Mr… uhmmm? Sorry, can’t recall your name, yes you, sir…
Finally, he came out of his office and asked me to come in. For the past four hours, I’ve been waiting, seeing people coming in and coming out of the room at the end of the hallway. Dr. Wang — smooth white coat, stethoscope gently wrapping his neck, probably just fresh out residency, looks like a stock photo of a doctor on Google Images.
I apologize, you checked in at 9 and I was supposed to have an appointment with you at 9:30, however for some strange reason, it wasn’t logged in the system.
After waiting for three hours, I went down to the receptionist and checked if anything was wrong. She didn’t recognize me at first though
Please take a seat, Mr… uhm…
While staring into the screen of a Macbook, Dr. Wang slowly began to approach the issue, hesitant like a chilly swimmer checking with his foot the cold chlorinated water of the pool:
So, according to the records here, we met a month ago and you came in with complaints about paleness of your skin and ache in the chest. After referring you to a cardiologist, I had a second thought that came to my mind, which was a suspicion of a very rare disease, something more than a trivial cardiovascular issue. Remember you mentioned that on that day someone nearly ran you over at the hospital parking lot?
In fact, it happened to me again this time, but I didn’t tell it to Dr. Wang. In fact, it happened to me nearly ten times during the past month.
…and then, someone knocked you over in the corridor, right in front of me? Isn’t it strange, right? People just don’t seem to notice you, Mr…?
Whatever. Mr. Whatever.
Dr. Wang’s eyes, protected from the outside world with thick glasses, didn’t look at me, their pupils just skimming through some notes on computer, swinging like a pendulum. He took a pause for a while:
Ah? What was I talking about? Oh, right… Collective agnosia, also commonly known as the invisible man syndrome. It’s a very curious condition that we still fail to fully understand and as you will see soon, there is a reason why the literature on this condition is very scarce. This disease starts out in advanced age and progresses slowly — your skin becomes paler and more translucent, your voice tones down; at the more advanced stages, you move less, up until the point where your lungs don’t want to take in any air anymore. But those symptoms aren’t the worst ones. The tricky part is that as you decay into emptiness, people also stop recognizing and noticing you, hence the name — collective agnosia, when society ceases to acknowledge your existence. I find this particular symptom very fascinating — something is wrong not with the patient, but with all other “normal” people. I can’t recall but I think there’s one study group in Germany that researched any deviations in the brains of people, who failed to recognize a patient but their fMRI activity was perfectly normal, except the time when they interacted with the affected patient — the temporal lobe of “normal people” simply did not react. In other words, the “normal people” just gazed but didn’t see the patient…
Sorry to interrupt, Dr. Wang, but is there anything I could do?
…there will be periods of remission, when you will be met with greater recognition but those periods are very transient. Different people will have different degrees of recognizing you, it mostly correlates with the depth of interpersonal relationship but,eventually, you will be met with absolute denial from everyone. You will be completely invisible and nobody is going to care what happened to you…
Sorry, but Dr. Wang! What kind of treatment is offered?
…in fact, it is suspected that a lot of patients with this disease die from being hit on the road or stamped to death but, as you realize, nobody knows what happens to their bodies. If you think about it, there could be dozens of dead bodies lying around, but nobody is able to detect them…
Uhm, Dr. Wang…
…It’s definitely somewhat amusing and curious. We don’t even know, how widespread is this disease? How many people die from it? Is it dozens? Thousands? Millions? Haha, that would be funny but of course not…
I’m sorry, Dr. Wang…
-…it’s just at the order of statistical error…
I just remained silent.
…so, I’m very sorry to deliver such news. You’re like 60, or 70 now? It will end soon, don’t worry. I would estimate you have one year left but we don’t know. We know nothing. Collective agnosia. Sorry.
Dr. Wang, do you hear me? Go screw yourself and enjoy it.
Thanks, you too. Have a nice day – bye.
I didn’t mean to be rude. Just wanted to test my hypothesis, which turned out to be correct.
I sat on the chair, while Dr. Wang continued browsing computer, without knowing that I was still there.
Incognito browse tab: “How long can you keep a baby in the freezer reddit thread”
What a beautiful world…
I left Dr. Wang’s office after a massive college soccer team captain sat on me for 20 minutes, narrating how he contracted gonnorrhea — I didn’t realize that I had to get out of the chair as soon as he came into the office. It seemed like today was a particularly bad episode of collective agnosia.
I still had to digest all the news from Dr. Wang. I suspected this disease around a month ago — it came up as a random suggestion on WebMD, as I hesitantly confessed my unusual symptoms to Google. Well, good thing is that collective agnosia does not spread onto my car so at least I can drive somewhat safely without people hitting me. But then, is it so? What if it exacerbates? Anyway, as I’m standing in the empty hospital elevator, I’m struck by the realization that in few seconds, a wave of people will rush into the elevator and potentially walk over me, as I’m absolutely invisible to them.
Damn, I can’t get off at the main floor, I’ll be stamped to death. I quickly press the button of the second floor, just before the elevator passes it. After getting out on the relatively deserted second floor, I take the back stairs to get to the first floor.
What am I going to do now with my life? No more socialization. Not that I had much socialization at this senior age. No more meaningful conversations. No more human touch. No more going out at crowded places. No more getting lost in the living mass of humans. Solitude and seclusion. That’s it.
Crap, I still need to cross the crowded lobby to get outside.
