Nov 122008

Surrogate Memory. That’s the title of Judy Steed’s article in the November 8th Toronto Star on seniors with memory impairments using Palms. It’s apt. I called my Palm my second brain.

I first checked out these nifty handheld devices when we bought my regular biennial computer back in 1999. But as Normand, my husband at the time, so bluntly put it, it would just be an expensive unused toy, and he said, “No!” He was right. I hardly even used my paper daytimer as it was because everything was stored safely in my head, easily accessible. That all changed in early 2000, and six months later, I knew something was very wrong. I kept misreading appointment times or forgetting to check my daytimer because paper just doesn’t beep and say, hey, look at me! Even Normand agreed that buying the Handspring Visor was a good idea and brought it to me as soon as it arrived.

That Visor saved my sanity. As Steed wrote: “What time is my dentist appointment? Your dentist appointment is 1 p.m. tomorrow.” My Visor reliably answered those kinds of questions all the time. With my Visor, I felt competent; it didn’t matter if I misread the time, it would beep to let me know the right time to leave or make dinner or do my weights or sit down to do my reading homework. I was very obedient — still am — to the commands of the Visor, and its Palm successor, as long as I had not overfilled it with tasks. If I did — which I do when I get overly ambitious… often — I’d get cranky and go sit in front of the television. Setting SMART goals is just as important as having something to remind you to do them.

Steed quotes Brian Richards, a psychologist at Baycrest, as saying, “You can’t function independently if you don’t know what you’re going to do next.” Ain’t that the truth! And I bet you didn’t know that. I didn’t think of that either until after my closed head injury. Then I learnt the value of a little computer telling you what to do next; sometimes I even fool myself into thinking I’d know that without my Palm. Ha!

I learnt this lesson hard, unfortunately not for the last time, when onto a hard subway floor I dropped my Visor on the way to an appointment. The screen froze, luckily showing me where and when I was headed. As soon as I got home, I called Handspring — my broken Visor being a big motivator to actually picking up that telephone — and by a minor miracle, a new one arrived in less than 24 hours from California. Meanwhile, I sat there at the table having absolutely no clue what I was supposed to be doing next. Eventually, hours later, I realised I could look at the desktop software that syncs with the Visor, and it would tell me what to do.

Today, I am not 100 percent completely clueless without a Palm, but I am completely chaotic and pretty clueless without my computer calendar or Palm telling me what to do.

To complicate matters, with each big leap forward in regaining abilities, I have to rejig my routine, and that means redoing the schedule on my Palm, not an easy task to do alone. After completing brain biofeedback, I also had to find a better desktop calendar program that would sit in front of my eyeballs and nudge me, as my Palm was no longer sufficient (mostly cause I’d forget it in my purse or at some other end of the house). Toronto Rehab had recommended the Franklin Covey system, which I actually knew about from pre-brain injury days, but I could never get the electronic version to sync properly with my Palm, and the paper version was useless to me. The only one I could find that would sync with Palm didn’t work all that well for me. Sigh.

Now, I’m really in the hole because I have two computers to work from, an Ubuntu laptop and an old, aggravating desktop, as well as my Palm. I need all three to sync with each other. I need to see my schedule in front of my eyeballs, no matter where I am, so that I don’t have to rely on my weird memory to remember to load my schedule. I need to know what I’m supposed to be doing next. But I have come to the dismal conclusion that my Palm is too obsolete to make that happen. I have managed to jerry rig a solution, but it won’t last as I cannot two-way sync my Palm with the calendar and task list I can see on both computers. Unfortunately, my insurance company refused to pay for succeeding handhelds. So I’m lost.

Steed talked about Palms as if only seniors with memory impairments require them, but anyone with a brain injury, with problems with memory and motivation, needs them too. The problem is that insurance companies and lawyers may agree to buy the first one, but they refuse to acknowledge that Palms break, get obsolete, die, are needed for life, and one needs the money to replace them. They don’t like the cost; I don’t like the drastic change in my brain. At least the handheld device makes me not so aware of that change, and it keeps me functional. So on to the hunt for a new handheld and relying on God to find a way to fund it.