Last week, I left home for my 8 a.m. doctor’s appointment—showered and dressed, my purse stuffed with my wallet and Kindle and a water bottle, my phone resting in the console, Morning Edition on the radio.
Everything was going fine, until I made it a few blocks from home and realize I had no idea where I was going.
Sure, it was a doctor’s appointment. I knew who I was going to see—Dr. K—and what I was seeing him about (ahem, patellar dislocation, the result of being chased by a tiger or falling off a ladder—you pick). I knew what was going to happen—Dr. K was going to reexamine my knee, which had recently been through four weeks of physical therapy, and fit me for a brace to that I could return, however slowly, to the treadmill.
The trouble was, I had no idea where I was going.
I pulled to the side of the road, suddenly sweating and scared. I felt this way once in an airport and another time when I took the wrong freeway exit on the way to San Francisco, but this time, I was literally a few blocks from my home, returning to a place I’d been only four weeks earlier. I could picture the inside of Dr. K’s office, but that wasn’t much help—a small rectangular room with an examination table and a blood pressure machine on the wall, its Velcro strap dangling, the desk with a monitor, the two chairs. I could remember, but only vaguely, Dr. K’s face. We’d only met once, and I’d classified him immediately as someone who would be the kindly older neighbor in a sitcom—pleasantly distracted, a wearer of khaki pants and a braided leather belt, comfortable walking shoes.
But where was his office?
I ran through the possibilities in my mind, based on places where I’d seen medical professionals in the past—near the hospital in the center of the city, by the Trader Joe’s near the freeway, in the massive complex where I’d gone for the MRI that had in fact determined that I wasn’t crazy, that my persistent limp wasn’t just “in my head”, that there was a reason I released a blood-curdling scream every time someone tapped me on the knee. I tried, parked on the side of the road, a sort of self-induced hypnosis. Picture yourself parking in the lot. Imagine walking through the entry doors.
I had no idea where I was going, and by this time, I had only a few minutes to get there. Thank goodness for technology and the near-constant stream of communication from my online health care service. I followed the link in an email, logged into my account (somehow I remembered that password), and learned that I was indeed headed, however unconsciously, in the right direction. My body knew something my mind hadn’t grasped, a sort of cerebral muscle memory.
Relax, I told myself. Just get there.
Later, I could figure out whether I was in fact losing my mind.
As it turned out, the parking lot near the doctor’s office was being resurfaced, so I had to park in an unfamiliar place and enter through the back of the building. This was probably the reason why I didn’t recognize the reception areas, and why I stood frozen in the middle of the lobby until a woman peered around the frosted glass partition and smiled at me. “You’re here for Dr. K, right?” she asked, and I broke into a relieved grin.
It was my Jason Bourne moment.
Wait! You remember me? I was here before?
As a side note:
In this Washington Post article on Alzheimer’s Disease, Fredrick Kunkle writes the following:
“ 'You shouldn’t automatically fret about dementia if your car keys go missing. It’s when you start forgetting truly important stuff that you should worry. It’s also not necessarily forgetting where your keys are — in fact, I don’t know where my keys are right now — it’s forgetting what keys are for. Or not knowing what a key is for until you put it in your freezer,' Snyder says. 'It’s that type of change in memory.' "
It’s unclear whether Kunkle would consider forgetting the location of a doctor’s office to be in the category of “truly important stuff’.
Here’s what happened (or here’s how I later rationalized all of this to myself):
I’d had my first visit with Dr. K on July 13 at eight in the morning, which was approximately eleven hours after returning from a day-long drive back from Lincoln City, Oregon, site of a long overdue family vacation complete with parents and sisters and brothers-in-law and nieces and nephews ranging from 3 to 23, complete with sun and sand and sunsets and bocce ball and jarts and margaritas and Moscow mules and two 1,000-piece puzzles. (Lincoln City is gorgeous, by the way, and it’s where you should go next.)
The morning after my visit with Dr. K, I started physical therapy, which I continued three times a week. The following Friday, I was supposed to fly to San Diego to speak on a panel at Comic Con. Southwest’s computer disaster happened, and we ended up flying to Los Angeles the following morning, renting a car to get to San Diego, rushing around the Convention Center with 100,000 other people, returning to the airport only a few hours later, then heading home bleary-eyed after our flight—well, let’s just say we were awake for 23 hours, and I slept on and off for the next 18.
During the month between visits to see Dr. K, I was in the middle of wrapping up the first draft of my next book, devoting about six hours a day to solid writing and another two or three to rereads and edits, sometimes arriving at Starbucks as the store was opening and returning later to write until it closed.
In short, it was a combination of travel brain and book brain, and that’s how I forgot all about my previous visit to Dr. K’s office.
Other things I have done on book brain:
I’d like to announce here that I have it all figured out, the way to juggle being a professional writer and an educator and a wife and a family member and a friend and a pet owner and a person who likes inane trivia and a person who likes complicated shoes and a person who needs to remember her bulky brace when she goes to the gym.
But of course, it would be a lie.
Only this morning, I left home for the seven millionth time without my cell phone.
This fall, for the first time since 2011, I’ll only be teaching on one campus, at one university. I now have only one “work-related” key on my keychain. I’m teaching 12 units, down from 18. I’m teaching two days per week, down from four, and a maximum of 60 students, down from 120.
I’m taking steps to simplify my life, to do the things I love with the people I love and say no to the rest.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
Or I’ll text you, and ask you to please remind me exactly where we said we would meet.
Paula Treick DeBoard