I am blessed because following brain injury, for the most part, my long-term memory is still intact. I can remember random, and often meaningless, facts from the distant past. My short term memory, however, is a different story, and this has been one of the toughest and most frustrating things I now deal with. I have difficulty remembering recent events or recalling new information. This dramatic difference in my ability to remember the recent and the remote is difficult for myself, as well as many others, to understand. But this paradox is my new reality.
I am trying to use many coping strategies to compensate for my short term memory problems.
- I take a lot of notes.
- I make lists and place reminders on my phone or watch.
- I stick to a routine and schedule my days. When I have my days planned out, I have less chance of forgetting something.
- I repeat what people have told me. This helps me remember what they said and also makes sure I heard them correctly.
If I am consistent in using these strategies, as well several others, I function quite well. Yes, I will still forget things. But not as much as when I depend solely on my pre-accident memory skills, which was a definite strength of mine. I often get frustrated with having to consistently use these tools and, because of this, many times I fail to do so. This is both stubborn and lazy on my part, and I need to be more dedicated to utilizing them.
Having a good short term memory is vital to practicing medicine, so I am grateful these coping skills helped. I can't underestimate their importance in allowing me to return to work. I went back to doctoring only five months following my TBI which was much quicker than my doctors thought I would, if I ever did at all.
Unfortunately, the strategies I used to overcome my memory problems, along with several other factors, were not sustainable in the workplace, and I had to retire from medicine. To say the least, this was disheartening. But it wasn't the end!
The end of my career as a practicing physician marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life. A chapter marked by many things but one that is characterized by a critical decision, a decision that was and is imperative to my moving on and finding purpose after brain injury. I think my approach to short term memory illustrates this decision perfectly. I made the decision to let go of old strengths I no longer possess so I could use my energy finding and using new ones in a sustainable, lasting, and fulfilling way. And this is a choice I must make every day.
I am choosing daily not to focus on what was taken from me. Instead, I am choosing to focus on what I still have, what I was given, what is important, and what has eternal significance.