The beauty of pharma-controlled memory

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I had a surgical procedure a few months ago — I’m fine, thanks for asking — and the doctor explained that he would need to speak to me right before the operation. He planned to give me a sedative that would keep me awake, then wipe my memory clean. The drug induces “retroactive amnesia.”

All hail Big Pharma! What a gift: to control remembering and forgetting. What I wouldn't give to forget the Scott Walker presidential campaign. I'm sure most of America has easily forgotten the Wisconsin governor's 20-minute-long flirtation with presidential politics, without pharmaceutical intervention.

What about Carly Fiorina, and that endless debate about whether she destroyed Hewlett-Packard? (Of course she did.) What I wouldn't give to erase that horror from my memory.

It's a shame that the drugs I clamor for are usually available only in hospitals. It's almost worth booking an elective colonoscopy, just to get a Versed-induced memory cleanse. If they can clean out my gastrointestinal tract and flush the memory of those soft-spoken Ben Carson platitudes ("First of all, we have to understand how the Constitution works" blah blah blah) out of my synapses — that's a medical two-fer!


(Versed is one of several drugs that wipes out memory. What a shame that a classics major at Hoffman-LaRoche didn't think to name it Nepenthe, the wondrous "drug of forgetting" administered to the saddened Greeks in Book IV of the Odyssey. But I digress.)

We know the pharmaceutical elves can cook up almost anything. What about a drug that induces proactive amnesia? Instead of forgetting past events, you could inoculate yourself against remembering future events, like a hypothetical Donald Trump presidency. Or Bernie Sanders turning my summer house into a proletarian sanitarium.

Two terms of a lunatic presidency? Forget the drugs. Hemlock would be the rational choice there.

I worked for Business Week magazine for eight years, a period of my life I now call The Lost Weekend. (The magazine was a lot less readable than it is now, in part thanks to me.) So why live with those challenging memories? Whoosh! The Lost Weekend, lost forever.

Relationships? Don't get me started. I think I'd prefer to forget girlfriends four, five, and possibly — well, conventional repression has taken care of a lot of this recall already. In each instance, I am sure the feeling is mutual. Perhaps, Romeo-and-Juliet like, my former pals and I could take the fateful drug together.


As for sports memories, I would edit out most of them, with the exception of the 2004 Dave Roberts steal, and last year's Malcolm Butler interception at the Super Bowl.

I'd given anything to forget Bobby Clarke's vicious, premeditated slash on Team USSR's Valeri Kharlamov (the greatest hockey player who ever lived; sorry, Bobby) in the 1972 Russia-Canada series, but I realize that this 44-year-old memory seems like an antique now.

The Red Sox' last-place finishes during the last two years? Hook me up to the memory-erasing IV. Those Denver Broncos rushers swarming over the Patriots offensive line last month? To quote Adelaide from "Guys and Dolls": "It all seems a horrible dream." Let's get rid of these memories as quickly as possible.

The possibilities are endless. Suppose this column didn't measure up to your expectations. You could, for instance, take some latter-day Nepenthe and forget that you ever read it. Suppose this column didn't meet my own standards for readability? Theoretically, I could take a drug and forget that I ever wrote it.

What column?

Alex Beam's column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.