I remember one time when I was a resident in neurosurgery at the University of Michigan, and I was called to provide a consultation on a gentleman in his mid 40's who was destitute and diagnosed with a mental disorder. When I examined him, it became clear that he had no memory whatsoever. He could not even remember me when I said "hello" and then returned five minutes later. He had no short-term memory and had absolutely no long-term memory either. In short, he had no past, present or future.
He was complaining of headaches though, so we ordered an MRI scan of his brain. What we found blew us away. He had a large benign brain tumor sitting in the front of his brain, squarely pressing on the structures responsible for memory. Sure enough, when we took it out, he rapidly started to recollect everything. He had once been an engineer, but had developed a personality problem that got him fired. In retrospect, that personality problem was probably the first sign of the brain tumor. He then turned to alcohol as a salve, which eventually led to him becoming homeless and destitute. Once the tumor was removed, it was as if the last eight years of his life had never happened. I have never forgotten that gentleman and his remarkable story.
Tonight, we tell the story of Doug Bruce. One day, he suddenly "woke up" on a subway. He got on the subway as Doug Bruce, but by the time the train had stopped, he was no longer that man. He had forgotten everything, including his name, where he came from, his family. He didn't even know why he was on the train. It turns out Doug may have had a cyst in his brain that ruptured, causing instant and complete memory loss. As a neurosurgeon, I can tell you that it can happen.
But it got me wondering: How many people out there who are homeless and dismissed as mentally ill might in fact have a very treatable brain problem? And how could we ever figure that out?