Memory after Brain Injury: Jeremiah Part Four
There are many misconceptions about amnesia, most of which Hollywood is to blame for. The temptation to give someone a clean slate, loss of identity, rediscover who they are is too strong for screenwriters to resist. Dozens of times over the years I have received emails from someone writing a script with some theory as to how amnesia would work into his or her plot. How memory after brain injury plays a part. I doubt a year goes by that Hollywood doesn’t do some plot with amnesia in it.
One of the misconceptions about amnesia, memory after brain injury, is that it is like a curtain, there is no memory after brain injury before a point, everything after. In reality, the return of memory after brain injury is a gradual, not predictable process, with certain things being remembered, others not. One of the most important aspects of what is often with memory after brain injury is those things that are the most emotional – most important, will be given a higher priority, even in the injured mind with their memory after brain injury. The interplay between the hippocampus (critical memory structure) and the amygdala (primitive emotional center in the brain) in memory formation likely explains why Jeremiah’s clearest memory after brain injury was of what happened as he was leaving UW hospital. He explains:
Well I can remember things such as how I was being taught to walk, and very good person, but to me he was mean because he actually would, what I remember is, he would drag me up the stairs, and my feet would just be hitting the stairs as I learned to walk up a stairs and such, and yeah that, that’s, that’s probably the main thing. And I, and I can remember going out on a patio, where it was chilly out one time.
Yeah, and, and then I remember my, my last day there, I don’t know if I should tell about that day though. I asked my wife if I should. Yeah? Okay. (His wife was sitting next to him during the interview, but declined to be interviewed herself.)
What happened that day was just a culmination of many things that happened consistently in this manner throughout the stay there, and what happened that day if I can remember. My wife had found my, the paperwork, the manual – not manual but record, my records – from while I was at the hospital stay – a thick, thick book. She found it in what I believe was the cafeteria where anybody could be. It was lying there all by itself with nobody around, which was against HIPAA.
She found the, the records, and she brought the whole record book back to my room, and she brought it back there. Then (the nurses) came around just to see me and check, but I think they were just to see me, and then they said, you didn’t happen to see that we left your book here did you? And we said no, but as a matter of fact, you left all of my records in the cafeteria for the public’s view.
Well I don’t know what they said to be honest with you, but then they said well, can we have them back. My wife says no you cannot have them back and they said well, we need them back.
She says how do I know that you’re not going to leave them out in public’s scrutiny again? These aren’t all exact words of course, because I don’t remember exactly what was said but this was generally.
So they were arguing with her to get them back and a good friend of mine was there helping us present our argument as well, very well, and then they said no, we have to have them back and you, they told my wife, you don’t have a right to your husband’s records.
So she said well, then he has the right to his own records, correct? Yes.
Then she had me tell them don’t take my records from me, because I don’t want you to take them, and because I don’t trust you to take them the right way. So then they said, well then we’re going to get the person up here to come. Okay, so they got the next person.
Same situation, same argument, which was very, very stressful for me because it was just exhausting for me because of everything, my brain injury and all especially. And then they came and got next higher up, next higher up.
Finally then they said, you know, we’re going to get the police here if you don’t give it to us and my friend says get the police. My wife too probably said that, get the police. You don’t have a right to leave somebody’s records out in public view and, and not have them under possession of somebody, somebody who can, who is able to have that, who is let to have that.
So they did that, they went and got the, the police, and the police came up and talked to us, and then we gave them the, the records, but we made it clear why we were keeping the records and such.
It is no wonder that this is the clearest thing Jeremiah’s memory after brain injury is of his stay at the hospital. An argument where he was asked to personally take a position, repeated position, with the ultimate resolution involving the police. Not the recommended treatment for a vulnerable coma survivor, but clear evidence of the role that stress and emotions play in memory after brain injury formation, towards the end of a period of amnesia.