Archive for October, 2015

When my memory deserted me …

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

I don’t think I have ever reached inside myself with such intensity. I didn’t know where I was, why I was wherever I was, or the year. I had apparently been asking the same few questions over and over again for around 45 minutes, and it was just at this point that some of the information was starting to stick. My first recollection as I started to regain my memory was understanding that we were in Fazana, Croatia. This is a place I know well – it is close to the Croatian Police Training Centre and a place I regularly visited between 1999 and 2004 delivering training courses.

But if I was delivering courses, why was Peta, my wife, there? “What year is it?” I asked her. The reply was, “2015”. That threw me into complete disorientation. As I write this 4 weeks after the event, I can recall the way I looked around the hotel room desperately trying to make sense of the situation, as if it was only an hour ago. My intense concentration was directed in particular to the TV (they didn’t have TVs in the rooms at the training centre so what was this very modern looking one doing here?), the suitcase (I didn’t recognise it, it wasn’t mine as far as I was concerned) and the key in the door (I have absolutely no idea why my attention was drawn to this!).  My eyes must have looked like lasers as I tried to make sense of the situation.

The glorious Fazana

What had happened, I learned later, was that I had got out of bed, passed out, dropped to the wooden floor, hit the back of my head on the floor and knocked myself out. I was unconscious for a short period of time, so I am told, and then as I came round announced, “I know I’m Paul and you’re Peta, but I’m not sure about anything else”.

One of the sentences I used on several occasions was, Peta tells me, “Ok, let’s put a line in the sand … what time is it now, and we will see that I remember everything after this time”. This occurred at least a dozen times in the 45 minutes, and of which I have no recollection. Groundhog Day had become a reality during this short space of time.

I can recall, as my memory started returning, being confident all was back to normal. I declared this confidently. The next question changed all that. “How did we get here yesterday”, Peta asked. I just looked at the suitcase and realised I had no idea. Absolutely no idea. And internally I couldn’t accept that I had no idea.

After an hour, I felt as though I was fully recovered. I went for a check-up at Pula hospital which confirmed this and, incidentally, received excellent care – I saw three different doctors, saw a neurosurgeon, had an ECG and had a head x-ray all in the space of 3 hours, and it was a Sunday morning. The total cost was £4.80, and I got a free CD containing my x-rays (as you can see from the photos).

More seriously, however, for Peta the 45 minutes were “bewildering and scary” (Peta’s exact words), as she didn’t know what was happening nor how long it was going to last. It was mildly less worrying for her than it might had been for others as she has seen so many people fall off horses and some of the falls having had similar consequences for the riders.

For me, it was just hugely interesting and such a learning experience. In particular the point at which my memory was returning – around the time I realised that I couldn’t remember how we had got to Fazana.


Sunset at Fazana, Croatia

My ‘affective domain’ learning relates to gaining a very small, but significant, insight into how it can be for people suffering with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other similar ailments.

My experience of not being able to recall facts and having to concentrate so much to try and recall information was so difficult to accept. What must it be like if the memory never returns? What must it be like to constantly get confused about where you are, when it is and who you are with?

This weekend has seen World Mental Health Day. According to its site, “One in four adults and one in ten children are likely to have a mental health problem in any given year.”  The more we understand, the more compassion we can give, and this in turn will help such people live with dignity.

The next time I encounter a person with a mental health issue, I will approach the situation with this experience at the forefront of my mind.