HERE’S THE SCOOP:
A terrible car crash left a German man unable to create long-term memories, meaning he forgets everything each night when he goes to sleep. His incredible story is the subject of a documentary that came out earlier this year.
“February 14th was the day that I didn’t die,” Daniel Schmidt tells filmmaker Nadine Nieman in the documentary Living Without Memory. Nieman describes the doc as “a moving portrait of a thirty-something who had to rebuild a life without memory.”
Schmidt’s car wreck left him with severe injuries. He underwent intensive physio and speech therapy, but he couldn’t regain his memory. His level three traumatic brain injuries rendered Schmidt unable to transfer short-term memories into long-term. This means that whenever he goes to sleep at night, he forgets everything that happened that day.
“I was going to see my sister, I was on the motorway,” Daniel recalled. “There was a traffic jam and I was the last one to join it. I was sitting there and then a car came up behind me, it was a big seven-seater with a young family inside, and the driver didn’t see the traffic jam at all. He smashed into me at over 80mph. The entire motorway was closed. There were a lot of injuries, but they weren’t too serious. I was airlifted to the hospital. I suffered a severe traumatic brain injury – they call it a level three TBI.”
Schmidt couldn’t remember his friends and didn’t feel connected to his old relationships, including his then-girlfriend.
“I’d need to get in touch by the third day at the latest,” Daniel said. “I’d need to hear her voice or we’d need to talk, and above all, see each other, otherwise it would be like meeting her for the first time.”
Daniel keeps lists of the important things he does every day to make sure that he knows about them the next day. But for him to form some long-term memories, he needs to experience them daily for a longer period.
“If we shot two days in a row, Daniel could remember us. But if we shot two weeks later, he would never have recognized us,” Nieman said in a Reddit AMA. “But we took precautions. I always talked to him one day before shooting. He can remember voices and create familiarity. And he had a photo of us hanging in his kitchen.”
Daniel and his former girlfriend had a child together a few years back, and one of the things he regrets the most is not being able to remember the day his son was born. It’s one of the things he has learned to live with, but he admits that some days are harder than others and that he deals with depression from time to time.
Even though Daniel hopes of one day regaining his capacity to store short-term memories over the long-term, the prognosis isn’t very encouraging. He is now committed to helping others with similar conditions get over their disability.