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.

Page 14: The Truth about Joe’s ECT

“Mom, I had no idea,” Don said as they were making their way from Joe’s room to the elevator of the hospital.  “This is normal?”

“Yes, that’s what his doctor keeps telling me.  They’re the professionals.  They must know what they are doing.  Short-term…that’s what they keep saying, short term.”

“But why did he still remember Tessie?” Sharon asked.

“Well, that’s the memory the doctor said that he needs to forget, so I’m guessing that’s why he still needs to keep getting these shock treatments…until he doesn’t remember Tessie anymore.  Then I guess his other memory will come back.”  Or so Christa hoped.

As Christa and her children continued walking down the hallway, Christa heard someone call out, “Mrs. Aden?”

“Yes?” Christa asked cautiously. She turned around and saw one of the nurses that worked on Joe’s floor.

“Yes?  What is it?” Christa asked.

The nurse walked down the hallway toward Christa and motioned to have her come over by her.  She gently pulled her arm to the side of the hallway and leaned in very close to Christa.

“I could probably lose my job for this, but I feel that I need to tell you….”

“Tell me what?” Christa asked.

“Joe…what they are doing to him.  It just isn’t right.  I mean, he doesn’t remember anything, and they just keep giving him more shock treatments.  I’ve never seen anything like it before. He doesn’t remember anything…nothing.”

“Yes, obviously I’ve noticed,” Christa sighed.  “But the doctor told me that this type of memory loss is expected…short term…that it will come back.”

“He has more than short term memory.  Joe doesn’t remember anything.  The other day I heard Alice say that Joe didn’t seem to know how to go to the bathroom.  She thought Joe was just being difficult.  And yesterday, Alice had to show Joe how to eat…he picked up his knife to eat his mashed potatoes.”

“He keeps having these nightmares, too.  He wakes up in the middle of the night just screaming out, ‘Tessie!’  I ran in there one night on my shift, and he was crying and in a cold sweat.  I had to call the doctor to prescribe something to calm him down.”

“But here’s what you need to really know, Mrs. Aden…I know for a fact that they are giving Joe stronger shock treatments than normal.  The doctor said it’s because of Joe’s size…that the electric current they normally use isn’t enough for someone as big as he is.  You have got to tell them to stop.  Joe shouldn’t have any more ECT’s.  They are going to fry his brain…if they haven’t already.”

FACT:  Joe remembers someone telling him that one of the nurses at the hospital called his mother and told her that they should stop giving Joe the treatments because they were too strong and that this type of memory loss was not normal.

Page 14: Visions of the Past

It had become awkwardly quiet in the room as Don and Sharon realized that the person they had come to visit was not the brother they once knew.  Their mother had told them that Joe had forgotten some things, but it didn’t appear like Joe knew what they were talking about.
“Well, I guess we better get goin’.  We’ll…ah…maybe stop by next week, huh?  See how you’re doin’ next week?”  Don stammered.
“Ya, I might not be able to come back to see you in the hospital again, but I’m sure you’ll be home real soon, and I’ll stop over then, OK?”  Sharon said in an apologetic voice.

Don and Sharon gave their mom a hug and said their goodbyes.  Christa was used to Joe not remembering anything, but she knew that this had been hard on Don and Sharon.  She knew they wouldn’t be back to visit him.

As Don and Sharon were leaving Joe’s hospital room, Joe spoke.

“Make Tessie go away, too.”

Don and Sharon froze in their tracks.  Christa turned and looked at Joe, stunned.

“Tessie?!”  Christa urgently asked.  “Joe, how do you remember Tessie?”

“She’s right there,” Joe pointed over to the corner of the room.  “She’s hurt.  She’s crying. I can’t help her.”

Tears came to Christa’s eyes, “Joe, Tessie died.  She’s been gone a long time.”

“No, she’s right there…with me.  She’s mad at me.”  Joe was getting increasingly upset and his voice grew louder with each sentence.  “I pushed her.  I can’t help her.  It’s my fault.  It’s my fault!”

What is Joe’s Connection to the MN Vikings?

The connection between Joe and the MN Vikings legendary Purple People Eaters was in Sunday’s blog post (December 18).  Can you guess what it was?  Leave your answer in the Comments section of this blog.

Page 13: The Visit

“Hey, Joe…how’s it goin’?” 

“Joe, you remember Donny,” Christa said, hoping that Joe would at least speak up and answer with a “Good.”

“Hi Joe, it’s Sharon.  You’re lookin’ good, big brother!” 
Joe just sat there staring at both of them.  No emotion. No response.

“So, I was thinkin’ when you get out of here, I’ve got a friend of mine who needs some work done on his truck, and I told him you were the best diesel mechanic within a hundred miles of here.  Whatdaya say?”

No response from Joe.

“Well, I mean, as soon as you are feelin’ up to it, that is.  I know you probably won’t get back to work right away.”

“Joey, we really miss you,” said Sharon sympathetically.  “We can’t wait until you can come home.  Ted and Hal need you on the city basketball league…they’ve been losin’ ever since you’ve been sick…I mean, not sick, but, well you know, sad…or whatever.”  Sharon rolled her eyes from Joe to the floor, feeling embarrassed and not knowing quite what to say.

“Hey, Mom, are these some of our old pictures?” Don asked excitedly as he grabbed one of the albums and starting paging through the photos.  “Whoa, look it here.  Joe, remember when you got your first Corvette?  Dad was so mad.  He said, ‘No farm boy has any business drivin’ one of those fancy cars.  You’re just gonna get yourself into trouble…or killed!’  And then you went out and bought another one!  You sure showed him!”

“Ya, my friends were all so jealous when I went ridin’ ‘round town with you,” Sharon chimed in.  “It was sooo much fun…I bet you can’t wait until you can get home and drive your Vette again!  You do remember your Corvette, don’t you?”

Christa quickly flipped the pages of the photo album and found a picture of Joe with his first Corvette that he ever bought.  He leaned proudly against the driver’s side of the car.  Next to that picture was a photo of his personalized license plate, MOOSE.

Facts:  Joe owned and drove Corvettes and had personalized license plates, MOOSE.  At one time, he owned two Corvettes.  He played on a city basketball league.  He was a diesel mechanic.

Page 12: Getting Ready for Visitors

It had been a week since Joe was admitted to the psychiatric unit at Mayo Clinic.  There was no improvement in Joe’s memory.  He still did not recognize Christa.  His father, John, came to visit only once as he couldn’t bear to see his son this way. 
Christa, on the other hand, came every day to visit Joe, and every day she brought pictures of Joe and their family.  Christa had taken lots of photos throughout the years, taking great care in placing them in albums, chronologically sorting every image with a date and title.  Every birthday, every holiday, every happy event. 
Today she brought pictures of Joe’s sister, Sharon, and his brother, Don.  They were both coming to visit today, so Christa wanted to show Joe who they were.  If they could at least be somewhat recognizable to Joe by the time they came, it would be less uncomfortable for Sharon and Don and maybe they would come and visit again.

Christa came into Joe’s room, “Hi, Joey.  How are you today?  It’s Momma…do you remember who I am?”  

No response from Joe. It was apparent that he didn’t remember.  Every day was the same.  Christa would open up the photo album, “See, here I am holding you when you were a baby.  Here’s your first birthday.  Oh, and look it here, this is you and your dad with your first car.”

Joe just looked at the pictures and every time Christa asked if he remembered, he either didn’t respond or he would shake his head no.

Christa had just finished showing him pictures of Sharon and Don, explaining to him who they were, when they walked in the room.
Facts:  Christa would bring photos in to help Joe remember who people were.  
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