I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia

Disclaimer

2014-0730 Su Meck Family

 

The following review was written by Evi Heilbrunn. I have not read the book that is the subject of this review, but I plan to soon.

 

Review by Evi Heilbrunn

“You might wonder how it feels to wake up one morning and not know who you are,” writes Su Meck. In a casual, matter-of-fact style, Ms. Meck recounts the harrowing experience of waking up in a hospital bed without the faintest idea of who she was. Her book, “I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia” explores her ongoing recovery from a traumatic brain injury that literally erased her mind.

Ms. Meck has no recollection of what she refers to as “my first life” or her memories up to that fateful night in 1988 when a ceiling fan fell on her head. The injury left her suffering from complete retrograde amnesia, a condition that wiped out her ability to remember facts or recall past experiences.

She writes about her first 22 years as if she is a different person altogether. “She never knew me, and I know nothing of her except what people have told me,” she writes. “She rebelled; I conform. She broke rules; I follow them.”

In the immediate aftermath of the injury, it was difficult for family members or even doctors to grasp the severity of Ms. Meck’s condition. But the married woman could not recognize the face of her husband nor recall that she had two young toddlers.

It soon became obvious that this was only scratching the surface of the problem. As she explains: “I didn’t know the purpose of school, or that I had ever attended one. I didn’t know what a city was; the name Fort Worth did not register, nor did the terms Texas, United States, and Earth.”

Still, doctors discharged Ms. Meck after a mere three-week hospital stay. Without any visible trace of brain damage on her MRIs, some specialists suggested that Ms. Meck’s amnesia was psychological. Eventually, Ms. Meck and her husband decided to forgo seeing specialists altogether.

Without professional assistance, Ms. Meck’s life began again at age 22. For a time, she could not form new memories. Each day, the young woman woke up completely unaware of where or who she was. It brings to mind the film “50 First Dates.” Jokingly, she offers that “Su 2.0” as her husband has teased, was born sometime in the early 1990s.

Su Meck’s recovery would involve extensive relearning. She had no idea as to what “family” meant. Her husband, for example, had been “assigned” to her. Love, sex marriage and motherhood were all unfamiliar concepts.

For a time, it was her toddlers whom she relied upon for help in making grocery lists, or even remembering to pick them up from school. Still, Ms. Meck managed to survive without inflicting much harm to herself or her children whom she was oftentimes left with unattended. She also, and impressively, grappled with changing environments: first a move from Texas to Maryland, and then, a complete transition to life in Egypt, before returning to the U.S.

Incredibly, Ms. Meck, who had twice dropped out of college prior to the accident, pursued an associate degree in music in her 40s, and is now at work on a bachelor’s degree.

“I Forgot to Remember” not only took courage, but pain-staking research, as Ms. Meck relied upon the testimonies of friends and family to recall the personality and experiences of her past self. She also received help and support from journalist Daniel de Vise, who originally reported on her story in The Washington Post.

Hopeful as it is tragic, “I Forgot to Remember” is more than a memoir. It is proof that recovery from traumatic brain injuries is possible, and for those who have suffered from similar experiences, this book may offer some hope.

Credits

Thanks to Evi Heilbrunn, associate editor of Health Care Analysis at U.S. News & World Report (eviheilbrunn@gmail.com), for writing the review; Su Meck for sharing her story in “I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia;” Google for helping me find the review and the picture; and all the other people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text I used in this post.

6 Comments

  1. Sue Meck–

    The severity of your injury and the progress you have made is amazing. Thank you for all you do to help the brain injured community. I wish you good health and success!

    Esther

  2. I can try to reply, but honestly I don’t really understand it myself…I know nothing of the science and medicine of how these things work…Plus it was the 1980s…I’m not sure the technology was as good then as it is now. It also wasn’t just the ceiling fan, I also hit the back of my head on the counter and then the floor…I was recently contacted by a neurologist working at NYU (working in conjunction with neurologists at Harvard, I think) who has offered for me to come and have them run some kind of tests with me (and my brain) to see if there is anything to see…He admits that a lot of time has passed (26 years), but the fact that I still continue to have problems (fogginess, headaches, memory issues, etc…) he thinks they may be able to figure it out. I figure, what the hell, right? If my brain can help with research to help somebody else so they won’t have to go thru what I did, that would be a very good thing!!

  3. It is amazing that a ceiling fan falls on her head completely wiping out her memory and reducing her mental capacity to that of a toddler, yet CT scans reveal almost no physical damage to her brain and some doctors even think she’s faking anterograde and retrograde amnesia! No past memory, nor the ability to lay down new memories.

    What if her husband, family, and friends also believed she was faking amnesia. I find the CT results and conclusion upsetting. I am also bothered by the fact they don’t seek further immediate help. It is encouraging though that despite this she and her family thrive. Her story raises awareness about the lifelong struggle and even blessings of brain injury.

    1. Esther, the most important thing to remember about MRIs, CTs, and every medical test currently available is they were designed by imperfect people so the scans are not perfect. The other problem is the radiologists who read the scans are not perfect. Simply because our technology does not detect a problem does not imply the problem is fictitious.

      Since I was not privy to all the factors upon which the decision was made, I don’t feel comfortable suggesting the decision was right or wrong. Even if I was privy to all the factors, my choice might not be the right choice for them. Perhaps, Su Meck will reply to your comments.

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