By Victoria Pelham, The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- When Michael Boatwright woke up in the
emergency room, the nurses began asking him questions for which it
became clear he had no answers.
The gray-haired, soft-spoken man looked at his identity card and didn't recognize his own face. He answered only to Johan Ek.
his driver's license said he was born in Florida, he spoke in Swedish
and said he remembered nothing about his life before.
Michael - it wasn't me. I'm still Johan," he said through a translator
in a recent interview at Desert Regional Medical Center.
was found unconscious in a Motel 6 room at noon on Feb. 28 and taken to
the hospital, said Lisa Hunt-Vasquez, the social worker assigned to
track down relatives and help piece his story together. He had with him a
duffel bag of casual athletic clothes, a backpack, five tennis rackets,
two cellphones, some cash, a set of old photos and four forms of
identification naming him as Michael Thomas Boatwright: a passport, a
California identification card, a veteran's medical card and a Social
Following mental and physical health exams,
Boatwright was diagnosed by a psychiatrist and psychologist on March 13
with transient global amnesia in a "fugue state," Hunt-Vasquez said. The
conditions, both temporary and related to memory loss, were likely
triggered by some kind of emotional or physical trauma.
staff on his case at Desert Regional determined that it would be unsafe
to release Boatwright and have moved him to the hospital's skilled
"He's kind of a blank slate," Hunt-Vasquez said.
used digital records for Boatwright on various Internet forums and a
testimonial on the website of TPR English School in Zhuhai, China, to
learn that he was, she believes, a 3D graphic designer who taught
English in Japan for 10 years and in China for four years. He resigned
at TPR a year before she reached out to them.
She also performed a
global search for Boatwright's relatives, contacting Japanese, Chinese
and Swedish consulates, TPR English School and the Department of Veteran
Affairs (which confirmed he had served from 1971 to 1973 in the U.S.
Navy), but none had next-of-kin information. Other possible sources --
an emergency contact listed for Boatwright at the VA, an address on his
U.S. passport for a Japanese woman believed to be his ex-wife, all of
the foreign phone numbers listed in his cellphone's contacts, two
acquaintances in Asia -- led to dead ends.
Boatwright had flown to
Palm Springs from Hong Kong on Feb. 24, the day his Chinese visa
expired, Hunt-Vasquez said, but no one knows why he was in the area.
Though theories were floated that he had come for tennis because of the
rackets and the season in which he had arrived, local tennis organizers
failed to find a connection.
Hunt-Vasquez spoke with the Dade
County Missing Persons Bureau, based on the Florida birthplace on his
identification. Officials there told her Boatwright's parents were dead.
He also had another ex-wife he had divorced in 1983. She said she had
no information except that he might have had two sisters in Sweden. No
one has been able to confirm that.
Boatwright now sits in the hospital with almost no family left, he said.
I look at the photos, I see my ex-wife and my son ... my mother and
grandmother, but I don't recognize them. I don't know them," he said.
Life in the hospital
"Sometimes it makes me really sad and sometimes it just makes me furious about the whole situation," Boatwright said.
spends his days exercising on hospital equipment as often as three
times a day -- the only thing that takes his mind off his troubles, he
While at Desert Regional, he has also been in contact with
the local Swedish-American community after sending an email to the Vasa
Order of America's Desert Viking Lodge in San Jacinto. Member Viola
Wyler has had many conversations in Swedish with Boatwright - about the
president, movie stars, World War II, anything that could trigger his
"All of the events that he talked about, he has never been involved in it; he always feels that he is looking in," Wyler said.
said she guesses that Boatwright was in Sweden in the mid-1980s. His
Swedish does not belong to any of the country's strong regional
dialects, leading her to believe he either learned it later in life or
has not used it much in the past 30 or so years, she said.
photos, colored frames spanning decades of the life he says he no longer
remembers, show scenes of children in the snow, a log cabin surrounded
by green fields, and one of him with a woman and a young boy (believed
to be his ex-wife and son) celebrating a birthday. He looks at the
photos closely under his glasses.
"When I look at them, I get a sense of comfort and security," Boatwright said.
has no insurance, income or skills to perform the jobs he held in the
past, further complicating his situation, Hunt-Vasquez said. And he has
very little money he can access - $180 in American funds, some Chinese
The hospital is working to find a next step, but he is using resources. And some question his amnesia, Hunt-Vasquez said.
"They see him as eating up hospital funds and that he should just be discharged to kind of fend for himself," she added.
She admits it's frustrating to not have all the answers.
Wyler said she has tried to test him. There have not been any signs that he was lying, she said.
is in the process of trying to secure Social Security and veteran's
disability benefits for Boatwright, but neither are guarantees. The next
step is to have outside psychiatric and neurological exams conducted.
The hospital is also looking for other viable options - "really try to
avoid just him being in the streets."
Unsure of his past or future, Boatwright lets out a small laugh at the suggestion that he could be faking his condition.
"Walk in my shoes for one day," he said. "You'll experience the nightmare of a lifetime."