I wrote a blog on how I have been suffering with memory loss in recent years. Imagine my surprise to learn about a man who makes me look like someone with a photographic memory. I have never met him, just read about him as KH. But, even if I had, he wouldn’t remember me. If I met him every day for a year, he still wouldn’t remember. I’ve had a similar effect on attractive young man in the past, but KH is an elderly gentleman with the unique problem.
KH had experimental surgery to control epileptic seizures a few decades ago. It happened back when the medical establishment was willing to take risks with people’s brains until the risk of lawsuits taught them to curtail their adventurousness. They removed tissue shaped like a wishbone, ironically, from KH’s brain. The good news – his seizures ceased. The bad news – KH wouldn’t be able to remember from one day to the next if they had. You see, he is complete unable to keep any new memory.
He can remember most things that happened to him before the surgery: the people he knew, the skills he learned, American history, etc. Yet he cannot remember anything that happened since his surgery. If he met me a week ago and again yesterday we would have to be re-introduced today. By afternoon, he cannot remember what happened in the morning.
Scientists and psychologists would likely give their eyeteeth to work with this guy. He is such a rare and fascinating study. It is rather fortunate that this man is so valuable to research because the scientific community will ensure he is well taken care of. Otherwise, how could be on his own?
Can you imagine? He can’t learn anything new. Talk about being computer illiterate! He could never deposit money. He’d have to have the same bank and same account number as he had before the operation. If the building was torn down and he started a new account somewhere else, as soon as he walked out of the building he’d forget he’d ever been there. I thought I had trouble remembering my pin number but he wouldn’t remember from one day to the next that instant teller’s even exist.
Any foods that he hadn’t tried before the operation would be new to him every time he tasted them. If you asked if he liked tofu for example and he hadn’t tasted it before the surgery, he would have to say he didn’t know even if you offered it to him every day for the rest of his life. If he got on an elevator by himself, would he remember which button to press – and if he did, when he arrived at the floor would he remember where he was going? Talk about the twilight zone.
Imagine turning on the television news in the morning and learning every day for the first time that Madonna wrote a book., Michael Jackson is a grown man, maybe, the space shuttle is launching, and Elvis is dead or working at a nearby gas station.
How could he move to a new house? Every morning, he would wake up in a strange environment. He would have an excellent reason not to be able to find a pen or his keys. He’d have to search every time he needed to go to the bathroom. Would he be able to find his way back to the bedroom? He better not go past the front steps since he wouldn’t know his phone number or his address.
What if someone fell in love with him? Each day they would have to start their relationship from scratch. Out of sight would be truly out of mind. At least he wouldn’t hold anything against her. He won’t remember any of her mistakes. He would also have an advantage over most men, A solid excuse for forgetting her birthday. On the other hand, his wife could say, “Honey I haven’t bought any new clothes in ages” and he’d have to believe her. She never have to complain of a headache. She could just say, “Darling we just did and you were so terrific I’m totally drained.”
I found this short report on KH ‘s life so fascinating that I decided to research him at the library. I searched the periodical indexes for the last 15 years under amnesia, memory, brain surgery, mind, and epilepsy, I couldn’t find a single article that mentioned him. I looked through books and similar topics. Nothing, absolutely nothing. It looks as though everyone has forgotten about KH. Oh well, quid pro quo.
Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News,
February 21, 1993
George Wing also must have found this topic interesting since he wrote the wonderful screen play Fifty First Dates based on this type of brain injury.