Friday, November 23, 2007

Chapter Sixty-One

“Harold? Harold what happened? Where I am?”

If he hadn’t been so concerned, Harold would have laughed. Why did amnesiacs always say “Where am I?” He kissed Fanny on the cheek and took her hands in his. “You’re in the hospital, honey. Stay calm.” He buzzed for the nurse.

The room intercom crackled. “How can I help you?”

“My wife is awake. Please let the doctor know. He said he’d be in his office.”

Fanny sat up. “Harold. Why am I in the hospital? My head hurts. Was I in an accident?”

“Yes, honey. But you’re going to be all right. Everything’s going to be all right. How are you feeling other than your head?” He didn’t want to say anything about her loss of memory until the doctor got there.

“I’m hungry. Do you think you could find something for me to eat? And I don’t mean beets and walnuts. I feel like a nice thick steak”

“Of course, I can…” He stopped. “What did you say about beets and walnuts?”

“Don’t tell me you’ve been cheating on your diet? How long have I been in here?” A cloud of distress passed across her face. “Harold, something awful happened.”

Harold noticed that the door had opened and the doctor had come in. “Fanny, this is Dr. Wright. He has been taking care of you.” Fanny looked at the doctor but it was obvious to Harold that she had no idea who he was.

Harold left his wife and walked across the room. He spoke softly to the doctor. “What’s going on? I don’t understand. When she woke up she didn’t know where she was, but she could remember the diet that Dr. Burger prescribed for me.”

The doctor approached the bed. “Fanny, do you know who I am?”

“I know you’re Dr. Wright. I know you’ve been taking care of me. Harold just told me that. But I honestly don’t remember meeting you before. But I have met you, haven’t I?”

“When I came in, Fanny, I heard you say to Harold that something awful had happened. What did you mean by that?”

“I’m not sure. It’s as though there is a separate part of me, and that part is aware of things that this part of me isn’t. I don’t know how to explain it. Doctor, did you ever wake up from a dream and you knew it was a very bad dream even though you couldn’t remember what the dream was actually about? The dream still affects you. It’s like that. Only it wasn’t a dream. I am sure that something awful really did happen.”

“Let’s change the subject, shall we Fanny? This will be easier for you. I am just going to as you a series of questions. Is that all right?”

She nodded. “Yes, doctor.” She patted the bed. “Harold, come here and sit next to me.”

“Okay, Fanny. Can you tell me where you live?”

“I live at 2233 Ingleside Drive in Falls Church. I thought these questions were going to be harder.”

“Where did you go to college?”

“William and Mary.”

The doctor looked at Harold who nodded.

“How many children do you have, Fanny?”

“One son – Peter. He’s in a Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Med Program at U. Va.”

“When did you see your son last?”

“Let me see. It was early August. He left for Charlottesville early to get settled.” She suddenly looked confused. “Wait a minute. It’s happening again.”

“What’s happening, Fanny?

“That awareness I was talking about a moment ago. A vague recollection. It’s got something to do with Peter. Is Peter all right, doctor? Has something happened to Peter?”

“Peter’s fine, Fanny. Nothing has happened to him. But Peter was here earlier today. You talked to him. Try to remember, Fanny. Can you recall talking to your son this morning?”

She closed her eyes tightly and gripped Harold’s hand as though she were trying to tap into her husband’s memories. “I remember waking up in this room. Harold was standing there.”

“Before that, Fanny. What’s the last thing you remember before that? Just lie back and close your eyes. Don’t force yourself. Just tell me the last thing you remember before you woke up a few minutes ago?”

“I remember parking the car in the driveway and walking up to our front door with the groceries. I put the bags down next to the door.”

“Why did you do that? What stopped you from going into the house?”

She looked at Harold guiltily. “I'd bought a candy bar at the checkout counter. It was a pretty morning. I decided to go over to my bench and sit for a while and enjoy my candy bar without having to listen to Arlo barking at me the whole time.”

“Our dog is a little spoiled, doctor.” Harold shook his finger at Fanny. “So you’ve been sneaking candy bars while I’ve been denying myself.”

She smiled. “That was the first one. Honest.” Suddenly her smile faded. The same troubled expression. Harold had seen earlier darkened her face.

“Mrs. Britt. What are you remembering now?”

“A car stopped and a man got out and walked up to me. He said something had happened to Harold and I had to go with him right then. I resisted. The man struck me. I must have lost consciousness. I woke up in the backseat of a car. The man was in the front seat. The car was parked. I didn’t recognize the area. The man was shouting at me. He said I had ruined his life. That his wife had left him and he was going to make me pay.

He started the car. He was driving like a maniac. It was impossible for me to keep my balance because my hands were bound. I was thrown from one side of the car to another. I would have screamed but there was tape across my mouth. I don’t know how long he drove like that. Suddenly, the tires squealed and the car began to spin. The next thing I knew I was waking up in a ditch.” She smiled miserably. “I’ve sure been waking up in some strange placed lately.”

“Did you recognize the man, Fanny?”

She nodded. “After he said that thing about his wife leaving him and how I had ruined his life, I realized it was Abby’s husband. Abby is the woman I sponsor, doctor.” She looked at Harold. “You were right, honey. He was crazy. I should never have gotten involved.”

There was so much that Harold wanted to know. It took all of his restraint to keep himself from disrupting the doctor’s sequence of questions. It was actually Fanny who interrupted. “Doctor, one thing I remember is how hungry I am. I realize it’s late, but I would really like something to eat. I’d told Harold I wanted a steak. I’ll settle for a burger and fries or a couple of slices of pepperoni pizza.”

“I think we can arrange that. I have a couple of more questions but I suppose they can wait. I’m sure the police will have some questions themselves. No need to put you through needless interrogations. I am most curious about what caused your physical and psychological trauma. You had two head injuries. One can be explained by the blow you received initially when you were forced into the vehicle.” Fanny winced as the doctor touched an area on her left temple. “Do you have any idea how you received this injury at the back of your head?”

“It must have gotten it during the crash. I was thrown from the car. I woke up in a ditch. I don’t remember seeing any sign of the wreck but I was just intent on getting away. This is where it starts getting jumbled.”

“That’s enough for now. Harold and I are going to see what we can do about finding you something to eat. If you need anything, just buzz for the nurse. We’ll be right back.” The doctor motioned for Harold to come with him.

When the door had closed behind them the doctor spoke to the guard. "Make sure she is not disturbed. Mr. Britt and I will be right back." When they were some distance away he continued. “I think something else happened after the accident. That’s the only thing that would explain this patchy, erratic recall. People with anterograde amnesia often cannot remember the trauma that caused their memory loss as well as some memories of events just before the trauma. The theory is that this loss of past memories, or retrograde amnesia, occurs because harm to the hippocampus has disrupted the process of consolidation, by which recent memories are gradually transformed into enduring long-term memories. The combination of anterograde amnesia plus partial retrograde amnesia is quite common. Collectively, it's often known as simply ‘amnesia. The symptoms exhibited by your wife cause me to think there were two distinct psychological traumas. I believe the first was the kidnapping and accident. It’s too early for us to speculate about the second.”

“Wouldn’t it be the discovery of the body? Certainly that would qualify as a traumatic event.”

“Your wife strikes me as a resilient woman, Harold. In my opinion it would have required something much more devastating to trigger your wife’s memory loss. If I’m not mistaken, Harold, your wife witnessed the murder.”



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