How inaccurate memory is, even without brain damage. 

It’s so weird how deceptive memory can be.  I’ve been cautioned about this in the memoir-writing world, which is why I try to fact-check my story as much as possible.

I kept all my calendars and many receipts from our various medical appointments from the three years when we struggled to figure out what was wrong with Matthew. So I know I got my dates and basic facts right.

And I check my memories against Michael’s. He wasn’t there for many of the earlier medical appointments, but he came to all the latter ones.

At one of the final appointments before Matthew’s brain tumor diagnosis, Michael and I were both there, and we remember it differently.

We both remember the doctor examining Matthew and saying something like, “Well, obviously no brain tumor here.”

I thought it was Matthew’s eye-rolling that prompted the comment. Eye-rolling was Matthew’s first symptom, appearing when he was eight. Not just an occasional eye-roll, but over and over and over. Think ocular ferris-wheel.

Here’s what I wrote about that appointment in a draft:

The doctor explained that a brain tumor diagnosis is ruled out if the patient can roll their eyes. 

In other words, eye-rolling means no brain tumor. Brain tumor means no eye-rolling. The two can not co-exist. At least not on paper, not in medical books, and not in the minds of the best doctors we could find.

When Michael read my draft, he insisted that it wasn’t the eye-rolling that elicited the “no brain tumor comment”; it was what the doctor saw, or didn’t see, when he shone a light into Matthew’s eyes.

I was convinced my version was correct.

So I did some research. The entire world-wide web couldn’t give me a shred of evidence to support my theory. Then, yesterday, I connected with a brain tumor survivor, a doctor, who confirmed that my theory and my memory were wrong.

So I’ll rewrite that scene and continue to fact-check.

How inaccurate memory is, even without brain damage.

No Comments

  1. on December 10, 2017 at 1:21 PM

    Thanks for sharing your story–Matthew’s story–and the lessons you learn as you write your memoir.

    • on December 11, 2017 at 10:37 AM

      And thank YOU for coming along on the bumpy ride, Gail 🙂

  2. on December 11, 2017 at 12:30 PM

    It’s probably even more difficult to remember accurately when you’re dealing with something as difficult as your child’s illness.

    • on December 12, 2017 at 12:50 PM

      It’s interesting, RoseMary. The tough scenes I recall like they happened yesterday. It’s the memories that link them all together that are hard to recall – did he start playing the drum in 4th or 5th grade? When was the talent show? Fortunately, our photo albums are great fodder for "research."

  3. on December 24, 2017 at 12:27 AM

    Have a very special Christmas holiday!

    • on December 24, 2017 at 11:37 AM

      Thanks Sheba! And you, too 🙂

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