Friday, March 26, 2010

going no where

"Cardioversion" is a longish word that means getting the heart back in its proper rhythm. It was in aid of that effort yesterday that something that blew my mind occurred.

Having been rolled from the room I was in to the bowels of the hospital, I found three or four people in a small windowless space that sported several important-looking machines. A short plump woman remembered me as she coiled some tubing; another nurse moved from here to there, humming as she adjusted the machinery; outside the room's entrance, the anesthesiologist, wearing a Muslim-like skull cap and looking a bit like Morgan Freeman, offered his salutations; and to my right, the impeccably-shaven-and-combed young doctor explained that the numbing of my throat was to be the worst of the exercise at hand.

The numbing was to short circuit the body's natural gag reflex when, after sedation, he shoved a tube down my throat in order to investigate for possible clotting in the heart that was not entirely visible to a less-invasive X-ray. When the investigation was complete, I would then be electrocuted via a couple of stick-on patches the doctor slapped to my chest and back ... another version of the TV medical shows in which doctors and technicians shout "Clear!" and then shock the patient.

OK ... so I was taking all this in. And I did in fact gag as the doctor sprayed my throat. But after a while he stopped ... gave me one last spray and listened patiently one last time as I gagged and then ... and then ... and then ... and then the story simply ended, as if it had fallen off a cliff or someone turned off the radio. There was no "and then..."

Back in the hospital room, I wracked my brain to remember the anesthesiologist returning to put me to sleep. I wracked my brain to remember what had happened after I gagged. I wracked my brain for some hint of what happened next ... but there was no "next" ... not a clue ... everything was clean and clear and blank. It wasn't frightening or threatening ... it simply wasn't there. It was cleaner than a dream that you remember having had but you don't remember the particulars ... the story in this case just didn't exist and no story had been made to replace it ... there was nothing. And it was weird.

The doctor assured me with avuncular certainty that it was the drugs that had done it, wiped all memory clean. He also told me the procedure had been a success, but I was stuck on the memory part: What I wanted to know and what I asked him was, if there was a drug effect that could wipe things out so perfectly, was any research being done on a mirror image effect ... one in which memory that had been lost was retrieved or resurrected? Was there some reason that memory worked up to a certain point and then was lost? Why didn't the drugs erase the previous day or week or even year ... what made them stop at the gagging part? If the drugs could be that smart and pinpointed, surely resurrection was not out of the question.

His avuncular nature turned smirky and scornful as he left the room without answering. The question that seemed viscerally reasonable to me -- if it can be born, it dies; if it can die, it is born -- struck him as idiotic.

And as I write it, perhaps it is idiotic. But I felt as if I had been in "The Truman Show" and somehow reached the edge of an acceptable but inaccurate universe and opened an obvious and easy door that went ....

I had no clue where.

It seemed brand new ... and yet strangely obvious.


  1. It seems you reached the edge where there is "I don't know" uncomfotable place for a doctor? Good to be reading hear from you.

  2. Glad to "see" you back!

    The complete memory wipe of the few minutes before an operation was amazing to me too. I never thought about putting memories back or retrieving memories. That would be fun! However, I have a feeling it's a lot easier to destroy something than it is to make it.

  3. As I understand it, there's short term and long term memory and a process that transfers the one to the other. The drug blocked the transfer process, so when the short term memory faded, no memory! The drug didn't wipe your long term memory and so has no implications that some other long memory modulating drug could be created. Hence your doctor's smirk. All this was "obvious" and he couldn't waste the time arguing with an old git.

    Obligatory Buddhist content. When abhidharma describes the 52 mental dharmas (cettasika) it does not mention memory. Memory and how it functioned was a non-issue for early Buddhism, which is very strange, considering how big a part it plays in Western notions of mind.