Page 8: Joe’s First Time in the Bathroom

Joe opened his eyes, staring straight ahead at the ceiling.  Today, just like yesterday after his ECT, Alice, the nurse, was there to raise his bed to a sitting position. 
“Time to wake up, Mr. Aden!  Enough rest for you!” bellowed Alice.

There was that person again.  Every time she talked it hurt Joe’s ears.  Joe didn’t have a word for what she sounded like, he just knew he didn’t like it when she talked.

Joe felt an enormous pressure around his stomach.  He took his hand and placed it over his lower belly and groaned.  

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” Alice asked.

Uncertain, Joe shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, either you do or you don’t!  Right in there,” the nurse pointed to the closed door in Joe’s room.  Joe didn’t move.  “Need help?  You need to ask,” Alice said impatiently. 
She took Joe’s arm and helped him get out of bed and led him over to the door. She opened the door and pointed to the toilet.  She backed out of the bathroom and closed the door.

Joe came out about 10 minutes later.  Alice was holding her clipboard, making notes on Joe’s chart.  “Did you urinate or have a bowel movement, Mr. Aden?”

Joe looked at Alice with a puzzled look on his face.

“Did you pee or poop?” 
“Don’t know.”

Thinking that Joe was just trying to be difficult, Alice went into the bathroom and looked in the toilet.  Clearly he did both, but she noticed that there was no toilet paper in the toilet.
“Mr. Aden, did you wipe? 


“Your butt?”

Joe didn’t understand. 
Alice shook her head in disgust.  “Did you wash your hands?”

“Wash my hands?”

Not knowing whether or not to be concerned or perturbed, Alice explained to Joe what he had just done and why it was important to wash his hands.  She finished with, “Don’t you normally wash your hands when you are done going to the bathroom?” 

“Don’t know, do I?”

What a smart aleck, Alice thought, and she quickly finished filling out Joe’s chart and left shaking her head.

Facts:  This whole posting is true, including the nurse, who Joe described as a “drill sergeant.”

Page Seven: Quiet, Shy Joe

Christa was worried.  She always worried about Joe.  Being the oldest, he had a special place in her heart.  Some people might have even called him “a momma’s boy.” 
It was true—she probably did baby Joe more than the rest of her five children.  She took special care to protect him from what happened that day.  She knew an accident like that could have an emotional impact on a child.  She just wanted Joe to know that he was loved and that it was an accident, something he had no control over. She thanked God every day that she only lost one child that day, not two.

As a young boy, Joe was shy.  He went to St. Mark’s Lutheran School in Elsmore, a small town about a mile from their farm.  The family was members of and attended St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, which was affiliated with the Missouri Synod, a synod that holds one of the most conservative theological teachings among Lutherans.  

Attending a small parochial school in a small town brought its challenges for Joe.  Joe only had five classmates in his grade—one other boy and four girls.  Joe and Ted never really got along.  Ted was outgoing and liked to always tease the girls.  Joe just stood and watched so he wouldn’t get into trouble.  The girls didn’t pay much attention to Joe either.  And, even though he worked hard at everything he did, Joe was just an average student.

Built big and strong, Joe was a hard worker on the farm.  He came home every day after school and went straight out to the barn or out to the field to help his dad.  After his chores were done, he came in the house and ate at least four helpings of food every night.  But at a height of 6’ 5”, and weighing 160 pounds, Joe stayed slim and trim all through high school.

Joe went to the public high school in 9th grade, and it seemed he had trouble making friends.  Christa blamed it on the fact that the public school kids didn’t like the kids that came from St. Mark’s.  Even though he was big, Joe’s quiet demeanor made him a target for relentless teasing from the other kids.  Christa remembered the night that the other boys beat up on Joe after the football game.  He never fought back.  He just came home with bruises and cuts.  Jealous, Christa thought, they were just jealous!   

Facts:  Joe went to a Lutheran school through grade 8, then attended public high school.  He was quiet and shy and picked on by the kids in public school, thought to be because of the animosity between the public and parochial school kids.  He was beat up after a football game.

Joe and the MN Vikings

Another loss for the Minnesota Vikings today.  Can we call it a year of rebuilding?  What was our excuse last year, and the year before that? (Oh yeah, we almost made it that year–key word, “almost.”)

Remember the good old days?  Bud Grant?  Four Super Bowl bids? (OK, we never won a Super Bowl.) Remember the Minnesota “Purple People Eaters” defensive front line?  One of those defensive linemen players has something in common with Joe, and it’s not that they both played at Soldier Field.

More to come on Joe’s football career in upcoming blogs.

Page Six

Christa waited for what seemed to be a lifetime for Joe’s psychiatrist to come and talk to her.  

“Mrs. Aden?  Good to see you again. I’ve just evaluated your son, and what he is experiencing is perfectly normal for this type of treatment. I assure you that the memory loss is short term.” 
“Right now his mind is trying to block out the past and the events in his life that brought him here in the first place.  As we discussed, he experienced a very traumatic experience for a young boy that he clearly has never dealt with emotionally.  As he continues with the remaining treatments, he will actually begin to regain the rest of his memory.  Successful electroconvulsive therapy, however, should block out those things in his life that were contributing to his depression, so our hope would be that the accident will be erased from his memory forever.”  
The psychiatrist continued to explain to Christa that Joe would continue to have the shock treatments every day until he had the full 12 treatments.  

