Do I remember
I recently read ‘Before I go to sleep’, by SJ Watson. It does not fit into my personal category of great literature, and there are no particularly wonderful turns of phrase that I will be drawing on during dinner party conversation. It is nevertheless cleverly contrived, and I am reliably informed that the author has done extremely well out of it. What I want to discuss are the implications of the central theme of the book, which in a different context have been bothering me for some time.
The main character suffers from amnesia due to a traumatic incident in her twenties. In practice this means that when she wakes up each morning she has no memory of her current situation, including the identity of her husband and where she lives. In her mind she is still that person in her twenties, so you can imagine the shock when she goes to the bathroom that first morning in the book and sees the face of someone in her late forties,
The book is a thriller that builds to a dramatic dénouement. It is written in the first person through a diary our heroine is encouraged to write by a doctor. Each day he contacts her to remind her where she has hidden it, and by reading what happened yesterday she starts to make sense of her life. Nevertheless, the daily experience is always the same; each morning she has no idea who she is until prompted by the doctor’s call to find and read the diary.
You’ve probably worked out where I’m coming from. Amnesia is a key element of dementia. We know that with an increasingly ageing population dementia is increasing, but what about the impact of even minor symptoms? I am specifically thinking about how the majority of us now manage our daily lives: online, governed by a series of passwords which we have created. From booking flights to banking, we are expected to retrieve a variety of cues to allow us to make financial transactions.
The advice we are given is a) have a number of different passwords and b) keep changing them. Currently I must have at least 30 passwords to various accounts logged in a secret electronic file. There are at least five variations of these. But what if I lose that? Furthermore, for added security I often record these passwords in riddle form that make perfect sense to me. What if I woke up one day and had no idea what these riddles meant? What if I forgot that they existed? And if I entrust these secrets to someone else, it makes a mockery of the privacy I am urged to maintain.
I had a nasty shock earlier in the week; my inbox apparently emptied itself of emails before I had had a chance to log all of them or file them in the appropriate folders. I was unable to retrieve them so had to rely on memory to track the various lines of enquiry. Included in these emails were confirmations of a couple of one night hotel bookings for brief stop overs in Europe made via an internet search. Without the emails I did not even have the name of the hotels. By assiduously going back through the internet searches I was able to be reminded of which hotels we had booked, but it was a time consuming experience as I then had to contact them to retrieve my bookings.
At least I was able to remember.