Lost

Was there a true psychological reason for losing stuff all the time?


I was late as usual and running out the door to start a week on hospital service. Coffee in one hand, a gym bag on my shoulder if I got lucky and finished in time, I was yelling downstairs to my daughter to hurry, hurry, hurry. She came out to the garage dragging her backpack, two swim bags, and a lunch bag behind her. “Let's go,” she said. “I don't want to be late.”

I jumped out of the car. “Just one more thing.” I ran back in to get my pager. Then I held up one finger and ran back in to the house to get the car keys.

Illustration by David Rosenman
Illustration by David Rosenman.

I started the car and had begun to pull out of the garage when my daughter asked me for $10 for a school event. I reached for my wallet. It wasn't there. Back in the house again, I checked the usual places—my key box, my dresser, the bathroom counter. Not there. Then I checked the unusual places—the kitchen counter, the closet, the refrigerator. Not there. I began to panic. I'd lost my wallet at least five times in my life and didn't want to make it an even half-dozen. I looked in the usual spots again.

I was getting frantic. When did I use it last? Buying sushi last night? At the grocery store? I visualized getting a new driver's license, all new credit cards. I thought about the $360 in cash and an uncashed check for $3,500 that would be gone forever. I checked all my sport coat pockets, the dirty wash, the drawers of my dresser (where I found a long-lost set of keys for a car I no longer owned).

I ran back out to the garage and checked under the seat, in the back seat, in the trunk. I felt reality collapsing around me. I'd have no ID card to park and I was going on service having to deal with lost items. I looked down in despair and there it was, lying on the floor behind my tire. What a bizarre place for my wallet to be hiding!

We pulled out of the garage again, 15 minutes after we first started. My daughter looked at me and mentioned with a healthy dose of teenage irony that it was a good thing she had hurried. And she needed $20, not $10.

I eventually dropped her off and headed to the hospital. There was road construction, and I had to take a detour. I reached for my phone to use the GPS, and it wasn't in my pocket. Where had I left it? When I got to the hospital, I saw my phone sitting on the seat behind me. Relief again.

I headed to the work room, which had just gotten a new lock after someone's stethoscope had disappeared. I'd misplaced the combination, and nobody was in there to let me in. Why was I always losing things? Was it adult attention deficit disorder? Was it that my brain was just functioning on too high a level, or too low? Or as my colleague suggested, did I just not have enough pockets?

I wondered if there was a true psychological reason for losing stuff all the time. Was I just not invested in my possessions, or was it depression? Was I just hopelessly disorganized? What strategies could I apply to combat this? Possibly I could get a Bluetooth sensor for my wallet and a tag for my keys. Or a checklist to run through every time I left the house. I tried a pocket-patting routine for a while—tapping my phone, keys, wallet, and pager in a specific order—but I found I was doing it all the time, and most people thought I was just losing my mind.

I looked up and saw a colleague walking down the hallway. She looked upset. I asked what was wrong, and she told me she had lost a patient. I felt sorry for her. I assured her that she was a great doctor and that I would entrust the lives of my family to her care. I told her I was sure she had done everything she could, but sometimes death is inevitable. She looked at me strangely and said, “My patient didn't die. I just can't find him. I think he might have gone down to X-ray.”

I decided it was time for me to get to work. Wait, where was my pager?