Christa left the hospital trying to convince herself that the doctor was right.  After all, this was the Mayo Clinic.

What she didn’t know is that the psychiatrist felt the first treatment had been a failure, so he ordered a higher-than-normal intensity of treatment for the remainder of Joe’s electroconvulsive therapy.  He reasoned that perhaps it was because of Joe’s unusually large size that the first treatment didn’t seem to work as well as it should have.

Facts:  Joe did receive his electroconvulsive therapy at the Mayo Clinic.  Stories relayed to me indicated that Joe did receive a higher “dosage” than normal because of his size.

Continuing the Story with Page Five

When Joe woke up, he gazed around the room.  Unlike yesterday, he was at least cognizant of his surroundings.  He saw a woman sitting in the chair next to his bed, but he had no idea who the woman was.

“Good morning, Mr. Aden,” the nurse said cheerfully as she came into the room.  “How are we feeling today?”

Joe just starred at her.  He wasn’t sure how he was feeling today or what he was feeling today.  He wasn’t sure where he was or why he was there.  And, he sure didn’t know who that lady was in the chair next to him.
“Joey, are you OK?” Christa asked.  “How do you feel?”
Why was everyone asking him how he felt?  Why was it he couldn’t remember where he was?  Joe searched for the words, and he finally muttered them out of his mouth, as he looked at the woman in the chair, “Who…are…you?  Where…am…I?”

“Joey, it’s Mom. You’re in the hospital.  You need to get better, remember?”  Joe slowly shook his head, no.  He didn’t remember her.  He had no clue who she was.

Joe looked up at the board on the wall.  There were letters written in black.  Joe forced the words out of his mouth, “What does…that…say?” 

“Joe.  That’s your name.  It says, Joe,” the nurse answered.

“I don’t know no Joe,” Joe replied.

Christa couldn’t believe what she was witnessing.  Not only didn’t Joe know her, he didn’t know himself either.  He couldn’t even read his name on the board.

“When will the doctor be here?” Christa asked urgently.

“Dr. Spitzack should be coming around shortly.  Maybe you could wait in the visiting room?  I think maybe Joe just needs some time to rest and figure out what is going on,”  the nurse said reassuringly.
Christa slowly walked out of Joe’s hospital room looking straight ahead to the door. As she was ready to open the door, she turned her head slowly back around to look at Joe.  This full-grown, slightly graying 40-year-old man looked like a lost and helpless little boy.  Choking back the tears, she said, “I love you, Joey.  Momma loves you.”

Facts:  Joe did not recognize his mother after the first shock treatment that he had.  He also did not recognize or know his name.

Remembering Life and Death

Joe’s earliest memory goes back to when he was 40, after his electroconvulsive therapy.  One of those first memories was holding his newborn nephew.  For Joe, it was the first baby he ever held, or even saw, because he didn’t remember other babies that he might have held or seen.  He didn’t remember other nieces and nephews being born or how it felt to be an uncle several times over.  He only knew how he felt for the first time, at the age of 40, to be the proud uncle of baby Jason.
Today marked the end of that beginning and created a new kind of memory for Joe–the memory of someone dying. Joe’s 18-year-old nephew was killed in a roll-over crash last Wednesday evening.  The Celebration of his Life and subsequent burial was today.  Another tragic accident for this family; another life cut way too short; another child taken away from his/her parents.  
The birth of a child, the beginning of a memory.  May the all the wonderful memories of joy and happiness that Jason’s life brought to Uncle Joe and the rest of his family never be erased.

Author’s Dilemma

As you may have noticed, the last four entries (Page One, Two, Three, Four) are all excerpts from the book, Blank Pages.  During the process, I have changed the names of our main characters to protect their identity.  You most likely have also seen my disclaimer regarding parts of the story being “fictionalized.”

Such is my dilemma as the author of this book.  Joe’s story is one of the most interesting stories that I have ever heard told.  There are several books that have been written by people who have undergone ECT and suffered memory loss (Shock, by Kitty Dukakis; On the Sea of Memory, by Jonathan Cott, Doctors of Deception, by Linda Andre), however nothing as severe as Joe experienced.  My blogs will continue to divulge just how severe Joe’s memory loss was–and of course, Blank Pages, will tell the whole story.

But it’s not only Joe’s unfortunate memory loss that makes his life noteworthy.  Discovering who Joe was and what his life was prior to his shock treatments is also an amazing story.  In interviewing friends and family for this book, it has been difficult to piece together Joe’s life.  Everyone has had a different recollection of the past 50+ years.  There are some facts that can be substantiated or documented; others are assumptions by those involved.  For example, Joe’s sister really did suffer a tragic accident when she fell off of a grain elevator.  However, looking for apples on the tree was Christa’s (the mother) assumption as to why the children were on the elevator–an assumption that cannot be documented because his sister did not survive the accident, and Joe’s memory cannot be trusted to remember it correctly.

Moving forward, I will document at the end of each blog presumed facts based on interviews with Joe, his family and his friends.  I do not want the reader to wonder which parts of the story have been “made up” and which are real, because if you had to guess, you would probably be wrong.  Joe’s story is incredibly interesting and unusual, so I want the reader to know for sure what actually happened versus what I have sensationalized to not only enhance the story, but to make up for missing facts and discrepancies in people’s memories.

I appreciate everyone’s support and wonderful feedback.  Keep reading and pass on the blog to others to enjoy!

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