Scary as it may sound, a man in the UK was left with a 90-minute memory after a dental operation which he underwent more than a decade ago, while he was still in the military and stationed in Berlin. The man now wakes up every day thinking he is 38 years old, and has a dental appointment.
Back in March 2005, the patient, nicknamed William in the initial report, went to a dental appointment for a painful, yet routine intervention: root-canal treatment. After the procedure had been done, the dentist had asked him to take his black protective glasses off. That’s when it occurred to the doctors that something was wrong. His paleness struck them, and they called his wife, who took him to the hospital.
In the hospital, not much could be done for him, so, after three days, they sent him back home. The initial idea that the doctors had was that, somehow, the man had an unusual response to the anesthetic – the logical conclusion for the dentist – and somehow developed brain hemorrhage. The usual cause of amnesia, or other disorders like it, is direct trauma to the brain. There number of cases in which the patient suffers memory loss without any kind of brain damage are extremely few, and true medical oddities.
That is in point of fact, the main issue that Dr. Gerald Burgess, the man who has had the privilege, he says, to have worked on such a fascinating yet problematic, and scary case. Burgess has sifted through countless medical logs searching for patients which had had the same problem, and what had been done for them.
His unsuccessful attempt at finding enough research on the condition prompted him to create his own study, which was published in the Neurocase journal just this week. Through this detailed study of William’s brain and its disorder, Burgess hopes to encourage other doctors to reach out to him and provide him with personal experience with this type of condition.
The main issue with William’s problem is that it’s not a typical amnesia, but a type of “anterograde amnesia” – i.e. when the patient fails to remember anything that happened between a fixed point in his past and the present. This is similar to the famous case of Henry Molaison, yet the latter’s condition had been caused by brain surgery. William cannot remember skills learned after the incident, although skills are remembered by a completely different part of the brain.
Still, there’s one more fact about William, who struggles to go on with the help of his wife, his children, and his smartphone (all invaluable in his present state). William can remember one thing: his father’s death. He cannot remember the details about the funeral, he cannot remember when it happened, he can’t even remember the ages of his children. Still he remembers this positively traumatic event of his parent’s passing vividly. This can be a new object of research even for trauma studies. But it’s clear that until then, many-a doctor will be baffled by this strange and spooky, movie-like case.
Image source: bbc.co.uk