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Unforgettably Eerie: Blackouts, Amnesia and the Loss of Oneself

Many of us know how daunting the trains between London and surrounding areas can be. Having been one that has spent several days commuting between London and Surrey, I know it to be an endeavor that requires a fair amount of time spent at Victoria Station, which at the right hour can become one of the most maddening places one may ever aspire to visit.

Such was the case for one woman recently, twenty seven-year-old Ellie Farnfield, who had been one of the many boarding a train from Surrey that was headed to Victoria Station. An acupuncture student studying in York, she been scheduled to teach a routine fitness class later that day, but instead awoke in the station, badly disoriented, and with just two clues about her whereabouts: 10 pounds in one hand, and a note from a stranger.

According to the Daily Mail, the mysterious note read as follows:

“Hi Eleanor. I hope by the time you read this you are feeling better. You had a seizure on the train and I took you off. You didn’t hit your head but I may have hurt your leg as I walked on it before realising you were on the floor having a fit! Sorry! I’m also sorry I can’t stay with you now but here is a coffee to perk you up later and £10 to make sure you get a taxi home. Sorry I don’t have any more money so I hope you don’t live far away. I’ve contacted people from your phone and medical help is on its way and you’re with train staff. Wishing you all the best and a quick recovery. Love Tom.”

Ellie Farnfield

Ellie Farnfield

The mysterious “Tom” also explained that he had summoned medical assistance when he discovered her having a seizure, bouts of which Farnfield had suffered several times in the past. Her friends are now hoping to assist her in learning who the mysterious Samaritan was who helped her through what might have been an otherwise frightening–or even dangerous–affair.

Stories like these, though uncommon, do exist elsewhere, and thankfully in the case of Farnfield, she is no worse for the wear following her ordeal. Under other circumstances, however, things might have been different, as they often have been for those who find themselves suffering the strange effects of memory loss, which have occurred under a variety of unusual circumstances.

In July, the Daily Mail reported another tale of an odd amnesiac, identified only as “William”, who purportedly remembers everything in his life only up to the afternoon of March 14, 2005. It was at that time that he had been seeing his dentist for a scheduled appointment to work on a root canal. He was given anesthetic before the procedure began, and since awaking, can apparently only recall the last 90 minutes of his life at any time, despite having suffered no discernible brain damage. He still possesses memories that predate the root canal procedure, though anything experienced since slowly fades with the passing of mere hours.

A more intriguing story of memory loss also surfaced in July, when a middle-aged woman appeared on a beach 35 miles outside San Diego with virtually no memory of who she was, apart from haunting dreams of a man. Her amnesia, according to doctors treating her, had been the result of the onset of ovarian cancer, and a volleyball-sized tumor found in her abdomen. Compounding the strange circumstances had been the fact that her accent appeared to drift between English and Australian, with British inflections arising occasionally. The man in her dreams, the woman believed, might have been her husband, and knowing virtually nothing of her past existence, she adopted the name “Sam” as agencies that included Interpol and the FBI looked for clues as to who she might really be, and whether she had really been an amnesiac Australian that turned up mysteriously on California beach.

Within days, “Sam” was identified by a man identifying himself as her nephew as being Ashley Menatta, a Pennsylvania born woman who, rather than having lived there, had traveled often to Australia. Sadly, the cancer had spread to other parts of her body, with the massive ovarian tumor causing intermittent memory loss leading up to her eventual discovery near San Diego. Following her identification, she announced plans to go live with one of her sisters, who resides near her birthplace.

brain

Due to its perplexing nature, amnesia has long been a recurring motif in literature and film, famously used in screenplays such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound and novels like Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity. Psychological trauma, damage to the brain, and as with Ashley Menatta’s case, various diseases can bring about amnesiac effects, though physical head trauma is also a factor–if not a staple–that has been employed in various media where characters suffer intermittent or temporary memory loss.

The concept is frightening enough, it would seem, that the motif has indeed become an unforgettable theme in our culture (paradoxical though the notion may seem). But despite the romantic characterization of memory loss in books and films, these real-life cases where people seemingly forget parts of their lives up to the point of their amnesia are far more troubling.

Perhaps the one notion more frightening that losing all our earthly possessions, or even the memory of them, is to allow the grasp we have on our identity to lessen, thus risking the loss of something far more precious: ourselves.