In 1957, when I was a student of the late Richard Asher, I encountered his patient ‘Uncle Toby’, and was fascinated by this strange meeting of fact and fable. Dr Asher (who may himself have published something of this story) referred to it sometimes as a ‘Rip van Winkle case’. The story often came to my mind, vividly, when my own post-encephalitic patients were ‘awakened’ in 1969, and it has unconsciously haunted me for years.
Dr Asher had been on a house call to see a sick child. As he was discussing her treatment with the family, he noticed a silent, motionless figure in a corner. ‘Who’s that?’ he asked.
‘That’s Uncle Toby – ‘e’s hardly moved in seven years.’