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What was it about Claudia’s brain that made her forget our entire conversation? Is her inability to remember my response affected by a specific part of her brain? I pondered as she asked me, “What is your favorite subject in school, darling?” for the sixth time in our fifteen-minute conversation. “Don’t tell me that it is PE,” the elderly woman lightheartedly said with a smile on her face.
Knowing she would not remember my answer, I replied, “My favorite subject is lunch,” which made her laugh as she playfully hit my arm.
As a member of Chick-Fil-A Leader Academy, one of the objectives was to plan, organize, and participate in a Do Good December project, in which my group and I decided to go Christmas caroling at a nursing home. Before singing the Christmas carols, I had the chance to visit with the residents of the hospice, in which I met a lovely woman named Claudia, whom I found out within the first few minutes of conversation suffers from dementia.
When we began singing, I noticed that Claudia was singing right along with us. How could she remember all the lyrics of “Amazing Grace” yet not my favorite school subject? What is the connection between memory loss and the brain? How does the brain decide which memories to store for short term and long term? I wondered as I was caroling.
After singing “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” the group decided to take a break to pass out holiday desserts, Santa Clause hats, and fuzzy socks. During the interlude, I handed out soft sugar cookies decorated in red frosting and green sprinkles to the elders.
Walking around the couch, I offered a cookie from the plate to a man named Barry who was bent over at the waist in a wheelchair. His arm shook as it struggled to stretch to the plate, and his hand trembled as it barely wrapped around one of the cookies. Like the claw machine at the arcade, when he endeavored to pick the cookie up, it fell out of his hand. Why were his hands shaking so excessively? I wondered. Is his tremor caused by a neurological disorder, such as a stroke or multiple sclerosis, that could be affecting portions of the brain that control movement?
Determined, he attempted to lift cookie from the plate again, but it fumbled back onto the plastic dish. At this point, I realized that he only had partial mobility of his arms and hands, so I knelt down beside him and fed the cookie to him while the group carried on singing Christmas carols. Upon finishing his cookie, I wiped the crumbs and frosting off of his face with a napkin, while I desperately desired answers to more questions. What part of the brain prevents him from walking and using his arms? Is his paralysis due to damage of his brain or his spinal cord?
Inquiring how the brain functions and why it operates in certain ways relates to my craving to obtain new knowledge and succeed in my future goals and career. My satisfaction ceases to rest in simply knowing the location of the cerebrum and thalamus in the brain but in deeply understanding how people’s mannerisms and aptitudes are affected by particular neurological injuries and diseases. In college, I intend on pursuing my interest in brains by taking as many neuroscience classes that are offered, and I can already imagine the number of the questions I will ask and eagerly await the equal number of answers I will receive. My inquisitiveness will empower me to reach beyond my full potential as I am defined as a scholar who seeks wisdom found outside of the classroom, as a person who thrives on discovering the uncertainty, and finally as a future doctor who finds beauty in the complexities of the human brain.
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