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Monday, May 17, 2010

I count frogs



I count frogs... Really!

No, I am not hallucinating, and I am not talking about lime Jell-O jigglers. I really do count frogs. The live hoppy kind. I have counted frogs for a long time. There are many of us frog counters out there. If you have doubts, check out the USGS Amphibian Monitoring web site.

Amphibian populations worldwide are declining, and this is one of many programs monitoring populations over time to try to help figure out why. So far there are several theories, but nothing conclusive.

A friend and I have been counting frogs along the same mile long stretch of ditches and vernal pools almost every Friday night for about 10 years. There is no better way to spend an evening than out for a walk in a secluded park after dark. That is nature at its best.

Now before you get a picture of me with a big pile of frogs, sitting there in a swamp, swatting bugs and counting... one... two... three... as I toss each frog back into the muck, I better explain. We do not count the frogs we see or catch, we count the frogs we hear. The males of each frog species have a distinctive call. As we walk along the path shortly after the sun goes down, the frogs start calling, and we count the individual calls as we walk along. We record how many we hear of each different species.

I noticed the past few Fridays it is slightly more difficult to discern the different frog calls. I can still hear them all just fine, but when there is a series of 10 or more different individuals calling, I have trouble keeping track of them. I never noticed that I had any difficulty before. This is something new, and I suspect related to my bvFTD. (Maybe it is more accurate to say it is newly noticed rather than just new.) My guess is that this is another artifact of difficulties with working memory. You have to store the first frog's calls and locations as you go. Even in the quiet, dark, and secluded environment of the outdoors at night, it is more difficult to do.

The work around is naturally to go slower, and count the individual frogs in smaller bunches. I now top out at around six. After that I get all mixed up. I also have to start over a few times, but that is not really a problem when the frogs are calling every few seconds, and I am only counting them to six.

To keep a running count, we record hash marks by fives on the count sheet and total them up later. I am sure everyone knows IIII would be 4, and to make it 5 you make a diagonal hash across them. Simple. I noticed last Friday that I could easily count them up and add them by the groups of 5, but when there were a few extra ones left over I had difficulty. This is similar to the difficulty I described with mental arithmetic and working memory. I have trouble remembering the five count long enough to count up and add the single ones left over.

Again, I think this is an artifact of working memory. I have to remember the result of counting by fives, and then add the few extra hash marks. I could do it without too much difficulty, but I am sure my friend holding the flashlight noticed me hesitating as I totaled up the counts on the sheet. It took me by surprise, and was a little embarrassing. It has been going on for a long time, but I never noticed it before. I seem to be able to count by 5's just fine. Apparently counting and adding are different..

On Saturday I was taken out to lunch by a loving friend. The first thing I had to do was ask the waitress to lower the blind on the window because the bright sunlight glaring in was hugely annoying. I should have had her lower it all the way because the traffic I could still see moving by was a constant distraction, and I kept looking out the window and drifting away a few seconds as we were talking. I kept catching myself doing it, and hoped it wasn't noticed and taken as me being bored by the conversation.

We were seated in a corner of an empty room so it was otherwise quiet with very few distractions. I enjoyed the lunch immensely, and we had a very nice long conversation. I was instantly ready to leave when a group was seated at a nearby table with several loud and ill-behaved children. It sounded like there were about 30 of them, but I think it was only about 5 or so. They were behind me so I could not see them, but I sure could hear them.

Now, I understand kids will be kids, but there is no excuse for taking children out to eat when they have no idea how to behave in a restaurant. There is no place for screaming and yelling little brats. They were so distracting that they are all I can remember from the time we were seated until we moved. If my children ever behaved like that in a restaurant... well, they never did, at least not for long.

Once we moved to a quieter location in the restaurant, I was fine again. I was really tempted to unload on the adults for disrupting our lunch, but I was able to refrain. I am thinking in the future I will be unable to stop myself from giving them a small piece of what little mind I may have left. I shall have no guilt when it happens, and I hope I really let whoever it is have it. I just hope I really have a reason.

Now, I have never liked children in a restaurant who are disruptive and do not know how to behave. In the past they were an annoyance. On Saturday they were a total distraction, and a bigger annoyance.

I believe this slight change is a manifestation of some of the complex of symptoms associated with Dysexecutive Syndrome. Maybe the escalation of the level of annoyance is tied to emotions, but the inability to concentrate when there are a lot of distractions to me seems to fit changes to my executive functions.

The irony is not lost lost on me that eventually I myself may be the annoying distraction to someone else in a restaurant. By that time, I doubt I will be frequenting many restaurants.

On Sunday I decided not to mow the lawn, or do anything else constructive. This is always an easy decision for me to make - especially now. I did force myself to get out for a walk in the park to enjoy the beautiful weather. I ran into an old friend from work with his grandson, and we poked around together for a couple hours. After they left I continued my meanderings until I was getting very tired.

As I was leaving I remembered that a group of volunteers would be arriving to monitor the critters living in a nearby vernal pool. I decided to wait the few minutes more, and stop by to say hello before leaving the park.

I met up with the group, and made my greetings, though by that time I was exceedingly tired. There was someone there who I had not seen in over a year, and we stood aside for a awhile catching up. I noticed when talking that at times my speech was hesitant, and I frequently paused to search for a word. I think he noticed it a couple times as we spoke, but I am not sure. I certainly noticed. This is unusual for me, and except for searching for a word occasionally is not a daily occurrence. Usually my speech sounds pretty normal, at least it does to me. I have noticed on other occasions that my speech gets hesitant when I am very tired.

At the end of the day I can still count frogs, go out to lunch, and visit with friends. The differences in me caused by my bvFTD are so subtle under these circumstances a stranger would never have noticed, and even people who know me might not see them. The reason I am writing about them is because I noticed. I could see and feel the change in myself. I could tell something was just slightly changed.

That is how my bvFTD works. It has been a progression of ever so slight changes. It has been subtle. I never noticed a thing. Now that I have been made aware of it, I can see some of the changes. I do not think I would notice anything even now if I were not specifically attuned to try to document any changes. Some of the changes are apparent to others who know me. Most would go completely unnoticed by a casual acquaintance.


(I took the photos used above. The top is me and a Fowler's Toad. The middle is a Spring Peeper. The lower is a Grey Tree Frog.)

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