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A woman’s account of life-shattering amnesia; little things that could save lives

  • Washington Post
  • Published Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, at 12 a.m.

Taking care

Penicillin: brilliant. Polio vaccine: world-changing. But it’s not just the huge discoveries that can save people’s lives, Markham Heid writes online for Men’s Health magazine. He points out small inventions that can also do the job. A few examples:

•  If someone in your household suffers a bad heat-related burn, the American College of Emergency Physicians recommends that you reach for common kitchen plastic wrap. Why? Because nearly half of all burn deaths are due to infection. You wrap the burn in plastic wrap, which is sterile, so it keeps bacteria out, and it sticks only to itself, so doctors can remove it when you get to the hospital. (Note: This doesn’t work for burns caused by acids or chemicals, which could melt the plastic.)

•  More than half the asthma patients who end up in the emergency room do so because they weren’t aware their inhalers had run out of medication, says a British study. Inhalers with dose counters are now widely available: Be sure yours has one.

•  Shopping for a new car? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says your accident risk drops 20 percent if the car has forward collision warning and auto braking features. The technologies involve sensors that warn drivers and begin to engage brakes if a car approaches another vehicle too quickly. Get it if you can; it’s now mostly in luxury automobiles.

‘I Forgot to Remember’

In May 1988, Su Meck – at 22 a wife and mother of two small boys – was making dinner at the family’s home near Fort Worth when a fan fell from the kitchen ceiling and crashed into her head. When she emerged from a coma a week later, she had not only lost her memory but also was unable to read, write or walk. Worse, for several years she was unable to learn: Her brain couldn’t create memories or retain information. “I awoke each day to a house full of strangers,” she writes in her new book, “I Forgot to Remember.”

To rebuild her life, she became a mimic: “I listened, observed … and then I attempted to act like everyone else.” Then she would forget, get confused, try to learn it again. Though she has made significant strides, she still sometimes feels that “I don’t know who I’m supposed to be.”

Her story came to public attention in 2011, when the family was living in Gaithersburg, Md., and reporter Daniel de Vise wrote a Washington Post story about her graduation from Montgomery College with an associate degree in music. The story she tells in the book, written with de Vise’s help, is at its most poignant when she describes having to relearn how to have sex, how to feel emotions, how to act as a parent to her children. At first she and her husband had to “play the part of a married couple,” she writes. But, she adds: “Over the years, I have come to learn to love.”

— Washington Post

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