And so, early that Friday, the woman drove her husband to Danbury Hospital, the emergency room closest to the couple’s small Connecticut town. He walked in on his own. It was the last time he would walk without help for weeks.

He was admitted to the hospital. Neurology was consulted and did an extensive work-up: blood tests, CT scans, an M.R.I., an EEG, a spinal tap. While there were some abnormalities, nothing explained his rapid mental and physical decline. There was no sign of infection or tumor. 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 stiffness and tremor that would be typical of a patient with Parkinson’s, his speedy decline was not. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease can cause a rapidly progressive mental and physical disability, but neither the EEG nor the M.R.I. showed any evidence of the rare disease. One thing worried his wife: He was taking a very high dose of Pepto-Bismol — four pills a day — which had been prescribed for the gastritis. When too much Pepto-Bismol causes problems, it’s usually because of an overload of the aspirin-like compound in the medicine, but when they checked, that level was normal.

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

It was evening by the time the man and his wife arrived at CareOne’s River Glen Health Care Center in Southbury, Conn. Nicole DiCenso, the nurse on duty, came to see the patient once he got to his room. Right from the start, DiCenso thought there was something odd about his story. He looked healthy and strong — fitter than her parents, who were about his age. And yet when she tried to move him to the chair scale to weigh him, she was surprised that he was too weak to move himself to the edge of the bed — even with her help. It was hard to reconcile his profound disability with his wife’s report that he had been walking 10 to 15 miles a day just weeks earlier. It looked as if the vigor had somehow been sucked out of his body, leaving his muscles present but powerless.

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