Groundhog Day …

… all over again!

The visit to the dentist
that went horribly wrong

Groundhog Day is real for some people (with amnesia)

The hell of an eternal Groundhog Day …

Visiting the dentist isn’t high on anyone’s list of favourite things, but for one man it was the start of a never ending nightmare. He took a trip to see his dentist for root canal work in 2005 and since then he has had no normal memory to speak of. He can remember what happened in the past hour or so, but anything further back than that is quickly lost in the mists of forgetfulness.

For about ten years has been lost in this Groundhog Day hell, which means he wakes up each and every day thinking he’s back in 2005 … and due to visit the dentist! That dentist’s visit is still on his to-do list, and he wakes up each day unaware that dentist’s day has come and gone, and furthermore, ten years have passed.

It appears the anaesthetic that was used that day had a strange and adverse effect on him. It somehow stopped his memory working and trapped him in the same small time frame, apparently forever. He’s woken up expecting to go the dentist well over 3,000 times since then, and it doesn’t seem likely that the situation will change any time soon.

He remembers what came before the visit to the dentist, including being in the military, being married, having two children, and so on, but anything after that day is never recalled. It just happens and an hour or so later it’s forgotten.

Patient WO becomes the latest case of Groundhog Day

Dr. Gerald Burgess of the University of Leicester has published details of the man’s case in Neurocase, a peer-reviewed journal specializing in case studies in the neuropsychology, neuropsychiatry and behavioural neurology of adults and children. Patient WO, as the man is known, is suffering what appears to be a unique case of amnesia. Dr Burgess says it doesn’t fit in with our accepted understanding of amnesia at all, as there is no obvious psychological cause and apparently no obvious brain damage.

Patient WO manages his life by means of notes and reminders, which his wife maintains for him. As Dr. Burgess says, “He lives through his electronic diary. The first thing that happens in the morning, when he says, ‘What am I doing here?’ is she [his wife] tells him to go and check his electronic diary.”

Groundhog Day just keeps repeating

Bill Murray looks happy enough now … how happy will he be after a few hundred more days of Groundhog Day??

She has also set up a folder entitled “Read This First”, which explains the situation and prepares him to face the day. The one thing he does recall during the past ten years is the death of his father. Dr. Burgess thinks that may be because there was a strong emotional bond between Patient WO and his father, and that bond may have just been strong enough to forge a memory, where other events don’t even make a dent.

After ten years his wife and family have resigned themselves to the situation, and they cope as best they can. Dr. Burgess says “They’re an amazing family. I think that what they do is they’ve adjusted their life around the amnesia and know they have to remind their dad each day.”

In some senses, he added, it was the family who have had it hardest, meaning Patient WO is mercifully oblivious to the situation most of the time, adding, “I would guess that there is an advantage to forgetting.”

What is amnesia?

The most common type of amnesia, at least according to the movies, is retrograde amnesia, where all knowledge of the past is wiped. It’s actually very uncommon, and usually temporary. There is a type of amnesia at the other end of the scale, anterograde amnesia, in which a person cannot form new memories from the onset of the amnesia, and so every time they meet someone, for example, it’s effectively for the first time. In rare and unfortunate cases a person might suffer both types of amnesia together, which is knows as transient global amnesia. ‘Transient’ because mercifully it is usually temporary, and fades after a while.

Amnesia can vary wildly in its scope and duration, and in its root causes. The many possible causes include stroke, brain injury, psychological trauma, brain tumour, epilepsy, malnutrition, dementia, and of course, as an adverse effect of medication of some kind.

Nobody can ever say with any real authority that a person’s amnesia is temporary or not, although in the case of Patient WO it is understandable if the doctors say the prognosis is not at all good. After ten years it seems unlikely that this particular amnesia will just fade away.

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