Page 23: Joe and Michael Jordan

Joe tried to rest, but he was finding it difficult to relax.  He kept seeing himself and Tessie playing in the apple orchard.  The visions and the nightmares wouldn’t stop.  He told Dr. Spitzack about them, but he said eventually they would go away.  Why did he have to remember this, when he couldn’t remember anything else?

Joe’s sister, Sharon, poked her head into Joe’s room.  “Joe, you alright? Mom said you had a rough time at the grocery store.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Joe said.  “Sharon, do you see Tessie or is it just me?”

“Joe, you know Tessie is gone, and she ain’t comin’ back.  It’s OK, it was an accident,” Sharon decided to try and get Joe’s mind off of everything that was bothering him.  “Hey, let’s go for a walk, come on….”


Joe reluctantly got up and put his shoes on.  “Sharon, can you help me tie my shoes?  They showed me in the hospital, but I can’t quite get it.”

Sharon got down on her knees and tied Joe’s shoes for him.  Being seven years younger than her big brother, it was ironic that Sharon was helping Joe tie his shoes.  Just as a mother would teach her little child how to tie a shoe, so Sharon explained the process to Joe. 
“Now, let’s go!”  Out the door the two of them went and they started walking down the driveway and then up the hill on the gravel road that traveled past their house.  “Let’s talk about something that’s fun,” Sharon said enthusiastically.  “How about Michael Jordan?”  Sharon remembered how much Joe loved Michael Jordan.  Joe thought they were “soul brothers” because they had the same birthday, February 17th.  Sharon sometimes secretly wondered if the fact that Michael Jordan retired from basketball to play minor league baseball contributed to some of Joe’s depression. 

Joe didn’t say anything, so Sharon just kept on talking.  As Sharon rambled on and on, Joe stopped dead in his tracks, falling to his knees, shaking his head and clenching his fists.  “Stop, stop!”

“Joe, what’s wrong?” Sharon urgently asked.

“I don’t know who…who did you say?  Michael Jordan?  I don’t know who Michael Jordan is!” Joe was frustrated.  “Don’t you understand? I don’t know…I don’t know…I don’t know anything!”

Sharon dropped to the ground and knelt next to Joe.  “Joe, I’m so sorry.  I thought maybe you would start to remember if I told you all about him.  I’m so so sorry that I upset you.”

Facts:  Joe kept seeing visions and dreaming about Tessie and the accident.  Joe and Michael Jordan share the same birthday.  Michael Jordan was Joe’s hero.
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Page 22: Watermelon

Joe saw lots of things on the drive back to Elsmore, none of which were familiar to him, all of which he was afraid of.  He saw big monsters in the field.  Sometimes they were red, sometimes they were green.  He later learned that these “monsters” were tractors and combines, things that he drove on a frequent basis when helping out his parents on the farm.

Christa decided to make a stop at the grocery store before going home.  She would have Joe pick out his favorite foods so that she could fix him the big meals like she used to.  When they arrived at the grocery store, Joe followed Christa in.  Once inside the store, Joe looked at all the different colors and sizes of items sitting on the shelves.

“Joe, would you grab me one of those watermelons?  You’ve always loved watermelon,” Christa said.

Joe looked confused.  He looked around, hoping that he would see something that he knew would be a watermelon.  But he didn’t.  “Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon….” he kept hearing the word over and over in his head until he felt like his head was spinning.  He knew he should know what a watermelon was.  His mom said he loved watermelon…but he didn’t know.  He just didn’t know!  He started to cry.

Christa had gone ahead with the cart, and when she realized that Joe wasn’t behind her, she turned around to see him standing there, frozen, his hands clenched at his side, tears streaming down his face.  “Oh goodness, Joe, what’s wrong?” 

Considerably upset, Joe quietly cried, “I don’t know…don’t know…what’s a watermelon?”  

Tears came to Christa’s eyes as well.  Joe didn’t even know what food was or what food he liked.  She showed him the watermelons.

