Characters: Watson, Holmes
Warnings: none, non-slash
Word Count: 1365
Author's Notes: First fan fic
Thursday April 14 1881
My Dearest Doctor Briet,
Thank you again for agreeing to review this case. It has been a very frustrating experience trying to learn anything here in London about the condition I wish to address, and I grow anxious to find a solution. As per your request, I will include in my description as much detail as I consider relevant. To ensure my patient's confidentiality, I decline to use his name. If you feel something has been missed, or that you require further details, I will do my utmost to provide them to you.
The subject in question is male, aged twenty-seven, an officer of Her Majesty’s army, discharged due to injuries and illness sustained last year in Afghanistan.
Until his military service, the subject enjoyed good health and was blessed with a strong constitution. The usual childhood illnesses were endured without complications. Injuries typically associated with active and athletic inclinations were also experienced and easily recuperated from.
While serving abroad, the officer received light shrapnel wounds from artillery barrage, bullet wounds to his shoulder and leg, and survived typhoid fever. It was for the latter he received his medical discharge. I have overseen a great deal of his physical recovery since his return to London and am pleased to report that the regular exercise regimen I prescribed has been adhered to (mostly) and the subject is no longer fully dependant on his cane for locomotion. Further recovery in that area is anticipated. His shoulder however, has gained as much strength and range of motion as can be reasonably expected, but to our mutual dismay, it is less than we had hoped for.
The subject’s recovery has been progressing along what I considered to be natural and expected lines. To my knowledge, no major setbacks occurred, and yet something was making him ill at ease.
The subject, although loath to discuss his fears with even his closest friends, has reluctantly, over time confessed some of his other concerns to me. At first, he sought my advice regarding the reoccurrence of troubled sleep. I assured him that many with his past experience suffer disrupted sleep and that his symptoms would surely decrease over time. He seemed unconvinced, believing six months time, and two continents distance, should have been ample enough for the resolution of these issues. Regrettably, I did not take this as seriously as I ought and simply advised him to give it more time. Although we met regularly, months passed until we spoke of this again.
It was during one of these appointments that he admitted to experiencing more than just nightmares. He recounted an experience of waking in the night to a strange, cold, bedroom without any recollection of how he got there. Most people experience some form of confusion upon waking; when reality takes over from the world of dreams, but what he described was far more frightening.
Disoriented upon waking in unfamiliar surroundings, the subject desperately tried to recall where he was. Minutes passed while memory failed. Moonlight did not reveal any clues in the room, so he stood to light a lamp. As he did so, his leg gave out, he fell to the floor and a small dog began to bark. While trying to assess what was wrong with his leg, the subject came to the realisation: not only did he not know where he was, he did not know who he was. He regained the bed as panic set in.
I spoke with his flatmate who remembers the episode quite vividly. Apparently this fellow had been reading in their sitting room well past midnight when he heard a cry of distress and the excited barking of the dog emanating from the subject’s bedroom. With his reading lamp he ascended the stairs and opened the door to find the subject, upright in bed with his knees tightly clasped to his chest, rocking slightly back and forth, familiar eyes regarding him with fear and no sign of recognition.
Attempts to engage the subject’s attention by calling his name met with no response. The flatmate believed his friend had experienced another nightmare, and that upon waking, would recover quite naturally. This had happened in the past. When after an eternity, which was in reality probably less than a minute, passed there was no change so he extended a hand in reassurance.
What should have been a comforting gesture was met with alarm as the subject’s response was to raise his arms in protection and fright. Alarmed and not wanting to make matters worse, the flatmate picked up the anxious pup, withdrew to a chair in the corner to observe, and ruminated upon the situation. Meanwhile the subject screwed his eyes shut, curled himself into a tight ball and issued small keening sounds over the next several minutes.
Eventually the noises ceased the subject’s breathing returned to normal. The flatmate’s account states that, some forty minutes later, the subject finally reopened his eyes and apologised for causing a disturbance – normalcy restored, save for embarrassment and trembling from residual fear.
From these descriptions, I suspected some form of nightmare but, no, the subject insisted that it was something more. He distinctly remembered his memory returning and described it as though a curtain on a stage had been raised, revealing his life at all once. Of his lapse, he can recall all of his actions. Interestingly, he remembers “not recognising” and “not remembering”, and the fear.
Afraid he might not be able to describe this experience, he hastily jotted some brief notes. (Unfortunately, they are quite illegible due to his unsteady hand.) From his manner and from the way he related this scenario to me, I suspect that experiencing the sudden return of his memory may have been even more horrific to him than the amnesiac event itself.
In your Paris research, Doctor Briet, you have described mental fugue states and lapses of consciousness. My subject’s experiences differ from your observations in that he has maintained the memories of the experience of his lapses. I use the plural here because it was later revealed to me that on another occasion, under like circumstances, his landlady was badly frightened. Another time, he found himself seated on a park bench in a snowstorm, with the little dog shivering at his feet - they had been missing for over two hours.
For him to reveal these concerns to me is a clear sign of his terror. Although he can comprehend the nature of his physical injuries, and is taking measures to heal himself in that regard, he is ill-equipped to deal with the possibility that his mind may be damaged as well as his body. Although he denies it, I suspect that he contemplates self-harm.
As a doctor, I am better-versed in the nature of physical injuries and the healing of such. I confess to being out of my depth as far as injuries to the mind are concerned. My inclination is to believe my patient’s symptoms are manifestations from his wartime experience, but I am finding little to support this theory.
There is a paucity of reliable information on this subject in the British medical journals. My colleagues in the medical profession are quick to institutionalise people with any degree of mental deviation, without examining causes, treatments, or possible cures. I do not want to see this man hospitalised unless he poses a danger to others, or himself.
In considering this problem, I have made inquiries among other invalided veterans. As a whole, this group is very close-lipped regarding the topic. An occasional individual or two hinted that similar problems are more wide-spread than most people know, or wish to admit. My countless requests for information from the Army Medical Board have proven fruitless. It seems to be the considered opinion of this august establishment, that these phenomena are simply not present amongst the British race, and are unthinkable in the Army.
Doctor Briet, concern for my patient has led me to your research. I thank you again for taking the time to review this case. Any insight into this matter is greatly appreciated. I value your opinion and will take into consideration any action you advise.
Very truly yours,
John H. Watson, M.D.
Baker Street 221B