Perpetually Awakening  

Posted by Megan Moulos in , , , , ,


Artwork: Memories of Amnesia by emla

((Article partially reblogged from Damn Interesting))

"I don't remember things," Henry explained to the unfamiliar female interviewer. She seemed very curious about how he spends a typical day, and about what he had eaten for breakfast, but his efforts to summon the information from his mind were fruitless. He could easily answer her questions regarding his childhood and early adult years, but the indefinite expanse of time since then was bereft of memories. In fact, from moment to moment Henry feels almost as though he has just awakened from a deep sleep, with the fleeting remnants of a dream always just beyond his grasp. Each experience, dull or dramatic, evaporates from his memory within a few dozen heartbeats and leaves no trace.

For over fifty years Henry has lived with anterograde amnesia, a form of profound memory loss which prevents new events from reaching his long-term memory. As a result his only memories are those he possessed prior to his amnesia, and the small window of moments immediately preceding the present.

The amnesia frequently depicted in fiction is a very rare retrograde variety known as dissociative fugue, where one's identity and all memories prior to the pivotal event are compromised. In contrast, anterograde amnesia does not deprive the sufferer of their identity, their past, or their skills; it merely prevents new memories from forming. As a consequence one's final memories are frozen in perpetuity, often accompanied by a constant sensation that one has just awoken from an "unconscious" state which filled the intervening time.

Henry's handicap is the unintended result of experimental brain surgery performed in 1953. In his late teens the highly intelligent student began to experience frequent grand mal seizures, characterized by loss of consciousness, muscle spasms, and rigidity. The frequency of these epileptic events increased to the point that he was stricken with spontaneous episodes of unconsciousness every few minutes. After exploring every other avenue known to contemporary medicine, Dr. William Scoville administered a radical resection of the man's medial temporal lobes in a desperate bid to reclaim some quality of life for young Henry. In that respect the experimental operation was a success– the patient's severe seizures were reduced dramatically after the operation– however the surgeon was distressed to discover that the removal of the hippocampi had stripped Henry of his ability to form new memories.

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H.M. passed away in December of last year: H.M., an Unforgettable Amnesiac, Dies at 82 (NY Times)

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 5:34 PM and is filed under , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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