Popular culture, both films and TV shows, have often used amnesia as a dramatic plot device. But when this kind of thing happens in reality, it proves to be a cruel twist of fate for all those involved.
Such was the case with Scott Bolzan, a former pro football player and jet-company official. Bolzan’s life was changed forever on Dec. 17, 2008. He fell on an oil slick in his office and woke up in Scottsdale Healthcare Hospital in Arizona.
Not only did Bolzan not know his name, he didn’t know what the word “name” meant. He not only didn’t know that he had a wife, he didn’t know what the word “wife” meant. He had lost his memory in a phenomenon called retrograde amnesia.
The New York Post recently wrote a story based on Bolzan’s memoir about his experience, “My Life, Deleted,” which Harper One is releasing next month.
When he was initially hospitalized, Bolzan at one point asked, “What’s the NFL?” Yet he had played briefly for the New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns.
According to The Post story, Bolzan’s episodic and conceptual semantic memory were both damaged when he fell and hit his head. So he could no longer remember his childhood or make sense of idioms. Yet he still retained his procedural memory, meaning he could remember things like how to drive a car and what a touchdown was.
After testing, Bolzan was diagnosed with a concussion and released from the hospital two days after he was admitted. Physicians assured Bolzan that his memory would come back in a few weeks.
But the amnesia continued, and Bolzan began having bad headaches, mood swings and insomnia, according to The Post. He went to several doctors, to no avail.
Finally, an Arizona neurologist ordered a SPECT scan of Bolzan’s brain. It found that the blood flow to his frontal and temporal lobes has been restricted. The temporal lobe is the part of the brain that controls memory and its storage.
The prognosis wasn’t good: Bolzan was told he would never recover his memories.
There is new research being done on bringing back the memory of amnesia victims, and maybe someday there will be a way for Bolzan to recall his past.
In the meantime, Bolzan said he is grieving the loss of his original identity.