Memory loss can’t stop dream trip
By JENNIFER DIRECTOR KNUDSEN
article created on: 2009-05-14T00:00:00
Carol Biederman, 49, like so many busy adults, sometimes puts the keys in the refrigerator and the cheese in the cupboard.
But unlike many on the cusp of 50, she forgets familiar routes, such as from Fred Meyer in Raleigh Hills to her nearby home. As well as her husband’s name and even her own and her daughter’s birth dates.
Biederman panics at her increasing bouts of memory loss.
“It’s scary,” she said in a recent interview in her sunlit kitchen. “You’re taking your son to his piano lesson and you’re afraid you’re not going to get there.”
But in mid-March she found her way to India, where she spent two weeks on a National Geographic Expeditions Essence of India tour of the startlingly eclectic country.
“You can say on some level it was a spiritual quest,” said Biederman, her lips curling into a strained smile. “Not that I thought I’d find a guru or enlightenment; I’m firmly rooted in Judaism,” she said. The family belongs to Congregation Neveh Shalom.
She committed to the solo trip to look ahead and stop dwelling on her past—and portions of her present—that seem to be fading away.
Biederman, who has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and for decades worked with severely emotionally disturbed children, said her brain’s taken a beating. She said her parents physically abused her throughout her childhood, and she’s been in a few head-jarring car accidents.
About five years ago, her brain began failing her; at first she didn’t know what to do.
“I thought, ‘Wait a minute. I can’t stop living,’” recalled Biederman, mother of Malina Keutel, 19, and Adin Biederman, 7. So she began seeking numerous professional opinions and underwent extensive testing to figure out what’s going on inside her skull.
Intricate brain imagery and, a year ago, a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation of mental acumen revealed Biederman indeed is not cognitively the person she once was.
Dr. Karleen Swarztrauber, a neurologist in private practice, believes Biederman’s symptoms—including severe headaches and cognitive dysfunction—are “classic” of post-concussive disorder, a condition only recently given its own name.
Caused by trauma to the brain, post-concussive disorder appears in increasing numbers of soldiers returning from Iraq, said Swarztrauber, citing a study reported in the Jan. 31, 2008, New England Journal of Medicine.
“We’re beginning to get a new picture of the seriousness of this disorder,” she said, adding that brains are capable of repairing themselves, but it’s uncertain post-concussive disorder can be reversed.
Biederman says she’s relieved to have a diagnosis. The guessing game is over; it’s time to fulfill dreams.
“I’ve wanted to go to India since I was a child,” Biederman said. Steve Biederman, her husband of 10 years, encouraged her to go.
Keutel, her daughter, a freshman at American University in Washington, D.C., said via phone she remembers her mom always cooked Indian foods and talked about traveling to the country that inspired a kitchen filled with cookbooks and academic works on India.
Biederman recalled her March 7 departure: “I left rainy Portland and, 19 hours later, landed in Dehli and walked into this wall of heat.”
She found herself in a world of peacocks; monkeys; a crush of people; breakfasts of uttapam, chutney and dosa; honking horns; lumbering elephants; and beggars.
Her tour group also traveled to Jaipur, Agra, Orchha and other cities to explore their intricately designed yet abandoned Mughal forts and palaces that she saw as a metaphor for herself: Beautiful on the outside, empty on the inside.
An emptiness she plans to fill with work to benefit others. Biederman hopes to start up the Nomenclature Project, which she envisions as a grassroots organization raising awareness globally about the severity of abuse that women and children face.
“You may be getting older and you may be falling apart,” she said, referring to herself, “But there’s still a lot left. I’m not somebody who sits idly by.”
This story is made possible by a grant from the Judith and Edwin Cohen Foundation.