It was as if the vigor had been suddenly sucked out of his body. What she was?

And so, early that Friday, the woman took her husband to Danbury Hospital, the closest emergency room to the couple’s small town in Connecticut. She entered alone. It was the last time she would walk without assistance for weeks.

He was admitted to the hospital. He consulted neurology and underwent an exhaustive study: blood tests, CT scans, MRI, EEG, lumbar puncture. While there were some anomalies, nothing explained his rapid physical and mental deterioration. There were no signs of infection or tumor. There is no evidence of seizures. His vitamin levels were normal. And the gastritis he had earlier that spring was responding well to a daily acid-reducing medication, pantoprazole.

Although he had the typical rigidity and tremor of a Parkinson’s patient, his rapid deterioration was not. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease can cause rapidly progressive physical and mental disability, but neither EEG nor MRI showed any evidence of this rare disease. One thing worried his wife: he was taking a very high dose of Pepto-Bismol (four pills a day) that had been prescribed for gastritis. When too much Pepto-Bismol causes problems, it’s usually due to an overload of the aspirin-like compound in the medication, but when they checked it, that level was normal.

Finally, after five days of intense investigation, neurologists found nothing and decided to refer him to a neurologist at Yale University. While he was not sick enough to need to be in the hospital, his doctors and his wife agreed that he was too weak to return home. Instead, he was sent to a short-term rehabilitation center, where he could receive the care he needed and possibly regain some of his strength.

It was already evening when the man and his wife arrived at CareOne’s River Glen Healthcare Center in Southbury, Connecticut. Nicole DiCenso, the nurse on duty, went to check on the patient once she arrived in her room. From the beginning, DiCenso thought there was something strange about her story. He seemed healthy and strong, fitter than his parents, who were about his age. And yet, when she tried to bring him up to the chair scale to weigh him, she was surprised that he was too weak to move to the edge of the bed, even with her help. It was difficult to reconcile his profound disability with his wife’s report that just a few weeks earlier he was walking 10 to 15 miles a day. He seemed as if somehow the vigor had been sucked out of his body, leaving his muscles present but helpless.