Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Darwin and the nature of amnesia

Earlier this were,John Darwin walked into a Police Station in England, where he had worked as a prison guard.He looked fine, perhaps a little changed, since no one had seem him in over five years. You see, five and a half years ago, Mr Darwin's kayak, with a large hole in it had washed ashore. Authorities had looked for him, but he was presumed drowned and the search was finally given up. And that's the last anyone who knew John Darwin heard anything about him until this week. This includes his father, mother, aunt, wife and sons.

Where had he been ? Darwin's father, a gentleman in his 90s suspects amnesia.Being a bit more cynical than old man Darwin, I suspect something else. The fact that his wife has suddenly disappeared, and this morning was traced to Panama ,sounds a bit out of the ordinary, coinciding as it does with John's resurrection.

I would guess that the very first mental disorder I knew anything about was amnesia. It was my understanding from watching hundreds of comedies and westerns that a rap on the head often produced a total loss of memory. In the shows I watched, the memory always came flooding back after a second rap on the head about thirty minutes (running time) later. I am sure that I believed for a good number of years that that was the way to cure amnesia. Actually, that causes what is known as "second impact amnesia" where the brain dangerously swells and you can die within about five minutes. I never saw a T.V. show where the second rap on the head lead to death. I hope that well intentioned children, being confronted with amnesiac friends, did not bop them on the head in an effort to return their memory.

For some reason I can not understand, it was one of my fondest childhood wishes to covince my brother that I was suffering from amnesia. I also thought it amusing to try to convince him that I had been knocked out after I received a bump on the head. It infuriated my brother no end to see me swoon and fall. He would begin screaming "you are not knocked out ! " After a few more seconds (lying face down to hide my grin ) I would open my eyes and glassily stare at my brother,finally giving him a quizzical look, and ask, "where am I ?". To this my brother would begin screaming "you do not have amnesia !". I would make a few more half hearted efforts to convince him, but always give up when he got too angry. It was not something worth risking second hand amnesia over.

Most of my childhood heros had amnesia. Chester of Gunsmoke, Hoss on Bonanza, Gilligan on the Island, Kelly on Charlie's Angels, I think it was amnesia that got Chuck Connors in trouble on Branded.... "All but one man dies, there at Bitter Creek, and they say he ran away ..." Virtually every cartoon character had a bout of amnesia.In a cartoon, the character will get a large knot on his head, swelling up through the fur or feathers, depending on the character. In some cartoons that knot can be fixed by actually hammering it back in again. Something non-animated medical science has not been able to achieve as of yet. Amnesia ,as a medical condition, was more prevelant than rhino viruses on television shows before about 1980. It is still around, Christina Applegate is sffering from it on a sit-com now. This show won't last. You can't sustain amnesia for 23 episodes a year. You can sustain it for several months on a soap oprea, because there are so many characters on those shows that the story moves much more slowly and the audience won't get bored with the concept. I think most soap 0preas have at least one character with amnesia at any given point in time. I can't speak for the Spanish speaking ones, but I presume that amnesia stories transcend all cultures. Maybe not, I don't recall any fairy tales about amnesia.

Speaking of fairy tales, we are about to hear a real good one from Mr Darwin. I bet he has been wandering around, living on hand outs for the last five years while his wife cashed his insurance policies in and bought property in Panama. Whether there were in cahoots (if they even have cahoots to "get in" in England) is anybody's guess. I can see him pulling this off to get away from the old nag, and then changing his mind when he found out about the wife's new property,nestled silent upon a peak in Darien. But you can never discount amnesia. While it occurs only about 2x 100,000, it seems to occur to people we all know, at least if they are on T.V. So let us not Judge yet. We shall follow the evolving story of Darwin and see how it unfolds.


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