Every few weeks, my wife Camre watches our wedding video. It’s a collection of photos from September 2015, put to music. She sees us walk down the aisle, listen to the speeches and hug our son, Gavin. It was the happiest day of my life. But she doesn’t remember a thing about it.
In 2012 Camre was struggling with her first pregnancy. In her third trimester she started having difficulty breathing, and we knew it was time to get to hospital. Once there, she told me to go home and rest. My stomach fell when I got home and saw my mother was calling me. Camre had given birth, she said, and something had gone wrong.
After a mad dash to the hospital I learned that Camre had had pre-eclampsia, which then turned into eclampsia. A massive seizure meant her brain had been deprived of oxygen for between five and eight minutes. An emergency caesarean had saved both her and Gavin, but Camre had suffered a devastating brain injury. It was complete chance that it hit her memory lobes, where the brain stores and makes memories. She could have lost her speech, or the function in her left arm, say. I didn’t understand this at the time: I was torn between joy over our son and devastation that Camre was lying in a medicated coma.
As soon as she opened her eyes I thought: “Camre’s not there.” She looked at me blankly, as if I were a stranger. I wheeled her to the intensive care unit to see Gavin, placing her hand in the incubator. She patted him distractedly and I realised she had no idea he was her son. It was heartbreaking. I knew then that I would have to be both mother and father to Gavin, and take care of the woman I loved. I wasn’t scared, just determined.
Over the next few days I learned how bad things were. Camre couldn’t remember anything for more than a few seconds. Every time I left the room, I returned a stranger again. Not only had every memory gone – her childhood, my marriage proposal, her joy at the pregnancy – she couldn’t make new memories.
Physically she made a great recovery, but I wasn’t able to care for Gavin and Camre at home alone. Luckily, her parents were amazing. Together, we showed Camre again and again how to change a nappy, make up a bottle, brush her teeth. I juggled work and looking after Gavin. I was sleeping only two hours a night.
I did struggle – not with anger, but with frustration. It’s hard to tell someone your name a hundred times an hour; to see Camre hold her son and ask, “Whose baby is this?” Sometimes I’d think her brain was waking up and have a flash of hope, only to see it sink back again.
But one exhausting day, six weeks after Gavin’s birth, Camre looked at me on the sofa. “I don’t know who you are,” she said, “but I know I love you.” It was a turning point.
With occupational therapy and endless repetition she relearned how to do many things, which gave her some independence. She no longer needed daily reminders that I was her fiance and Gavin is her son. Her short-term memory now extends to three, sometimes four days; we stay hopeful that that will continue to get better, but the doctors don’t really have answers when it comes to her long-term memory.
I decided to propose to Camre, again, in 2013. Thankfully she said yes, and the wedding was wonderful. So many people rush through things only to enjoy them later, with hindsight. Everything I do with Camre, whether it’s getting married or walking the dogs, is about really living in the moment.
We try to have a sense of humour about it. I gave her the same Valentine’s card three years in a row. Each time I’d bust out this 3ft card with a bear on it and she thought it was hilarious. The fourth year, she said: “You gave me this last year!” I’d never been so pleased to be found out.
Not that things are always easy. I know more about her life than she does. It’s sometimes hard to wrap my head around that. She understands now that her injury means every memory of Gavin’s childhood is being constantly wiped away. She looks so sad about it sometimes that it hurts my heart. It’s why she keeps a daily journal; we both use writing as therapy.
Camre says that what’s happened has taught her how meaningful memories are. Now I remember for both of us.
• As told to Kate Graham. But I Know I Love You, a book by Steve and Camre Curto about their experience, is out now.
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