Bob DeMarco Alzheimer's Reading Room

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The File Clerks of Our Minds


Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was an office where two clerks took important information people gave them and filed it away for later use.

By Carole Larkin
+Alzheimer's Reading Room



The File Clerks of Our Minds

This office looked much like most other offices of its type.

There was a long front counter where people would come to bring their information, two desks for the two file clerks and, in the back, rows upon rows of file cabinets to hold the information brought into the office.

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The file clerks’ names were Ella and Fino.

Ella was the clerk who took the information from the people as they came in. She put the papers in a basket for Fino to pick up and put into the file cabinets in the back. They had worked together for years and years. They knew each other very well. They worked perfectly together. All was well.

But one day, Ella wasn’t feeling well, not well at all, but she didn’t want to go home from work; she needed the money. Ella was tired and a little cranky.

She really didn’t want to carry the information she received over to Fino’s basket. So that day, instead of taking everything she received to Fino’s basket, she started throwing some of it in the trash can located right under the counter; not much, just a little bit. Fino, who was busy filing, never noticed.

The trash was taken away that night, and all evidence of Ella’s little secret duty-shirking was gone.

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Ella came back the next day and thinks, “Hmmmm, maybe I’m on to something here. Life can get a little easier for me at work. All I have to do is throw the information in the trash instead of giving it to Fino. I think I’ll do it again today and see what happens.” And so she did.

Again, Fino didn’t notice. She just kept on with her filing of the information.

As time goes by, Ella starts throwing a teeny bit more into the trash can every day, but more people are bringing more information in as well, so Fino never notices.

"Well,” Ella thinks to herself, “I’ve got a great thing working for me here: less work for the same pay! I’m gonna keep doing this, and throw away even more, from now on.” And so she does.

More time passes, and by now Ella is throwing away almost half of what was taken in. Amazingly, Fino who is still hard at work never notices Ella throw the information into the trash because she’s frantically rushing around trying to do her job.

More time goes by. Then one day, Fino stubbed her toe while rushing around like crazy, and stopped to rub it. She looks up, and for the first time sees Ella throwing papers in the garbage instead of putting them in her basket. Fino is outraged.

“How dare she (Ella) be a slacker while I (Fino) am rushing around like crazy to get the job done? Well, I’ll show her!” and with that Fino gets a garbage can from behind the building, drags it into the back corner and starts throwing a little bit of information from the file drawers into that garbage can. “Two can play this game.”

She harrumphs. So on and on they go, Ella in the front, and now Fino in the back, dumping more and more information into the trash.

One day, someone come in and wanted the information that Ella and Fino filed away. Ella went back to the file cabinet where it was supposed to be filed and, oops, it wasn’t there!

Ella called Fino and they both searched for it, but it was nowhere to be found. Ella must have thrown it out, or if it was very recent, maybe Fino threw it out. Either way, it was not there to be given back to the person.

The person stomped out angry as all get out, and Ella and Fino were embarrassed. Nevertheless, they both went back to throwing out the information in their areas at an even greater level than before.

You know what’s coming now, don’t you? Yep. Finally, it was all thrown out. Fino and Ella have nothing to do. The company decided they weren’t needed any more. They were fired! Woe is me!!!!! They ended up homeless and living under the bridge.

So, what is our take away lesson? The first lesson is: if it’s never taken in it can’t be retrieved. The second lesson is: after a long period of time, even if it was taken in, it still may not be retrieved.

And so, everybody, this is how our memory works. Ella is our hippocampus (a portion of our brain). If she dogs it- the information never is put in and so can’t be taken out. If Fino dogs it, even if the information is taken in, it may still not be able to be taken out. Depending on when the information came to the office, you may or may not ever get it out.

Your final take away lesson is: think before you use the word “remember?” to a person with a dementia, because maybe they won’t be able to remember, and you will both be embarrassed.

Original content Alzheimer's Reading Room.