THE MAN WHO CAN'T LOVE; A car accident wiped out the feelings for my wife and child..
C LARE King used to feel so special on Valentine's Day. Ever since they were childhood sweethearts, her husband Roy had showered her with romantic gifts.
But just over two years ago, a car accident left him with a type of brain damage called Frontal Lobe Syndrome.
It robbed him of his ability to feel emotion or show affection to either his wife or their four-year-old son, Max.
So instead of a romantic night out, the couple spent February 14 just like any other - sat in front of the TV at their home in Monmouthshire, South Wales.
"Before the accident Roy would book a table in a nice restaurant and buy me a soppy card and a present - one year I got a watch," says Clare, 31.
"Now his mother has to remind him it is Valentine's Day and he's not in a position to go out buying things or take me for meals.
"He was such a lovely, kind, caring guy - words can't express how lucky I was to have him. What he lost that day was the ability to have feelings, the fundamental things that made him who he was."
He may look the same, but emotionally 33-year-old Roy bears no resemblance to the man Clare married in 1998.
"He was such a loving person, forever putting his arms around Max and me," she says. "Now he's very cold and I have to ask for a cuddle or a kiss.
"He no longer knows how to behave like a husband. Instead of holding me close he will pat me on the back like a dog and say, 'Off you go now'.
"Until the crash Roy was a doting father. He'd play with Max for hours and if he needed attention in the night it was always Roy who went to him.
"But now when Max jumps on his dad and gives him cuddles, sometimes Roy responds, but it's never with any warmth.
"Roy is unable to show spontaneous love and affection because he no longer feels it, or sees the need for it.
"I used to adore him putting his arms around me, which he did many times a day, or exchanging an affectionate smile or touch. But while I still have those needs I have to accept that Roy is no longer capable of feeling the same way."
The accident which robbed Roy of what experts describe as "that essential spark of humanity" happened in September 2002.
Roy, a plumber, was driving to a job when an oncoming car, which had just been over-taken, swerved into his path.
He suffered cuts and bruises all down his right side and was unconscious at the wheel for 10 minutes.
During that time he experienced damage to his frontal lobes - the area of the brain responsible for feelings, moods and emotions.
He was treated at Gloucester Royal Infirmary then Clare brought him home. If he seemed to be behaving oddly, she just put it down to him being in shock.
"He looked a mess and was clearly shaken up when I arrived at A&E, but there was nothing to suggest there had been any permanent damage," recalls Clare.
I T wasn't until a couple of days later that she realised something was badly wrong.
"I went to collect Max from nursery, leaving Roy at home," recalls Clare. "I told him to keep an eye on the potatoes that were boiling on the stove. I thought he'd have mashed them ready for tea when I got back."
But when she returned 40 minutes later, the saucepan was about to burst into flames.
"I could smell burning and the kitchen was full of smoke," she says. "I turned off the flame and went into the living room where Roy was on the settee in front of the TV, just as I'd left him.
"Looking at him in disbelief I said, 'Roy, what are you doing? You forgot the potatoes and the pan set on fire!'
"He just said, 'Oh, did I?' and carried on watching telly."
Clare now knows that Roy's total lack of concern was another symptom of the damage to his frontal lobes which has left him without a care in the world.
That seems enviable - until you see how it affects his attitude to his family. Asked if he loves his wife, he says, "We've been together so long she's really like a part of the furniture."
It's the kind of joke that men in long-standing relationships might make. But Roy isn't joking.
Hurtful though this is, Clare is determined to stand by the man she has loved for 15 years.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want a man who comes home and tells me I look lovely and gives me a kiss and a cuddle," she says.
"But I love him as much as I did before the accident."
That isn't always easy. Roy can be aggressive, suffers fatigue, headaches, has a short attention span and is easily distracted.
His condition also means he can no longer hold down a job.
Until October, Clare was supporting the family on her earnings as a primary school teacher. But she had to give up work to look after Roy.
"Life can never be normal again," she says. "But we try to make the best of every day.
"Roy can't be left alone to look after Max because he gets irritated when he becomes noisy and demanding, the way young children do.
"Worse still, if something distracts him he will forget that he's supposed to be looking after his son and wander off."
Roy admits to not having the usual concerns of a husband and father.
"It doesn't bother me what they do," he says.
"The feelings are not there as they used to be and it's hard to explain something I'm not feeling any more.
"If Max and Clare left tomorrow they would have a better life without me.
"I can't do anything any more, which makes me a burden. I don't know how I'd feel without them, so I can't say."
The Kings had planned to have another baby, but neither of them feel they are in a position to bring another life into the world.
Sadly, there is no cure for Roy's condition, and there has been no obvious improvement during the past year.
But they are hopeful that with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy he might learn to act differently.
"What happened wasn't his fault and I don't think he should be made to suffer any more than he already has," says Clare.
"As long as he'll let me, I'll be there for him.
"Unless it starts getting detrimental to me and Max... Then I'll have to think again."
WHAT IS FRONTAL LOBE SYNDROME?
WE each have two frontal lobes, one on the left and the other on the right of the front part of our brains.
As well as being involved in problem-solving, spontaneity, memory, language, judgment, impulse control and social and sexual behaviour, this area of the brain also governs our emotions.
When these lobes are damaged - in Roy King's case in a car accident - the sufferer can experience an emotional shut-down.
Sufferers become selfish and egocentric, and are unable to display warmth or care about others.
At the same time they can lose the ability to experience pleasure and, to some extent, emotional pain.
Another consequence of damage to the frontal lobes is that many sufferers can't censor their thoughts. They tend to say exactly what is on their minds, however hurtful, which can alienate those closest to them.
Even the longest standing marriages tend to survive no more than five years after such damage has occurred. By this time it has finally registered on the partner that their loved one will never return to normal.
It is particularly tough for children growing up with a parent who has Frontal Lobe Syndrome.
They become emotionally insecure because of the anxiety that develops as a result of the lack of a close emotional relationship with their parent.
Contact Headway, a charity which supports people with brain injury, on 01159 240800.
WEDDING BELLS: In 1998; DOTING DAD: With baby Max; FORGOTTEN FAMILY; Wife Clare and Max, four, have to live with Roy's coldness Picture: HUW EVANS; HAPPY: The Kings before the car crash
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Feb 18, 2005|
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