On the other hand, there are some benefits. I can go and venture to all kind of different places without being noticed, without being heard or seen. Kinda sucks that at this old age I’m not into exploring anymore. But then, it’s a lifetime opportunity…
Don’t get distracted! Watch out! Someone just smashed into your shoulder and walked on by.
Okay, okay, Dr. Wang said there are going to be remissions, maybe it’s just a bad day today. Here’s the door…
Oh no, there’s a guy round the corner, he just keeps walking…
I get hit by the door and fall, losing control over my body. Horrible pain in the head and the guy just stepped on my leg, crushing the bone. I’m bleeding and I’m right at the middle of the entrance and it is guaranteed that nobody will notice me. This is it. Time to give up.
I crawl in panic away from the entrance and start yelling for help but it seems useless. The physical reality is just viscous and impermeable. I might just as well lose consciousness and…
Sneakers. Army boots in mud. Some hipster gym shoes. All the different legs, swinging like pendulums. Beautiful, thin, open legs, smooth skin, perfectly shaven, framed by high heels at the bottom. Is it going to be the last thing I see in my life?
I grab one of the legs by the ankle and pull it towards my face. I have no choice and pierce my scarce remaining teeth into her Achilles tendon. It’s excruciating pain but it is the only chance I can get noticed by this cold indifferent universe. I hear a scream, and I bite the muscle instead with all the force I have. My brittle teeth start cracking and I see them falling, carried away by streams of our blood.
Paramedics rushing, now they can step over my face, turn it into slush that nobody will bother to clean off the floor. At least I tried.
Last thing I hear is Dr. Wang’s voice:
Wait, wait, it’s that guy with collective agnosia…
I ended up locked inside some room in the geriatrics ward. There’s a sign on the door that is supposed to remind everyone that I’m still there and that I’m very hard to notice, due to collective agnosia, yet it doesn’t seem to help much — nobody opened the door for the last two days and, I guess, soon I will starve to death, which isn’t the worst thing that could happen
And here is our very special drama queen who got admitted in a very spectacular way. If you want to know the story, ask the nurse if she remembers it.
Chuckling, Dr. Stakanov entered into the room, escorted by two residents, 1 man and 1 woman:
Amir, Cathie, do you even see our patient? If you try looking into the right corner of the room, near the window, you might discern his contours.
In fact, I was standing at the opposite corner, but, hey, at least he acknowledged my existence.
Huh? — Dr. Amir Al-Boustan took out his iPhone and started browsing it.
It’s okay, at this point it is estimated that less than 1% of people can be consciously aware of the patient’s existence. What a spectacular clinical case, isn’t it? I once went to a conference on collective agnosia that took place in Baden Baden and there are so many different theories on the disease’s pathology. We are even confused about classification. The majority of experts place it into the category of either neurological or psychiatric disorders but there is a curious paper that claims that we ignore the patient because of some abnormal pheromones released due to metabolic disruptions…
Dr. Cathy Suarez is also on her iPhone, searching things up pubmed and interjecting from time to time:
You mean the article by Park Dae-Jung, Kunt Tim et al., 2015, published in Journal of Biochem…
Dr. Stakanov continues, staring into the beautiful sunset over the downtown skyline:
Oh my, you even cite in the APA format, take it easy, girl. Whatever, back to collective agnosia — I once even submitted a grant to study collective agnosia but never heard back regarding it. Anyway, I specialize mostly in Alzheimer’s so it’s kind of out of my field. Speaking of the lady with AD that used to be next door, Ms. Goldfarb… What mayhem… They transferred her to ICU with pneumonia a week ago, intubation, all that jazz until she died yesterday. Gentle death, as expected, nothing you can do with late stage dementia like this. They declared her brain-dead, but then, her Jewish Hasidic family comes and refuses to accept her death… oh yeah, by the way, they have three lawyers in that family. Of course, brain-dead is legally dead, but her attending, Dr. Ramayana, just can’t make the final decisive step and walks around the hospital avoiding her…
All three of them are about to head out, and I will need to make sure they forget to lock the door. Dr. Amir Al-Boustan is completely consumed by his phone. I look over his shoulder and it turns out he is searching up a “where to buy burner phone canada”. Anyway, he reminds me of a tired boxer and I punch him hard in his nose, out of idleness and boredom.
Hey, Amir, you’ve got a nosebleed.
I know the residency workload is crazy, but you’ll be done in two-three years, so keep it up, man. Go grab some tissues, we will wait for you outside.
I hold the door open, and the white-coated folks don’t offer much resistance. They leave and the door remains unlocked.
Now I can go steal some food from the cafeteria.
When I come back, I see that the sign on the door is removed and a large bodyied end-stage cirrhosis patient is lying on my bed, surrounded by unread magazines, unfinished pill bottles, and unfulfilled dreams.
No way I could do anything, it would be impossible to move this standing rock, it’s pointless as Sisyphus’ work. I am leaving, I am done.
It’s already late into the evening, and, fortunately, the hospital is quite empty. I don’t know whether I should go outside, just to be finally hit by a car or a cyclist.
I just sit there on the floor, at the far end of the hallway. No grudge against people who ignore my existence due to collective agnosia. No thoughts, no feelings, nothing whatsoever. Just pure emptiness, vanishing into the thin air, becoming a plastic bag, carried away by the chaotic winds.
As Dr. Wang said, it’s probably one of the late stages of my condition. Maybe the end is near. The whole life of perceptual fluctuations just mutes into tranquil equilibrium. Death is the final point of homeostasis.
In the final and brief remission, I get an idea.
I just need to make it to the floor below and find the brain dead lady, who indifferently keeps on sucking the air from tubes.