Permanent Present Tense


Henry had his first epileptic episode in 1936, at the age of ten; by 1953 his seizures had become increasingly frequent and debilitating. His family doctor referred him to William Beecher Scoville, a leading neurosurgeon at Yale Medical School. When massive doses of medication failed to quell his attacks and EEGs revealed no obvious locus of brain damage, Scoville suggested a novel surgical procedure. Using a trepanning drill he had constructed himself from auto parts, he cut two coin-sized holes in the skull, ‘doorways to Henry’s brain’, and suctioned out most of his medial temporal lobes, the front half of the hippocampus and most of the amygdala. After recovery, Henry’s seizures were significantly reduced, but it soon become apparent that the operation had vacuumed away any recollection of his hospital stay, and indeed most of the significant events of the previous few years. Catastrophically, it had also created a global anterograde amnesia: the loss of the ability to form new memories of any kind.

more from Mike Jay at the LRB here.