Joe took his hands and felt the watermelon, and then he picked it up.  “How do you eat this?!”  he asked.
Christa explained that you cut it up, that it is pink inside and that you don’t eat the green shell.  “When we get home, I’ll show you, and you can have some.  You’ll remember when you taste it, I’m sure.”

Making the shopping trip shorter than she had intended so as not to frustrate Joe anymore, Christa quickly grabbed a few more items, checked out and left the grocery store, explaining her every move to Joe so that he would understand.

When they got home, she took the watermelon, cut it up into bite size pieces, put it into a bowl, and gave Joe a fork to eat it with.  He took a bite and chewed it slowly.  It’s what Joe did with every new food he ate, because even though he had eaten it many times before, he couldn’t remember, and he was afraid–afraid of the taste, afraid of what it might do to him.  He had to trust his mom, trust her that this was something he should eat and trust her that he would like it.

He decided he liked the watermelon and took another bite as he refilled his memory with the name and taste of more foods that he liked.

FACT:  Joe didn’t know what a watermelon was and experienced great frustrations over not knowing what certain foods were.

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. 

Memories of Joe & Winona State

As you read in the last posting, Joe played football for the Winona State Warriors in the fall of 1971.  Moon Molinari knew Joe’s high school football coach, and it was at his prompting that Joe decided to go to Winona State.  However, Moon retired before Joe actually got to play football that fall.

Joe’s head coach was Bob Keister, who had been the defense coach under Moon.  Keister was only 37 years old, and when he took on the responsibilities of the head coaching job, he totally revamped the staff.  It was a “young and energetic coaching staff.”

The Winona State Warriors had just come off of two losing seasons, and the the 1971 season wasn’t any better.  A young coaching staff and young players, including a freshman quarterback, the team was plagued with high-scoring shut outs and lots of injuries, including Joe.

Details of Joe’s playing career at Winona State are sketchy at best.  Joe’s head high school coach remembers Joe starting every game, but his senior “mentor” says that Joe didn’t start, but would be subbed in later in the games.  Joe’s “mentor” also said that he remembered Joe as being very shy and a goofball–much like his high school teammates remembered him.  His mentor said they had some great times together, and the one things that sticks out in his memory is the time that they played the University of Chicago at Soldier Field.  While they were in Chicago, they visited the top of the Sears Tower.  Joe was so scared to stand up that he crawled across the floor to the windows!  Since Joe was in Chicago with the team, we know that he was one of 25 traveling freshman for the team.

Stories are also sketchy as to how Joe really got hurt.  Some say it was during practice, some say that it was during a game, some say he hit a goal post.   Regardless, Joe was hit, or hit something, hard enough that it apparently caused his helmut to crack.  He suffered a severe concussion and was told he should never play football again.

Ironically, even though Joe must have been one of the 25 traveling freshman on the team, and is very well remembered by his senior mentor, Coach Keister had no recollection of Joe.  In fact, he put me in contact with several “Hall of Famers” from that year, and they also had no memory of Joe.  They only knew that he had played because they had a roster with Joe’s name on it.

And, an attempt to interview Moon Molinari, who was Joe’s first introduction to the team, was not possible either.  At the time this book was started, Moon was 91 years old and was in the hospital.  He passed away on October 20, 2011.


Page 17: Joe and the Winona State Warriors

Coach Larson told the Aden’s that Joe was good enough to play college football, and he knew the head coach at Winona State University in southeastern Minnesota.  Mr. Aden didn’t have much to say about Joe going to college.  He was afraid to lose Joe’s hard work around the farm, especially during the fall harvest. But Coach Larson convinced them that they had a one-of-a-kind football player on their hands and that they shouldn’t deny Joe this opportunity.  Who knows, maybe Joe could even play pro football one day.  He definitely had the size, strength and determination.  

