Report from the trenches, a week ago

This is a recap of the most recent monstrous affliction to beset me, told on Facebook as it developed (part of the affliction was that I was unable to post on this blog), with some responses from friends along the way. Perhaps a useful record to keep on this blog.

From AZ on Facebook on May 8 (edited to conform to typographical style conventions):

This is a report on some kind of illness that’s afflicted me recently, starting with a terrible feeling of unwellness coupled with uncontrollable shaking of my hands (as in the withdrawal symptoms from alcohol poisoning, though i’ve had nothing to drink for years now). As it progressed, it wiped out my memory for how to do anything on my computer beyond using e-mail. Just as the alcoholic withdrawal did back then. Erick [Barros] the caregiver has started the process of teaching it all to me from the ground up. little bit by little bit. I can now get a start page and access Facebook. but it will be a slow process of learning. It might be quite some time before I can post on my blog.

all this is scary and immensely wearying.

I note that throughout this I was able to use e-mail entirely competently and that (after one truly godawful lost day) I’m perfectly competent at managing the routines of daily life, listening intelligently to the daily news as it unfolds (oh. my. god.), and much else. I can joke.  And analyze my own plight.

The thoughtful, reflective, and analytic tone of this announcement conceals the utter panic that enveloped me as I realized I was being afflicted with a monstrous all-consuming physical affliction paired with a terrible psychological deficit. Oh Jesus fuck, had I lost my mind? What was to become of me?

I could still use e-mail, so I e-mailed a cry of pain and desperation to the caregivers of Bay Area Geriatric, who sent me help within a few hours. Eventually I also sent an e-mail cry for help to my good friend and general computer guru Ned Deily, who sent me a message of advice that was not at the learning to walk and speak again stage of simplicity that I needed (utter ignorance is hard for people to contemplate), but became useful as shards of memory returned, in a patchwork way, over several days. So that eventually I could manage some cautious first postings:

on 5/10/23, “Collectible porcupine boot scraper”

on 5/10/23, “No clitic allowed”

And then the more complex posting I’d been working on when everything went to hell:

on 5/11/23, “New things”

But I’m getting ahead of the story. Go back to May 8 and that mailing to Facebook. That message, and a parallel one on Max Vasilatos’s Facebook page, together resulted in over a hundred reactions of care from friends, some of whom supplied more specific comments (on 5/10 through 5/12). A sampling of these:

— Rick Kawala: Whatever else is going on, your writing is note-perfect. Style, syntax, all of it, it’s all perfect.
— AZ > RK: Wow, thanks. And thanks for the reassurance.

— Ellen Kaisse: The existence of this kind of selective deficit has surprised me in the past, like when I long-ago learned that there were specific aphasias like anomia, anomia of proper names, and (I just learned) anomia for geographical place names. Who knew it could also apply to computer application abilities? As Rick Kawala says, you sound exactly like yourself, so it does seem to be pretty darn selective. Maybe we can hope it will gradually resolve on its own, rather than your having to learn every damn thing from scratch. Sigh.
— AZ > EK: Thank you. Yes, surprising selective deficit. I am in fact entirely all here, except for this big empty hole.
— EK: A friend who recently had a serious brain injury found that the holes in her memory were best described counting backwards from the accident. She’s in brain sciences, and very acute in describing what’s missing. She remembers nothing from around the time of the accident, and very little for the whole year before it … And there are holes as far back as 5 years. Speculating wildly, maybe there’s something about when you learned an application that correlates with how much of it disappeared.
— AZ > EK: Very cool idea. In fact, posting on WordPress involves constantly being confronted with different variants of the software, appearing apparently at random and requiring devising workarounds to deal with whatever turns up at the moment. so what knowledge I have on how to post is in a sense always very recent and fragile. While all the rest of it is long established and firm. Hence the very specific hole. Wow.

— Jeff Goldberg: Well that sucks. It’s also fascinating, but that doesn’t make it suck less.
We’ve all been using email since the 80s, and it may be something most of us use every day. So even if the details have changed over the past 40 years, it might be a skill like walking. It’s so-called “muscle memory”.
At the risk of making light of something that isn’t at all funny, I do have to note that if I could lose one computer skill, I wouldn’t mind that being email.
— AZ > JG: Yes, like muscle memory. Nice analogy. But feel free to make light. Laughter and joy are major things for me. And there’s no denying that parts of my life now look like some form of Theatre of the Absurd. (Yes, I could tell you about Pirandello and more; I might be defective, but I’m a highly educated defective. Sort of like L. Frank Baum’s Mr. Highly Magnified Woggle-Bug, Thoroughly Educated.)

And  then I managed to synthesize things into a wider view:

on 5/15/23, “More explorations in narrative medicine”

Yesterday, I got a pedicure. I’m unable to clip my own toenails, so I have to hire someone to do it; podiatrists recommended that I use a pedicurist, who would not only cut my toenails, but clean them, make them look nice, and make them feel good in the bargain. Yes, indeed. More recently, I needed someone who could perform all this very gently, taking great care with the now-fragile skin on my feet and legs; I was referred to Hedy Parucha, conveniently only a few blocks from my house, and she is indeed wonderful. So now my feet are happy too.

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