Yesterday, for the very umpteenth time, I succumbed to a phenomenon that has plagued me for the better part of my English speaking life. It is also an element that has contributed in shaping the way I have lived up to this moment. This has to do with my inability to remember a particular word or name when I need to use it in a conversation, especially when I can literally feel the word on the “tip of my tongue“, that has dogged me from the time I learnt and started using the English language as my major means of communication till date. In fact, it was after the very embarrassing incident yesterday that I learnt the name of my affliction, “Lethologica“, though I doubt that my successful effort to recall the word yesterday could easily mean “Loganamnosis“, which is an obsession with trying to recall same, in the extreme, manic or morbid sense of it.
Even though I learnt much of the English language as part of my education in Nigeria’s public school system (before it became what it is today), growing up, I was largely self taught. I literally devoured books, starting from the bible, which we had several versions of, coming from a pastors’ home, to other books, including encyclopedia (we had volumes of the Caxton’s back then) – with a chemistry teacher for a mother, that boys my age weren’t reading. Sadly, this is the point where I’m supposed to mention my very first “special word“, which I’ve always remembered until now that I need to mention it, but cannot because as usual my lethologica has kicked in. It must also be that it was due to my peculiar case of lethologica that rather than apologize to my farther verbally for using harsh words on him, when I stood up to him for the first time in my late teens, I opted to write him a letter because that way it will have all the right words, without omissions (sometimes when I write, I leave spaces for words I’ve forgotten, to get back to it when I’m done), to save myself from being misconstrued for using the wrong words. I repeated the same with my boss years later, and my landlord two years ago, though on both occasions not to apologize but to set the records straight on issues we had contentions about, for which I came off, largely vindicated.
I think, even though I may not necessarily subscribe totally to the fact that it was solely responsible, that my case of lethologica was responsible for my choosing the medium of writing as an outlet for voicing my opinion. My listeners weren’t always patient to have me skirt around synonyms of important words in driving home my point, and sometimes when I write I ended up with long sentences, that could’ve been shorter had I remembered the appropriate word that would’ve boxed in everything, for which my friend and a good writer, ‘Luoye aptly termed a piece of mine “long and winding“, in describing the writing style in one of my blog posts he’d read. My response to him then was that I was writing for a foreign audience, and not Nigerians that are easily discouraged by long paragraphs and essays, seeing as it was a personal story.
My intention truly might’ve been that, but now that I’m thinking about it, it might also have been because of my lethologica. It must’ve been the reason why despite having the best result in English in the junior secondary certificate examinations in my school, our English teacher in the senior secondary class didn’t include me in the debating team, not even as part of the reserve team. I know he also complained about my long paragraphs, but that didn’t stop me from acing it in English language in the GCE (as it was then known) in my penultimate year of senior secondary, and doing even better (than everyone else) in the Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations, SSCE the following year, which was my final year. Now that I think I understand why my English teacher took that decision, I hereby forgive him.
The condition hardly improved during my university days as I noticed I had the penchant for forgetting key medical jargons (which became quite helpful in practice much later, as I could easily describe conditions to patients, devoid of accompanying medical jargon), while writing exams, and again had to skirt around keywords with words used to describe conditions, other than the name of the conditions itself. Viva Voce (Oral Tests) were my Achilles Heel back then, as lenient internal and external examiners would oftentimes help me finish my sentences, while those not so keen on so doing would outrightly mark me down, so I made it a point to score as much as I could in the Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) and Theory sections, while surrendering myself to fate for the oral, interview-like exams/tests. One Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, an external examiner from the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ife whom I’d met the year before for my Oral Surgery (I) viva, told me during the hands-on exam for Oral Surgery (II) that he’d give me a free pass if I managed to extract an upper first molar with dilacerated roots without decoronating the tooth, like he’d known I was suffering from a case of lethologica. Thankfully, I didn’t fracture the tooth, and true to his words, he came through for me, in a year where I passed Oral Surgery but failed Child Dental Health, CDH because I couldn’t remember the name of the block that’s the target of local anaesthesia for lower posterior teeth.
But it hasn’t always been doom and gloom with my situation. In the days of pen pals, I had girlfriends who fell for me mostly because of my writing, many of them moved on after seeing me in person, a few stayed back and I did have very interesting friendships and relationships with them. In fact, at some point I had this very beautiful girlfriend (one of my pen pals from miles away, that I even dubbed a Natalie Imbruglia tape for) who visited me a few times in medical school, which because my friends couldn’t fathom how she could’ve fallen for me, asked that they be introduced to her, have me put in a good word for them so they could have her, as I couldn’t be more than a distant relative of hers, or merely her friend at best. At some point, it seemed that the only way I couldn’t get a girl, was for her not to have read from or of me. A female former colleague during my internship year, is still with one of my scripts for a story I was developing at the time, and the relationship I was developing with another beautiful one while working in Bonny Island more than a decade ago crashed, because after texting her, I had to also explain my message to her each time we met. When I met a secondary school flame of mine (now married) with whom I’d previously lost all contact, about four years ago, she showed me a Christmas greeting card I sent her with a message written in my italicized handwriting twenty-three years back, that she had kept all the while. As for my wife, the advent of social media, from the platform Information and Communications Technology, ICT provided my words for her and vice versa, enabled every moment of it, and continues to strengthen our relationship.
One of the reasons I write, is because I’m aware that above all methods chosen by man to be immortalized, it remains the most enduring. Societies that have defied time and extinction, even when they vanished, were those that wrote, and to some extent, those whose art survived the times. My findings about what having and living with a case of lethologica entails, including its far-reaching effects and consequences have now made it all the more imperative that I write more, as, if what I fear is to come to pass, I may not really have that much time to continue to explore this hobby, with my cognitive abilities always intact and in form as it is now, or used to be, to it’s fullest for a lifetime. Even though I dread what may lie ahead, I do not intend to willingly submit myself to that untoward eventuality without a fight, but if it finally subdues me, I hope I would’ve laid down enough not just to remind myself of these days, but to give others including my progenies a glimpse into the life I lived, and the times in which I lived.
MY CASE OF LETHOLOGICA https://madukovich.wordpress.com/2018/12/21/my-case-of-lethologica/
Published by m'khail madukovich