Coach Larson took Joe down to Winona State that summer to meet with the head coach, Moon Molinari.  Moon had been the head coach for 12 years, since 1958.  His football teams ended up being the most successful in Winona State history, winning or tying five conference championships. 
Moon took one look at Joe, and said, “Now I know why you call him Moose.  Sign him up!” 

Facts:  Joe’s high school football coach did take him to Winona State University, and Moon Molinari was the head coach.  Joe did play football for the Winona State Warriors.

Page 16: Joe’s Connection to One of the MN Vikings

As soon as Christa arrived home, she called and left a message for Joe’s doctor to call her.  She needed to talk to him and find out why Joe’s memory was not coming back.

She waited patiently by the phone as she glanced through more photo albums, wondering which pictures she should pull out for tomorrow’s visit with Joe.

Ah, here we go, thought Christa, as she came upon a picture that she had taken after one of Joe’s football games.  Not until his junior year of high school did Joe decide to go out for the football team.  He was always needed at home for chores, but Joe’s dad had said if Joe could still get his chores done, he could play football.  Joe was determined that he could do both.  

Coach Larson saw him walk on the field that first day of practice, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Joe was white, he would have sworn that Carl Eller, then defensive end for the Minnesota Vikings and one of the infamous “Purple People Eaters,” had just walked on the field.  

Because of his size and similarities to Eller, Coach Larson put Joe as a defensive end.  By the end of practice, he could hardly contain his excitement.  It’s only once in a lifetime that a small-town high school football coach has the opportunity to have a player like Joe, he thought.  By the end of practice, Coach Larson had given Joe the nickname, “Moose,” the same nickname Carl Eller had.  

Facts:  Joe didn’t play football until his junior year.  His coach called him Moose (a nickname that stuck with Joe for the rest of his life) because of his similarities to Carl Eller.

Page 15: Another Accident

Christa thought about everything the nurse said on her drive back home.  She drove carefully along the winding roads that took her through the hills and valleys from Rochester to Elsmore, about a 30-minute drive.  The hillsides were all bright green with sprouts of corn and soybeans.  It was June, just as it had been when Tessie died.  

As she approached Harold Westerly’s farm, she remembered the day that Joe was taken by ambulance to the hospital.  Harold only had one eye–lost the other one in a farm accident.  He usually was pretty careful because he knew his vision was impaired, but for whatever reason he never saw Joe coming that day.  He pulled right out of the field with his tractor and Joe, going 55 miles per hour, didn’t have time to stop his Chevy S10 pickup.

Luckily, Harold was fine, but Joe got beat up pretty bad.  The front end of his truck told the story, and by the looks of it, it was a miracle that Joe only escaped with a broken jaw.

Christa received a call from the hospital emergency room, and by the time she got there, Joe was being released.  She barely recognized him, his face was so swollen and bruised.  The doctor said there was nothing wrong with him.  He had done an extensive evaluation and no broken bones or internal injuries. Thank goodness, Christa thought.

They got in the car, and Joe said he was hungry.  What else is new, Christa thought.  So they stopped and got a hamburger.  As they were walking to their table with the food, down went Joe to the floor, smacked his head good, out cold.  

Twice in one day, Joe was rushed by ambulance to the emergency room.  Only several hours after having left, a different ER doctor now determined that Joe was weak from the trauma of the accident, and that he had, in fact, broken his jaw.  He was in the hospital for three days.

Joe had months of physical therapy because of his broken jaw, but he wasn’t able to ever drink out of a glass again.  From then on, he always used a straw.   

As Christa reflected on those events that had happened three years earlier, she surmised that perhaps doctors are not always correct in their diagnosis–after all, the first attending physician didn’t notice that Joe’s jaw was broken. Maybe the nurse at the psychiatric ward was right.  Maybe Christa should tell them to stop the shock treatments.  Maybe Joe’s psychiatrist was wrong.  
FACTS:  Joe’s accident as recalled by his mother.  Joe always used a straw for drinking for many years after.
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