Could you imagine waking up, not knowing who you are or having lost literally years of your life? These are the stories of five people who suffered from strange cases of amnesia.
Amnesia is one of the greatest and most intriguing tropes in popular culture. Movies, books, series, music, no matter the medium we all love stories involving this brain condition that isn’t still fully understood by scientists. The fact that our brains are so complex and sensible is as scary as it is fascinating. If you thought these amnesia cases only appeared in stories, take a look at five people who all of a sudden, or due to a random disease, developed the strangest cases of this condition:
Clive Wearing - Brain infection
After being infected with Herpes Encephalitis in 1985, the British orchestra conductor Clive Wearing developed an amnesia that affected his short-term memory span. The infection affected his central nervous system, being the hypothalamus the one that got the worst part. As a result, he can’t create new memories; actually, his memory span lasts about 20 seconds, meaning that all his life is set in that amount of time. It’s like waking up every 20 seconds not knowing what just happened making his living quite difficult. According to neurologists and other specialists, Wearing’s case is extremely rare, since he has both retrograde and anterograde amnesia (the inability to create new memories). The first one is the loss of previous memories. However, he can remember certain things of his past, like playing the piano or being in love with his wife, although he doesn’t really recall marrying her.
Michael Boatwright - Swedish alter ego
Can you imagine waking up one day and being another person from another country you haven’t even visited? That happened to the 61-year-old Vietnam War veteran Michael Boatwright in 2013, after being found unconscious at a motel in Florida. When the authorities arrived after being notified about the unconscious man, they were able to identify him thanks to his ID and license. However, when he woke up in the hospital, he couldn’t really communicate with the hospital’s personal, since he didn’t understand English and could only talk in Swedish. Despite being born and raised in the US, Boatwright was sure he was a man named Johan Ek, so doctors believed he had amnesia induced by stress. According to one of his friends, he was desperately looking for a job after a nasty divorce, and he had come to the motel for an interview. The friend believed that the incident happened after being turned down by the owner of the motel. Not being able to fully recover his memory and identity back, he moved to Sweden and started a new life. Sadly, just some months after that, he was found dead. He had killed himself.
Naomi Jacobs - Fifteen again
Although this might sound like coming from a very funny comedy film, this happened to Naomi Jacobs, a British 32-year-old mother who, one good day of 2008, woke up in a place she didn’t know or remember, next to a young boy who claimed to be her son. Jacobs believed she was just a teenager, meaning that she had lost seventeen years of her memory. She believed everybody was playing her a mean and nasty trick until she saw herself in the mirror. Scared, she was taken to the hospital where she explained that her last memory had been going to bed in the room she shared with her sister. Specialists determined it was a dissociative amnesia caused by stress or trauma. Fortunately, this only lasted a couple of months and she went back to her normal life.
Patient WO - Amnesia induced by anesthesia
How terrible would it be to go to the dentist and end up enduring a terrible amnesia? That happened to William (no one really knows his last name or even if William is his real name), later known as Patient WO. In 2005, when he went to the dentist to get a root canal treatment, the dentist injected him with anesthesia, which made him fall asleep, something enviable if you ask me. However, when he woke up, his short-term memory was terribly affected; he could only remember what had happened for the last 90 minutes, and after that, it was like a reboot. His case is highly strange and specialists don’t even understand what happened, since he didn’t present any signs of brain damage. Their theory is that his brain endured a breakdown in the protein synthesis, affecting the hippocampal region, the one in charge of short-term memory, but all in all, his case is still a medical enigma.
Michelle Philpots - Knowing yourself every day
Could you imagine living the same day for the rest of your life? That’s what Michelle Philpot goes through every single day. As the real inspiration for Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s movie 50 First Dates, you can picture what happens with her. After hitting her head in two car accidents, Philpots developed anterograde amnesia, causing her to wake every morning believing it’s the day of the accident. Once she falls back into sleep at the end of the day, her brain erases everything that happened during the day. As it’s shown in the movie, Michelle’s husband has to show her every morning the photos of their wedding so that she knows they’re married. Moreover, he puts post-its all over their house so she knows who she is, as well as important events of her life over the years.
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Images by @drelladarko