Administration and Leadership, Cardiac & Resuscitation, Training, Trauma

Ten Tips for Memory Loss

Issue 5 and Volume 38.

My mind recalls the things I pick up more than the things I put down. I suffer from ADHD (Always Distractedly Hunting Down) things, particularly when it comes to my car keys, trauma shears, writing utensils and offspring who needed to be picked up from baseball practice. It’s harmless temporary amnesia really—until you forget leaving your cardiac monitor on scene.
I wonder if I’d forget where I parked my ambulance if not for its distinctive shape and illumination. But in my defense, I can remember lots of things … specifically things I have forgotten.

Confucius says, “The palest ink is mightier than the strongest memory.” This explains why so much of my patient history is initially penned on torn strips of two-inch tape adhered to my thighs or donned latex gloves, which can be problematic, interpretation wise, once unsheathed from their sweaty phalangeal scaffolds. There are times I even print out an EKG just so I can record the patient’s last BM on the back of the strip.

So much of our job uses short-term thinking skills secondary to our limited timetable for patient contact, thereby making memory similar to EMS job security—short lived.

The problem with the hippocampus, the memory preservation part of the brain (you won’t remember this), is that it doesn’t always merge information you want to retain from your short-term memory into your long-term synaptic wiring. The brain deletes what it considers clutter—especially if that particular memory hasn’t been used in a while. Now, this doesn’t explain why I’ve still retained such trivial rubbish as the entire theme song to “Gilligan’s Island”—a TV series I haven’t seen in more than 20 years. Thanks a lot, long-term memory!

EMS is BLS (Blatantly Laboriously Stressful), requiring the immediate conscription of information to not only care for humankind, but to also instantaneously recall where we keep all our tools. And EMS has a lot of stuff. There’s no worse feeling than having to vent a tension pneumothorax while frantically searching for the chest kit after you misplaced your stethoscope whilst looking for your reading glasses to inspect the O2 levels of your portable O2 tank before the key to the O2 tank vanished following the mislaid disappearance of your trauma shears to cut off the patient’s shirt. These lost articles only magically reappear after you don’t need them anymore.

Thank goodness our uniforms provide an assortment of pockets and slots for holding stuff we might lose or forget. I’m still discovering pant pouches I never knew I had.

EMS is hurried and complicated enough without having to force our memory banks to store information that only makes us feel bad about ourselves if we can’t remember it. After all, knowledge may improve over time, but memory does not.
So besides tying a tourniquet around your finger, how does one store and retain specific data when other memories are competing for space?

1. Repetition creates memory. Practice often the skills you use in the field with the actual equipment laid out in their proper place. Repetition creates memory. Practice often the skills you use in the field with the actual equipment laid out …

2. Consistency prevents misplacement. Assign a place for everything with everything in its proper place—unless everything is misplaced properly.

3. Create memory markers by labeling important items you need with brightly colored tags—partners included.

4. Take a focused mental picture of an important item you put down before moving on to the next task—unless that next task is retrieving your iPhone to take an actual picture of that item.

5. Use handheld mobile technology to store information while multitasking, but not while playing Angry Birds.

6. Reconnect the dots if you lose something by retracing your steps—back-up alarm optional.

7. Sleep plays an essential role in learning new information, but not while you’re learning the new information.

8. Being tested on information actually helps you remember better. So ask your field educator to give you written exams on every in-service you attend. Just kidding.

9. Adrenalin stimulates retention; therefore stab yourself repeatedly with a pen while screaming out the material you need to retain.

10. Rehearse important information employing mnemonics including the theme song to “Gilligan’s Island.”

There are more helpful tips, but I can’t remember them right now. So remember (if you can): Forgetting where you put your end-tidal CO2 detector isn’t as bad as forgetting what the end-tidal CO2 detector is used for.