Clive Wearing has one of the worst cases of amnesia in the world. A renowned conductor living in London, he was at the peak of his profession when he contracted a virus in 1985. Clive is now 67 years old and living in a brain injury unit where he has constant supervision.
Clive’s descent into brain damage came frighteningly quickly; one weekend in March 1985 he returned home from work looking flushed and feverish. On Saturday his headaches started. By Tuesday he was no better and hadn’t slept. His temperature was 102°. By Wednesday he was very confused and couldn’t remember, his wife, Deborah’s name. His temperature was 104°. Doctors came and went and Deborah left him sleeping, but when she returned, Clive had disappeared. Over the next few hours Deborah rang hospitals and police stations across London. Clive eventually turned up. He had gone out fully dressed with his overcoat and a copy of The Times under his arm, hailed a cab and forgotten where he was going and forgotten where he lived. The cabbie dropped him at West Hampstead police station where they identified him from his Barclaycard.
Back home 2 doctors visited and concluded that Clive was suffering from a severe bout of flu that was doing the rounds in North London. His condition worsened and he was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital where doctors realised that Clive’s brain was being attacked by the herpes simplex or cold sore virus. Very rarely this virus can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause encephalitis or inflammation of the brain.
The virus had destroyed the hippocampus, an area of the brain crucial for memory and learning leaving him with dense amnesia.
His ability to play music has not been affected, but he is unaware of it. Having just played a beautiful piano piece he is asked about his music playing and he answers: “I’ve never heard a note since I’ve been ill. I don’t know what it’s like to play music”. The only person he recognises is wife Deborah.
He keeps a diary, and has done so for years. In it he records his, apparently, first moment of wakefulness and lucidity over and over and over again. As soon as he has recorded this momentous event he has forgotten it. Even with the diary in front of him, he has forgotten making the entry despite it facing him in black and white.
It is not only memories since the illness that he has lost. He has no memory of any event in his life, although he can remember key numbers and names from early childhood. He retains the power of speech and has a good vocabulary so word recall is not a problem. He can read and write but doesn’t remeber doing either.
He lives the same moment over and over again, with no awareness or recollection. It is a living death, Groundhog Day in overdrive, a 20 year tape loop.
Forever Today – Deborah Wearing