How good are you at spinning plates? I’m terrible! Everyone has to learn to a certain extent but for those recovering from a neurological trauma it is a skill they may not regain and have to use a strategy to overcome. Of course I don’t mean literally like in a circus I mean metaphorically; I’m talking about divided attention! A circus plate spinner must attend to each of the plates they are spinning because if they ignore one then they will fall and smash!
Divided attention or multitasking is something that can become virtually impossible after a brain injury…. Have you made the joke yet girls…?! Go on say it, you know you can’t help it! The joke of course is something along the lines of “Well you’re a man and men can’t multitask anyway!”
Well actually nobody can multitask, that is do two things at once! What you are referring to, which admittedly women tend to be better at (according to them! haha), is switching their attention between two or more different tasks and back again to complete two or more tasks simultaneously. I was always pretty bad at this but since my brain injury I am shocking. I’ve learnt that I can only concentrate on one thing and even that is only if I’m feeling quite fresh!
A more advanced example of multi tasking would be reading a holiday catalogue whilst watching a tv program. Managing to compare conflicting hotels in Kos whilst managing to watch, but not allowing yourself to be distracted by the latest 90s celebrity in Ant and Dec’s jungle attempt to revive their career by valiantly munching on a wombat’s willy!
However after a brain injury a patient can have difficulties with something as seemingly simple as eating their breakfast and watching TV, especially in the early days. Whilst this probably seems difficult to believe to anybody with a healthy brain but think about it watching TV and eating are in fact two separate tasks. A baby would struggle to do this the first times they attempt it and will probably end up covered in food that is because they are just learning and after a brain injury that person is re-learning.
One of the first times I can remember addressing this problem was when I was in Trafford Hospital in the summer of 2007 and I was set the task of cooking a breakfast; grilling bacon, heating beans, frying an egg and making toast. I of course had nothing to worry about for I had been a proud Beaver, Cub and Scout of the 1st Scarborough Scout Troup. In amongst the silverware from my glittering career was a Home Help badge proudly sewn upon my sleeve by… ahem by my nana! This was earned for the preparation of a cooked breakfast with military precision!
I set out to take them to school:
Bacon was under the grill
Beans in the pan and on the heat
Toast was down leaving me just the egg to fry
Fat in the pan
The egg goes in…
Should have heated the frying pan and melted the fat before the egg went in but no worries it would heat…
I was doing it at the same time as this guy from my ward that really irritated me, I’ll call him Harry! After Harry’s discharge from hospital he said he was going up to London to live with his sister!
Up to London?! Don’t you mean ‘Down’ you berk! He’d try and tell me how to do things and it used to really annoy me, what would I need to learn from a guy who didn’t know that Manchester was north of London?! So irritating!
The toast popped up! I
t wasn’t quite done so it went back down I would just pop it up again in a 30 seconds or so as that was all it required.
Oh well I wanted it over easy anyway… whatever that means?!
The bacon was smoking!
Best turn that over
Now the beans are boiling over, just turn them down
Oh no I never took the egg off the heat!
Oh well I liked rubbery eggs anyway
Now the other side of the bacon was burning
I forgot about the toast that was now black.
The pride of The 1st Scarborough Scout Troop was in tatters! I was qualified, I had a badge sewn onto the sleeve of my scouts jumper to prove it, oh the shame! So what happened?
If you compare making breakfast to the circus act of spinning plates on top of poles, the plate spinner has to watch all 4 simultaneously attending to each one to make sure they keep spinning and that they don’t fall and smash. I tried to spin 4 plates (toast, bacon, beans and egg) at once when I can’t even manage two that’s what! I would have difficulty concentrating on frying an egg at this stage. If you add in making toast, heating beans and grilling bacon, I became overloaded, smashed plates everywhere!
The egg was far from over easy (I still don’t know what that means)! The bacon and toast burnt and the beans boiled dry! Further still I was also distracted by the annoyance of a man who thinks you go up to London not to mention the pressure of carrying the pride of the first Scarborough Scout Troop on my shoulders, it proved to be too much and I crumbled under the pressure!
I hope you enjoyed this story, I have more to say about Plate Spinning but I worry that anybody’s attention won’t be able to withstand more of my stupid stories and metaphors in the same blog post! So I’ll leave it here for now and be back for part 2 soon! If you can relate to divided attention problems please comment – I’d love to hear your own stories and comments!