Why Text?

I keep reverting back to the question “Why text?”

My sense is that subsequent to the accident I have devoted a much greater percentage of time to note taking of various kinds.

I have found some of the early notes taken after the accident. At least I make the presumption that these were the earliest notes. The date time stamp is appropriate but the the note itself does not fit my memory of what I created at that time. For example, I remember attempting to compile a fairly detailed recollection of the events of the accident. It was only through this compilation that I became aware of the fact that there must have experienced a period of unconsciousness. My memory is of bringing my vehicle to a halt after an extended slide on the black ice and then staring forward at the vehicle encroaching on my lane ahead and to my right. This vehicle was about 20 feet away and was so brightly lit I could not see into the driver’s compartment due to the glare. At this moment I heard a sound.

My next memory finds me staring into the face of a woman. She is looking directly at me and has a worried look on her face. She is sitting in the driver’s position of an SUV that is almost directly alongside me. I am very confused and not understanding of what I observe. I stare at the woman for a few moments trying to comprehend the situation and then I hear a noise from directly behind me. It is the sound of tapping. I had been looking almost due north into the cab of the SUV. I now turn and face due south at my driver’s side window. It is very dark on this side but I can make out a figure outside the vehicle and I realize that he is tapping on my window and that is what is causing the sound that I hear. I roll down the window to see what he wants and he asks me if I am alright. I respond “I think so.” It was at this point that I first realized that I had been in an accident.

While I had these two disconnected threads of memory but I could make little sense of them. It was several days after the accident before I realized that there was a significant gap in my memory, a cinematic jump cut from observing the SUV from a position well behind to being almost parallel with the SUV and looking directly into the drivers position. I have no memory of any movement between one position and the other. There is no memory of any acceleration. There is no memory of any force being applied. There is no memory of any head movement despite the fact that my head changed position from looking slightly right of forward to looking ninety degrees right.

It was only after puzzling over this memory sequence for some time that I came to the conclusion that the reason for the cinematic “jump cut,” the reason for the lack of memory of the movement between the two positions must be due to the fact I was not present during this period and by “not present” I mean that my mental capacity to observe and record experience was not functioning; I was unconscious.

I have also come to realize that I do not know how long I was unconscious. If I make the assumption that the noise I heard was the sound of the other vehicle striking my mine then I need to calculate the time it would take for the other driver to move from behind the wheel to a position outside my window. The other driver did not appear to be hurt but immediately after the accident there must have been a period of a few seconds in which he needs to gather himself and come to an assessment of the situation and regain situational awareness. I estimate this would take two to three seconds. Once that has occurred then I presume his next step will be to assess himself for injury and then asses his vehicle. Another two or three seconds. Then he makes the decision to leave his vehicle and attend to mine. Another two or three seconds. He will likely do as I did after the accident. He will check the vehicle is in park, set the emergency flashers to operate, set the parking brake. All of this will be another two to three seconds. Then he will need to release his seat belt, open his door and exit his vehicle. Two to three seconds. He then has to make his way in the dark towards my vehicle stepping carefully as the roadway surface was coated with black ice. Two to three more seconds. Once he reaches my window he begins tapping to try and alert me. What I do not know is how long he was standing there tapping. I now suspect that it was this tapping sound that may have brought me around, wakened me from my unconscious state. This interval is unknown but will be estimated at two to three seconds. So the elapsed time is at a minimum 2 seconds x 7 = 14 seconds or 3 seconds x 7 = 21 seconds for the lower bound. If I did not immediately respond to his tapping there may have been an extended period of five to ten seconds during which he tried to obtain my attention. This would serve to explain the look of concern on the face of the SUV driver. I also do not have a good estimate of the amount of time to travel between vehicles on a dark and slippery surface. This may have been longer than three seconds. And I suspect that were I making that journey I would be tempted to observe the front of my vehicle and make a cursory inspection for damage as I passed it; this would add another two to three seconds. If I had another nine seconds to the original calculation I arrive at a duration of around 30 seconds.

One of the questions I have been asking myself is “Why text?” Why is it that I appear to have a greater affinity for note taking now as opposed to before the accident? I realize that this entry gives a clue to an answer.

I started with one concern, this morphed into a review of the accident and then transitioned into a detailed examination of the events immediately following the accident. In some respects this is a linear sequence of narrative but it also represents my tendency to engage in “flow.” I become absorbed in a routine activity and continue to engage in it for an extended period of time. It is only after the passage of time that I become aware of the fact that I have been absorbed.

