LONDON - ONE-NIGHT STAND SYNDROME

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Jun 8 2009, 8:20pm

You know that feeling when you've drunk so much you wake up and the pain is only matched by your nauseating shame as you realize there's a warm, naked body beside you and you have no idea who it is? When you can feel their ass hair rubbing against your naked thighs, and yet as far as you know you're not even on first-name terms with the stranger? Well, that is what it's like for this man every morning, and not because he's a player. "This woman is not my wife. My wife is dead. Get her away from me!" he was shouting in the A&E waiting room, as a dowdy-looking woman desperately wrestled him into an embrace.

The A&E psychiatric consultant related his story to me like this: The man, a middle-aged insurance worker, had told his colleagues his wife had died two months previously. One day when he failed to turn up to work, a friend from his office called to check that he was OK, and the door was opened by the clearly undead wife. Startled by her resurrection, the office friend was forced to explain that, ahem, he had been informed she had passed away.

When the wife confronted her husband about her death, he became agitated and angry. She called an ambulance, but as soon as they arrived her husband calmed down, politely greeted the paramedics and, indicating to his wife, said, "This woman here has entered my house and is claiming to be my wife. She is quite deluded and, I fear, a danger to herself." At which point wifey started screaming–always a good reaction when your sanity is in question. The paramedics were stumped as to which one was nuts. Eventually she proved her point by hurling a wedding photo at her self-proclaimed widower.

When the psych consultant spoke to him, he stated again that she was an imposter, although he had no trouble recognizing other family and showed no other signs of psychosis. The man explained that after his wife had disappeared, this woman, whom he admitted looked uncannily similar to his wife, had begun living in his home pretending to be his wife. He did his best to stave off her advances. The wife admitted they hadn't had sex in weeks, but she thought they were just having marital problems. Wow, no shit.

Capgras syndrome is defined as a delirious conviction in which one or several persons are perceived by the patient to be replaced by a double. No one knows the exact cause, though it is associated with head trauma. There is no consistent cure. It must feel like you've become the hero in a movie where the world is conspiring against you to trick you into copulating with a she-devil. I kept thinking, "What if he's right?"

I am sometimes jealous of psychiatric doctors. While I'm sticking my fingers up people's assholes or being vomited on and shouted at by drunks, they get to chat with people whose thinking is outside the conventionally acceptable spectrum, which by definition makes them more interesting than the usual onslaught of mundanity and repetition. People generally come to hospital to complain or die. A bit of insanity can be refreshing.

DR. MONA MOORE
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