In the next paragraph, I give away the ending to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. If you have not read the last two books in the Harry Potter series, and you intend to, please stop reading.
Two weeks ago, I read Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, the last book in the Harry Potter series. I read all of J.K. Rowling’s previous books, but I forgot that at the end of the sixth book, Severus Snape killed Albus Dumbledore. I double-checked my list of “read books” to ensure that I had read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – I had, but I had forgot that Dumbledore died.
I am not a forgetful person, but I have memory lapses. I have a mental block that prevents me from remembering garbage day. It is Friday night, so I can safely say that garbage day was today. But next Thursday, I will forget. Stacie has stopped reminding me, and now she puts out the garbage and recycling bins. The kids often help her, so my forgetfulness has helped teach my boys about household chores, but it has also irritated my wife.
I am not alone in forgetting. A few weeks ago, I drove behind a car with an open gas cap cover. The gas cap was bouncing around on its cord, so the driver must have forgotten to put the cap back on before leaving the gas station. I told a friend this story, and he confided that he had done much worse. Not only had he forgotten to put the gas cap back on, he had also driven away from the station with the hose still connected to his car. My friend said, “I’ve done that three times.”
Forgetting to put the garbage out or to screw your gas cap back on has minor consequences. When doctors forget, the costs are high. Atul Gawande, the author of Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, explains that in the U.S., two million patients a year get infections during their hospital stay. Ninety thousand of those patients die. The primary cause is that doctors forget to wash their hands. We think doctors should be perfect, but they are not. They are human, and they also forget.
Fortunately, we have tools to help us remember. I use Microsoft Outlook to keep track of appointments. I also create daily “to do” lists. I always carry a pen and a notebook, so when I think of an idea for The Hipping Post, I can jot it down.
Even doctors have tools. As Atul Gawande explains in his essay, “The Checklist”, Dr. Peter Pronovost, of Johns Hopkins Hospital, asked doctors and nurses to use a simple checklist in the I.C.U. to help prevent line infections in patients. Intensive care physicians work in complex environments, so they are bound to forget certain procedures, like washing their hands. But by following Dr. Pronovost’s checklist, line infection rates dropped from eleven percent to zero.
I don’t know if Dr. Vail used a checklist, but before my surgery, his chief resident signed my left leg with a Sharpie – it was a crude, but effective reminder for Dr. Vail to operate on my left hip, and not my right.
Checklists and “to do” lists are helpful, but my favorite memory aids are stories. I started The Hipping Post to share my hip resurfacing story. The scar on my left butt cheek is a permanent reminder that I have a prosthetic hip. But I did not want to forget the details of my pain before the surgery, or my support and struggles during my recovery.
I read my kids stories that remind them to respect others, to think for themselves, and to stay healthy. I wish I had a story that would remind my sons to flush the toilet and to turn off the bathroom light. When I get together with my friends, we tell the same stories over and over, not only to remind us of our shared history, but also to strengthen the bonds between us. Some stories I wish I could forget, but those stories are my friends’ favorites.
I don’t mind that I forgot Snape killed Dumbledore. I enjoyed the Harry Potter series, but J.K. Rowling’s stories are not important to me. The stories that matter most to me are retold over and over by my friends and family. Those stories make me laugh, keep me humble, and remind me of life’s lessons.
So if you drive away from the gas station with the hose attached to your car, don’t worry. It makes for a great story, and if you have good friends, they won’t let you forget.