Text also provides a framework for activity. It is based on a series of rules and prescriptive elements. It is serial such that one entry leads in a normal progression into the next. In this sense it provides a form of structure and guidance. It is very plastic. By this I mean that it is resistant to error. I can sit and make these text entries and I have a sense of accomplishment, the sense that I am engaged in purposeful activity. Without the text as a framework I am stuck, lost, uncertain. I do not know how to properly describe that state but I remember struggling greatly with writing out the insurance company appeal and feeling a huge sense of relief when that task was over. But in the weeks that followed I also missed having that task requirement as a means to structure my day. Without it I was left in a type of vacuous state. Not sure how to otherwise describe that.

In the attempt to “fill in the gap” I began to undertake other text projects. The first of these was a conceptual plan for a non-profit that I volunteer with. I look at this now and it looks to be filled with endless amounts of gibberish, a collection of ideas that now make no sense. After completing that I went on to examine creating a local newsletter for the same organization. And then I expanded that to the creation of a national newsletter. And then this morphed into another project which was even larger in scope. And I managed to extend this even further by inviting other participants to enroll. I felt I was making great progress. I had this strong belief in my achievements in self rehabilitation. I was returned to the land of the living, to normalcy. And then it all came crashing down.

But the immediate concern here is the use of text as a means of rehabilitation, as a self imposed activity that contains a framework, that is easy to follow, provides direct feedback, is open to subsequent amelioration (I know I will return to this text tomorrow and find many errors. And I know that even after I correct those I will continue to find errors. This is not normal for me as I once worked for Lavalin and managed a publications group where I performed final copy editing and my responsibility was to catch and correct all errors and I did well at this. My error rate subsequent to the accident is much higher than normal but it is improving).

Unlike the physical world I do not experience the same level of frustration with text. In the real world the act of managing a relatively simple task such as filing a claim for medical reimbursement can leave me agitated and frustrated. I can loose a paper that I held less than a second ago. I can search for hours for this same piece of paper and not find it and become extremely frustrated and discouraged. I do not encounter these sorts of problems when I make these entries on the computer. I am not forced to face all the challenges of dealing with an intractable tangible world. And if I leave the computer on all night this does not bear the same risk as leaving the stove burners on overnight.


A Short Note

I have established a series of routines designed to compensate for my cognitive deficiencies. My first job out of university was in marine search and rescue. I have fought serious fires and since that experience fire has always filled me with dread.

My routines to prevent stove fires are these. I rely on the microwave as much as possible; vegetables are better and less energy is used. If I use the stove top I turn the burner off before I remove the pot from the burner. When I sit down, before I eat, I will turn and survey the kitchen and make sure everything is off. Before I go to bed at night I make a second check. And anytime I leave the house I have a protracted routine of checks that includes a double check of the kitchen. And before I fall asleep I will review my actions; If I am unable to remember having performed my checks I will go downstairs and make double sure everything is off. It always is.

These extended routines and rituals take time and slow my performance. But they are a necessary part of compensating for my injury.

 A Second Short Note

I am trying to refrain from editing and correcting these posts. I have done such things such as spend six days writing and rewriting and editing a perfect letter to be sent to my Doctor describing my inability to perform in some way. This strikes me as extremely counterproductive and I am leery of making the same mistake with blog entries. In some cases (many cases actually) I have been unable to resist the urge to go in and fiddle about and emend as I wish but I fight hard against this instinct to meddle.

On rereading this text I spotted something that I wanted to revise. And that is the nature of the sound I heard at the moment of impact. Hearing a sound, just “a sound,” does not appear very descriptive. Surely, if I want to win points for literary accomplishment,  what I heard was a CRUSH, perhaps a BANG, maybe even an unseemly CLATTERSMASH.

I was reflecting on this point when it struck me that I have no memory of direction. There is a sound, the visual memory comes to an end, and the movie stops completely only to restart 15 or 30 seconds later.

But what I find interesting about the memory is that there is no sense of direction associated with the sound, I am unable to place it, to reliably claim the direction from which it came. It is just there. A sound. And the movie halts.

This absence of sense of direction implies that the loss of consciousness occurred within fractions of a second of the moment of impact. It occurred so quickly that the mind was unable to complete the processing associated with the autonomous act of direction finding. If the mind ever started this task it never had the opportunity to complete it.

So there it is. A sound. And that’s all she wrote.