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Nearly six months after a Florida man was found unconscious in a Palm Springs Motel, doctors are still slowly helping Michael Boatwright regain his identity. Boatwright, a 61-year old U.S. veteran, has no memory of his name or past after waking up in Palm Springs' Desert Regional Medical Center. He also seemed incapable of speaking English at all, preferring to speak in Swedish instead. Even when seeing his face in a mirror, he was incapable of recognizing his own face and insisted that his name was Johann Ek.
Police and a social worker were able to confirm his identity using several pieces of identification in his room, including his passport. There were also family photographs in his duffel bag, including pictures of his ex-wife and son though he had no memory of them. Locating family members and friends who had known Boatwright in the past took longer. Despite his having a cellphone in is possession when he was found, none of the numbers listed were still being used. One sister, living in Louisiana, described her brother as a wanderer who "just disappeared" years before and she was unable to provide details of his recent life. She also stated that she had been unable to contact him when their mother died more than a year ago.
Internet searches determined that Boatwright had worked as a 3D graphics designer and had also taught English overseas for a number of years. An online portfolio describes him as having a Bachelor's degree from Michigan State University and a Master's degree from Stockholm University. His social worker, Linda Hunt-Vasquez, discovered a testimonial to him on the website of a TPR English school in Zhuhai, China where he had been teaching English one year before his catastrophic memory loss. As for the mystery of his speaking Swedish, members of the local Swedish community speculate that he lived in Sweden for a time and may have learned the language there. His lack of any regional accent or actual memories of Sweden provide no real clues about when he might have been in Sweden.
After medical testing ruled out alternative medical explanations, Boatwright was diagnosed with Transient Global Amnesia which is apparently psychogenic in nature. Also known as a psychogenic fugue, it is classified as a dissociative disorder under the DSM-IV-TR and is potentially linked to trauma. Fugue states can last from a few hours to many years in length. In one famous case, opthalmologist William Bates (best known for "Perfect Sight Without Glasses"), vanished without a trace in 1902 and was later found many years later living under another name with no memory of his former life.
While his case is still being investigated, skeptics have raised questions about Michael Boatwright's story. According to staff at the JW Marriott in Palm Springs, Michael Boatwright had asked for a job as a tennis coach there on February 26 shortly before being found at the nearby motel. The hotel's tennis director, Jim Leupold, described him as extremely desperate when asking for a tennis position or help getting to Peru where he claimed to have a job waiting for him. Though Leupold tried to help him, there were no tennis jobs available and Boatwright told him he would call back later to see if any new jobs became available. As this was two days before he was found in the motel, it remains unclear whether his amnestic state is genuine or an elaborate fraud.
As for Michael Boatwright, the question of what can be done with him still needs to be answered. Since he is physically healthy, remaining at the hospital is not an option and his social worker is trying to find an alternative to avoid becoming homeless. Despite Boatwright's previous skills as a graphics designer, he is unable to access any of the memories that might help him support himself and he describes his amnestic life as being "a living hell." "Walk in my shoes for one day," he said. "You'll experience the nighmare of a lifetime."
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