Michael Thomas Boatwright was found unconscious in a Palm Springs, Fla., hotel in February. He spoke Swedish, called himself Johan Ek, and did not recognize the image of himself on his photo ID. Apparently suffering from amnesia, the soft-spoken, gray-hair 61-year-old told authorities he remembers nothing about his life before waking up in Desert Regional Medical Center. But is he telling the truth?
“The guy Michael — it wasn’t me. I’m still Johan,” Boatwright said to The Desert Sun through a translator.
On March 13, a psychiatrist and a psychologist diagnosed him with transient global amnesia – a form of retrograde amnesia that affects the ability to access short-term memory and some older memories. In this condition a person should be able to remember deeply encoded facts about their identity, but Boatwright does not. He’s picked a different identity altogether.
Doctors said Boatwright was currently in a “fugue state.” A dissociative fugue is a rare disorder in which a person suffering from reversible amnesia not caused by an injury to the brain, suddenly forgets who they are, where they are from, etc. It usually presents itself wandering, suddenly picking up and going to a new place and starting a new life with a new identity.
Dissociative fugue is usually very short-lived, but five months later Boatwright has not gotten any better, and authorities have been unable to find any next of kin. They do not know who Boatwright’s family is.
He was carrying pictures of himself taken with friends and family, but he says people in those pictures are unfamiliar to him.
"Sometimes [the situation] makes me really sad and sometimes it just makes me furious," he told the Desert Sun via a translator. "I don't recognize anybody."
He was carrying four forms of identification, a passport, a veteran’s medical card, a Social Security Card and a California I.D. All of them identify him as Michael Boatwright.
Some in the hospital question his memory loss, but attempts to trick him, for instance by using English to speak to him, have not been successful.
He has no income and no insurance. He had several Chinese bank accounts, but only gained access to one of them, which contained only $7. Without the ability to pay for treatment, psychiatric facilities that perform follow-up care will not accept Boatwright.
“Walk in my shoes for one day,” he said. “You’ll experience the nightmare of a lifetime.”