During prep for a recent medical procedure, gowned and lying on a bed in the hospital surgical center, I listened as the attending nurse told me the side effects of the sedatives. “You may have slight amnesia when you wake up,” she said.
She rolled my bed to the procedure room. The last thing I remember is “I’m starting the medication now.” When I awoke, I was dressed, sitting on the side of the bed in recovery, and that nurse was putting my shoes on my feet. I still have no memory during the gap.
Later, I consulted the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for the full scope of amnesia.
1) Loss of memory due usually to brain injury, shock, fatigue, repression, or illness
2) Gap in one’s memory
3) The selective overlooking or ignoring of events or acts that are not favorable or useful to one’s purpose or position
My brother—I’ll give him the fictitious name of Josh—disappeared from California many years ago leaving his wife and children destitute. When a friend recognized him operating a business in Washington state years later, Josh’s explanation was that he’d been in an auto accident in Arizona and surgeons had removed a brain tumor. He’d had amnesia ever since. Or so he said as his explanation for why he had remarried in Oregon, moved to Washington, and had two more sons without divorcing his first wife.
Mother, a brother, and a sister went to see Josh, sure that would jog his memory. He was undergoing a federal clinical trial of shock treatments. It wasn’t working, he said. He didn’t recognize any of them. My mother was devastated.
I searched for the accident. No similar event in Arizona for the time and place he said his car went off the side of the mountain. But wait! If Josh had complete amnesia, how did he know the location when I couldn’t remember getting dressed after mild sedation? Josh had selective memory (Merriam-Webster definition #3).
My mother received a call from the treatment center after that distressing visit. Josh and his second family had moved. Did she know where to reach him? But wait! If he had no memory of his past, how did her name and phone number get in his secondary contacts when he registered at that facility? She couldn’t understand why Josh had always been a storyteller—her gentle word for liar.
The Social Security Administration notified Josh’s first (legal) wife of his death about thirty years later. Determined to find his burial place, I called mortuaries in the nearby towns. Success on the third call. Josh’s ashes were still at the mortuary months later. I had his cremains returned to California for burial in the cemetery near his parents and brothers.
Josh was an amiable charlatan, a great main character for a mystery book. He hid his past and controlled the present with convenient lies. I’m a storyteller, so perhaps there is a bit of Josh in me. If the detective in the novel asked me how I skirted the mandate that Josh’s ashes could only be released to his youngest son, I would claim amnesia.