one another to maintain our memories and stories. Our stories are prompted when another begins to talk about that-time-when. Usually, we each recall only a part or single perspective. Together two of more folks piece together the most complete memory.
I typically find comfort in re-membering. Even remembering difficult times holds some comfort as the distance of time allows a kind of self-reflection from which I can learn and grow. I never know which memories will hold potential for enlightenment. The tiniest of memories sometimes hold significant revelations.
The memories removed from my mind by anesthesia will not return. I have been robbed of any potential learning and growth from those moments.
The horror of wiped memories is real.
As I mark the ten-week anniversary of my surgery, feelings of violation and being out-of-control of my own thoughts remains. Lurking just beneath the surface, tears of loss and invasion of my body and mind threaten to burst forth when I think about it.
Still, time has lessened the intensity of the trauma. The rawness of my shock has become its own memory. The memory that something is missing which was intimately mine, my very thoughts, has begun to open itself up to more than emotional outrage.
In my own personal science fiction drama no cure that miraculously returns my memories will be found. This is my reality. Though my body and mind were violated, I owe my health and, in the long term, even my life to the removal of my right colon.
The feelings of loss, dismay, and violation are mine now. The ambiguity of not-knowing — of not remembering — belongs to my life journey.
As the rawness of shock continues to fade, I will continue to put one foot in front of the other as I climb up the mountain. Climbing the steep trail, my muscles may ache and I may wonder. Journeying to the promise of wildflowers at the mountain’s peak, I will learn to embrace this ambiguity.
It is mine.
My heart pounds in my chest because death’s terrors have reached me. Fear and trembling have come upon me; I’m shaking all over. Psalm 55:4-5 CEB
This is the sixth of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.
God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014
Why do I write about this topic?
Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.