It has taken more than a love letter and a bunch of flowers to win the heart of Olive Karanja.
Young and beautiful, Olive lost her memory following seizures just before Valentines’ day. She had no idea who family and friends were. She couldn’t even recognize her boyfriend Ken.
He has since had to slowly woo her all over again. Her memory has still not returned and Olive, 20, has had to gradually get to know her parents and 25-year-old Ken from scratch.
With their help, she is piecing together the parts of her shattered life. Olive and Ken had been seven months into their relationship on the fateful day their life was turned upside down.
They were on a matatu traveling to Rongai from the Central Business District (CBD), where they worked together in a Communications agency, when Olive suffered a series of seizures.
“I was terrified.” She recounts. “I had no idea who anyone was. Everyone was a stranger to me. I didn’t even know my own name. I remember boarding the matatu that day in February, but that’s it. I’ve been told my body went limp and my eyes glazed over. But we had nearly arrived in Rongai and Ken was able to support me until we got to the bus stop, then walk me to our house and call my parents while he looked after me. I now recall seeing a woman running towards me but I had no idea who she was. She was hugging me and asking if I was OK but I just stared back at her blankly. She kept saying she was my mom.”
Olive’s parents, human resource manager Elizabeth, 49, and electrician Mathew, 56, were shocked when she failed to recognize them.
Olive, who lives with her parents, says: “My mom started frantically digging out pictures of us on her phone to try to jog my memory. But not only did I not recognize my parents in the pictures, I had no idea what I looked like. I found a mirror and looked at my reflection but it was like I was looking at a stranger. I did match the person in the photos, though, so agreed to stay home with my parents. Mom put a hand on my knee but I pushed it off, it felt weird to be touched by a stranger.”
When they took her to her room, Olive says: “I didn’t recognize the room. My mom gave me a tour of the house but nothing came back to me. My parents invited Ken over but I didn’t know him and, when they left me alone with him, I was really scared.”
The next day, Olive’s parents took her to Kenyatta National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.
She was kept there for a week and diagnosed with amnesia brought on by epilepsy. She had known she had epilepsy since the age of 14, but it had not had a big impact on her life.
Olive says: “Doctors told me it could take six months for my memory to return, if it returned at all. My head was spinning. It felt like I was in a horror film.” Discharged from the hospital, Olive then struggled to accept Ken.
She says: “I remember at one point I was left on my own with him and hated it. I didn’t know him but he was acting like we were in love. So two weeks later, I tried to end the relationship. He looked so hurt and promised he would help me remember how great we were together. Seeing how passionate and caring he was finally convinced me he must care for me, so I agreed to give it a shot. Not tomorrow, but now. In that particular moment, I…”
Ken has since made it his mission to help Olive fall back in love. He takes her for walks in the park, they revisit favorite restaurants and he tells her everything about their past.
Olive says: “I don’t remember the first time I fell in love with Ken but I do remember the second. He has been so patient with me, so sweet; I can’t help but fall for him over and over again. My parents have taught me how to cook again, told me what TV program I liked and how I liked to dress. Socializing is hard, as friends expect me to trust them straightaway.”
Olive did not rejoin Ken at work. When her confidence started to return in September, she got a call center job in a telecommunications company.
“I’m starting to leave the house more.” She says. “People I’d known for years approach me and start chatting. It is stressful admitting I have no idea who they are. It’s hard to explain losing 19 years’ experiences, and doctors say I may never get these back. I’ve had to relearn everything about those close to me, and doctors say there’s a 50 percent chance I could lose my memory all over again. But Ken has been able to make me fall in love with him twice. So if I lose everything, I know he could do it again.”