Page 21: Black & White

Dr. Spitzack came into the room to say goodbye to Joe and to give Christa some last instructions on Joe’s care.  “Now Joe will need to still come in for therapy three times a week,” Dr. Spitzack instructed.  “He needs to continue his speech therapy, and we do have a tutor who will continue working with him to help him with his general knowledge–kind of a high school refresher course. If you have any questions once you get Joe home, please don’t hesitate to call me.”

“OK,” Christa said. “And you are sure that Joe will regain his memory?”

“Absolutely!” Dr. Spitzack said with confidence.  “Remember, we have found no reason for his memory loss.  Joe will remember as soon as he wants to.”

Meanwhile Joe had been looking outside his door into the hallway and concentrating on something he had never seen before.  Just like everything Joe had never seen before, it scared him.

“Hey, doctor,” Joe called.

Dr. Spitzack turned his attention away from Christa.  “Yes?”

“What’s wrong with him–by the door?”

Dr. Spitzack and Christa both looked into the hallway.  They saw one of the other psychiatrists on staff talking with a nurse.

“Wrong? That’s Dr. Hunt.  There’s nothing wrong with him.” Dr. Spitzack said quizzingly.

“His skin…not like you and me.”  

Dr. Spitzack seemed irritated.  “Joe, Dr. Hunt is African American.  He’s black.  You and I are white.  He just has a different skin color.”

“I’ve never seen that.” Joe said.

“Joe, you’ve never seen a black person before?”  Mr. Spitzack asked.
“Don’t know.  Don’t think so,” Joe said innocently.  “Scares me, though.”  

Joe made a mental note, refilling another page, “Black and white.  I’m white.  He’s black.  Nothing to be scared of.”

FACT:  The first time Joe saw a black person, he was afraid of that person.

Page 20: Joe is Going Home

It had been four weeks since Joe was admitted to the psychiatric ward at Mayo Clinic.  During the last week, Joe started working with therapists to begin helping him relearn basic cognitive and motor skills.

A speech therapist met with him everyday and showed him words, the letters that made up the words, how to pronounce the words, and then showed him the word in the dictionary and read what the word meant.  To Joe, the word was much like his memory.  It existed, but the meaning was void.

Christa still came everyday, too, bringing with her photo albums and visitors of friends and family.  Joe showed interest in the pictures and the visits, but again, just like his memory, they had no context or meaning.  None of it generated any type of feeling or emotion in Joe.  

There was one thing that did generate a feeling inside of Joe, though.  Tessie.  He saw her every day.  Sometimes when he was sleeping and sometimes when he was awake.  Even though he didn’t remember his family or friends, he knew Tessie.  He knew she was his sister.  He knew what a sister was.  And, every time he saw her, he saw himself as a little boy, too.  He saw her fall.  He saw her hurt.  And he saw himself just stand there doing nothing. He saw her say it was his fault.  Every day, this is what he saw.  It wouldn’t go away.

Today, Joe was finally going to go home.  Christa showed up right at noon to pick Joe up.  He was ready and waiting.  As she walked into the room, Joe said, “Hi Mom.”

Christa never thought she would ever hear him call her “Mom” again.  While it meant so much to Christa, it had no meaning to Joe.  “Mom” was just a word that he was told to call this person–the person that had been by his bedside every day for the last four weeks.  He had no knowledge of what a “mom” was or no recollection of what important role his “mom” had played in his life the last 40 years.

FACTS:  Joe did work with therapists to regain speech and learning.  Joe had visions and nightmares of Tessie and the accident frequently.  It was the only thing he remembered.

Page 19: From Football to Basketball

Christa began paging through her photo albums.  She must piece together as much of Joe’s life as she could and talk to him every day about the pictures and what was going on in his life at the time.
She came upon the newspaper clipping she had saved from Joe’s high school basketball days.  

“Aden Selected for All-Star Team,” the header read, his high school graduation picture displayed directly under the header.  Joe was the only player from Elsmore to make the all-star team his senior year and all of the other players were from the bigger city high schools.  

