When I first learned about this guy, his story stuck with me for ages. His name is Clive Wearing.
When he was 47 years old, Clive got a virus that attacked his central nervous system. It literally made holes in his brain and destroyed his memory. He can only recall the last few minutes. After that, his memory resets and everything around him is new again. Every conscious moment is like waking up for the first time. It’s like waking up with amnesia. Over and over and over again.
His diaries are filled with pages like this:
8:31 AM: Now I am really, completely awake.
9:06 AM: Now I am perfectly, overwhelmingly awake.
9:34 AM: Now I am superlatively, actually awake.
He writes a line and then crosses it out minutes later, convinced he was unconscious when he wrote it and he is only now, truly awake. It must be so scary and confusing. And completely frustrating.
The weird thing is he can remember some things: music and love. He remembers how to play the piano and he recognises his wife Deborah. Every time she walks into the room he greets her as though he hasn’t seen her for ages. He runs to her and showers her with hugs and kisses, even if she only left for a few short minutes.
His wife must be the most dedicated and patient person on the face of the planet. She tried to run away 9-years after the illness struck. She even divorced him and moved to America. But she couldn’t stay away. The pair have since renewed their vows and though Clive lives in a care house, Deborah continues to visit him regularly and love him deeply.
Clive Wearing is 74 years old now. His wife says his condition has improved over the years. He’s calmer now, remembers some things. But for the last 27 years he’s been stuck in limbo. He knows nothing of his past. He knows nothing beyond the last 3 minutes. Memories are an anchor. Without memories, what are we?
Oliver Sacks wrote this about another man with severe amnesia:
‘One tended to think of him, instinctively, as a spiritual casualty – a lost soul. Was it possible that he had really been “de-souled” by the disease?’
I don’t have the most brilliant memory at all (I write lists, lots and lots of lists). But I do remember the things that count. My first kiss. Christmas eve as a kid. The taste of Nana’s buns. Seeing Foo Fighters live…..
Anyway, Clive Wearing’s story is incredible. Check out these clips on YouTube.