Author: Deborah Wearing
APA Style Citation
Wearing, D. (2005). Forever Today: A Memoir of Love and Amnesia, London: Doubleday
In Forever Today, Deborah Wearing recounts the details and symptoms of her husband Clive Wearing’s infamous and tragic case of anterograde amnesia. The book details their courtship and formerly busy and happy life together as Clive worked as a musical director at the BBC and a conductor for many choirs including one in which Deborah sang. This is how they met and despite a nearly twenty-year age gap, they were drawn to one another because of their shared love of music and cathedrals. Clive’s illness began as flu like symptoms, which brought on a case of amnesia from which he would never recover. In addition to clarifying the characteristics of Clive’s illness the book also discusses the lack of health care facilities for individuals with brain damage and Deborah’s dedication to bring awareness to this cause. The book also highlights the pain and suffering of families who have a loved one suffering from brain damage.
Clive came home from work at the BBC one day flushed, feeling tired, and suffering from a headache. For the next few days the headache grew increasingly worse and Clive described it as feeling like he was ‘hit on the head with a hammer’. Doctors were summoned but insisted that this was just a bad case of the flu. Within three days Clive could no longer recall the name of a conductor with whom he had worked. Clive was not sleeping and had a temperature of 102. By day five Clive had gone missing because he went out but could not remember his address. Eventually, a cab driver took him to the police station and he was returned home. By this time it was clear that this was not a simple case of the flu. Ironically, Deborah and Clive had read a story in the Observer Review from a book of case studies including one titled The Lost Mariner, which would be similar to what he would experience. This story depicted a man (Jimmy G.) who could not form any new memories and even though he saw an old man in the mirror, still believed he was a 19-year old soldier. At the hospital, Clive was diagnosed with encephalitis caused by herpes and given an anti-viral drug. He also experienced seizures and doctors were perplexed as to what was happening. Eventually, the antiviral drug stopped the virus, but much of Clive’s brain had already been destroyed. The hippocampus, which helps to lay down new memories, was essentially destroyed as well as parts of the temporal lobe, occipio-parital and frontal lobes. The thalamus, hypothalamus and amygdala were also impacted.
While the Wearings had hoped for a time that Clive might be able to return to work, it soon became clear that would be impossible. He did not remember anything he had just experienced and his consciousness consisted of no more than 7-10 second clips. He did not remember Deborah’s name, but somehow he knew that she was his wife and was thrilled each time she came to see him. He never, however learned any of the names of the nurses or caretakers some of whom had helped him for decades. He did not initially know what food was when placed before him and would try to eat the menu or the utensils. He would put on all of the clothes he owned and would take soap from the bathroom at each visit assuming it belonged to him. His moods swung dramatically, at first he was quite jovial and made a joke of everything, but later he was reduced to days of tears and crying perhaps because he realized that he had lost “himself”. Clive got stuck on some words, and for a while referred to everything as “chickens”.
Curiously, Clive could still amazingly carry a tune and play the piano. These older memories stayed with him because they were well learned and cemented in his memory whereas the new memories were more fragile and were wiped out by the virus. Clive had a series of CT scans which showed that he had major damage to the brain, but it was not until they could arrange for an MRI (there were few around in 1985) that they could tell that Clive’s hippocampus was essentially destroyed.
Over time Clive made some small gains, discussing the beauty of a cathedral in Bath and being able to dress himself, but he asked the same questions over and over again. “How long have I been like this? He had the feeling of just waking up and in his journal he constantly writes that he is now just awaking for the first time and that all the other times before were not real. He told nurses, doctors and Deborah his wife that they were the first person he had ever seen and that the words he was speaking were the first words he had ever uttered.
Deborah struggled with the repetitive questions and with taking Clive on her own for weekend and days out. He would get lost in a bathroom even in his own living room, and if he wandered off he would not be able to find his way home because he did not know where he lived. Deborah started working to form and organization that could create a place for brain-damaged individuals to go, because they did not fit the disabled category in most cases because they could walk on their own. She started an organization after hearing from many other families struggling with taking care of their own brain damaged family members at home because there was nowhere to house them. Clive eventually went to a small group home that was opened in part because of Deborah’s efforts and she became a speaker on behalf of brain-damaged patients everywhere. Deborah did divorce Clive but never stopped loving him and despite trying to “escape” to the United States for a short time she could not leave Clive behind. Clive has never recovered but both of the Wearings are dealing with the dramatic loss to the best of their abilities.
Other Related Resources
Guardian interview with Deborah Wearing
The Mind Series: Clive Wearing Living without Memory
This video includes documents Clive’s story and includes footage of him struggling to form memories and his wife discussing his struggle.
BBC documentary: Clive Wearing: The man with no memory
BBC Magazine: How can musicians keep playing despite amnesia?
Psychological Figures and Concepts