Just like football, Joe waited until his junior year to go out for basketball.  His football coach encouraged him.  “Someone your size can only be an asset to our basketball program,” Coach Larson had said.

While Joe may have been tall, his size made him a bit uncoordinated and he spent most of the games sitting on the bench.  Frustrated over never being able to play, Joe finally asked his coach one night after practice what he needed to do in order to start.  “Aden,” he said, “just try a little harder and maybe you can start.”

From that day on, Joe worked harder than he ever had before.  The other boys on the team continued to pick on him, just like they had ever since Joe came to Elsmore High.  They knew they could get away with their teasing, because Joe never did anything back to them.  He just took it all in and walked away.

But now Joe was determined to show them.  Just like he showed them in football.  He was going to get a starting spot on the basketball team.  

Sure enough, three weeks later, Joe came home after school, all excited, “Guess what, Mom?”

“What?” Christa replied.

“Guess what? Just guess what?” he said beamingly.

“What?” Christa knew it must be something big.

“Just guess!”

Christa was getting impatient, “WHAT?”

“I’m starting tonight,” Joe said proudly.

It meant so much to him.  And from that game on, Joe started and played every game.  While he wasn’t much of a shot, he became the team’s best defensive player and led the team in rebounding.  And, that’s why he made the all-star team.

Facts:  Joe didn’t start playing basketball until his junior year, and he did ask the coach what he needed to do to start.  Joe was selected to be on WCCO’s All-Star team.

Page 18: Is Joe Faking his Memory Loss?

“Hello?” Christa asked, hoping that she would hear Dr. Spitzack’s voice on the other end of the telephone.

“Mrs. Aden, this is Dr. Spitzack.  I’m returning your call.”

“Thank you,” Christa said with a sense of relief. “Dr. Spitzack,” Christa continued, “I’m a little concerned about the memory loss that Joe is having.  I understand that short-term memory loss is common with ECT, but it seems that Joe’s memory loss is more substantial.  Every day I go to visit him, he still doesn’t remember me or any of our family.  I bring photos, and he doesn’t remember anything.  Then today, one of the nurses told me that he didn’t even remember how to go to the bathroom or how to eat his food.”

Dr. Spitzack was silent for a moment.  “Mrs. Aden, I’ve observed this behavior in Joe as well, and I have every reason to believe that Joe has what we call a conversion disorder.”

“Conversion disorder?” Christa asked. “Can you explain?”

“Well, that’s just it.  There really is no explanation for a conversion disorder.  It typically happens as a result of a traumatic event in someone’s life.  For example, some people might experience pain in their leg or arm, even though there is no medical reason for the pain.  The anxiety that they are experiencing as a result of that traumatic event is converted into a ‘fake’ physical condition.”

“In Joe’s case,” the doctor continued, “the traumatic event of his sister’s death has resulted in a conversion disorder, but instead of experiencing a pain in his leg,  Joe seems to have lost his autobiographical memory.”

Christa needed clarification.  “What do you mean by autobiographical memory?”  
“One’s autobiographical memory is made up of all the events in one’s life that makes them who they are–personal experiences, people, events, general knowledge and facts about the world in which they live.  That’s why Joe doesn’t seem to know what things are or how to do something.  All the things that have made up his life for the past 40 years are essentially gone from his memory.”

“And never to return?” Christa asked fearfully.

“It’s still there, Joe is just suppressing it right now–like the ‘fake’ pain in the leg,” Dr. Spitzack tried to explain.

Puzzled, Christa asked, “So he’s faking his memory loss?”

“Since we can’t find evidence of any serious or significant brain problems, and there is no explanation for his memory loss…yes.”

Fact:  According to Joe & his family, the doctor thought he was “faking” his memory loss and he was termed as having a “conversion disorder” and was told that he had lost his “autobiographical memory” as a result of the conversion disorder. 
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