I used to think that amnesia was just a convenient plot twist that soap operas employed. Then one day I woke up in a hotel room in New York, with no idea how I got there.
Alas, this is not a joke. In the past ten years, I have had three different episodes of a scary, but relatively benign, phenomenon called Transient Global Amnesia. (Yes, it’s a mouthful, so it is often referred to as the more hip-sounding “TGA.”)
One minute I am here, and the next (snap your fingers) I am gone. Oh, I don’t “go” anywhere. My body is still intact, and I can still tell you my name and address and other items stored in my long term memory. For instance, I could sing “Happy Birthday.” But I don’t know where I am or why I’m there or who these people looking strangely at me are. I will ask the same questions every 30 seconds or so. (Where am I? What’s happening?) And later, I will have no memory of the time I was “gone” or the hours preceding it. My short term memory has been obliterated.
Most interestingly, the doctors say these episodes are partly brought on by my desire to “escape” from wherever I am. My brain says, “You can’t handle this. Let’s skedaddle.” I sort of go on a little trip, away from reality. Oh, a perfect storm of other conditions has to be present for this to happen, but happen it does.
From the Mayo Clinic website: Transient global amnesia is a sudden temporary episode of memory loss that can’t be attributed to a more common neurological condition.
In other words, I am not having a stroke, but it sure looks like I am. During my most recent episode, the ER called my husband to tell him they thought I’d had a stroke. He panicked for a second, and then remembered my history. The neurologist who greeted him in the ER confirmed that, after a barrage of tests, they concluded it was not a stroke, but an episode of Transient Global Amnesia.
I had been taken to the ER at 9 am. At approximately 3 pm, I “came back” from my brain trip and saw my husband standing over me as well as a bevy of medical personnel. I was in a hospital gown, and had wires attached to my head. Now, with all neurons firing, it took me only an instant to figure out what had happened. “Not again!” I wailed.
What was I escaping from? That morning, I was having a medical test in a doctor’s office, one which would test the acid level in my esophagus. I wasn’t particularly dreading it. I didn’t even need to be sedated. However, I must have really, really hated having a tube stuck down my throat. Factor in that I was totally drained from a long, uncomfortable dental procedure the day before. (Note: The Mayo Clinic lists medical procedures as common precipitating events leading to TGA.)
Each of my three episodes began at approximately 9 am and lasted 6—8 hours. Each was preceded by a night in which I slept very poorly. Each was marked by some sort of physical/emotional stressor going on in my life.
The New York hotel room episode (also the first episode) was a textbook case. I was on a whirlwind weekend with a manic friend who was driving me crazy. No place in Manhattan was too far to walk. There was no such thing as too many Cosmopolitans. One morning, I woke up after a fitful night and wished I’d never agreed to the trip. The last thing I remember was crossing a Manhattan street en-route to breakfast. The next thing I was aware of was waking up on the hotel bed in the middle of the afternoon. My friend filled me in on my odd behavior which included extreme confusion, loss of balance and being snarky with everyone, including a well-meaning waitress. I remembered absolutely none of it. Glad I was functioning again, my friend inquired if I still wanted to go to Bloomingdales. I got on the next plane home and saw my doctor.
My doctor theorized that I WANTED to escape from this ill-advised vacation. That desire, combined with physical exhaustion and too much rich food and drink, prompted me to “check out.”
I had a hard time accepting this notion. Could my brain actually do this? I’d also always thought of a hot bath, a glass of wine, and a massage as a good escape. However, I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic. And amnesia is certainly more dramatic than a hot bath.
So I have read all there is to read about Transient Global Amnesia. I have consulted various specialists at two major medical centers. The results are non-specific. I have nothing wrong with me (and for that I am grateful) but no one can explain why this happens to me. According to Mayo, the underlying factors “aren’t fully understood.”
I try to get plenty of sleep. I eat healthy and exercise regularly. I try to keep my stress levels manageable. Still, I carry a laminated card in my handbag with the relevant phone numbers to call if I suddenly become unnaturally confused. But no doubt, some Good Samaritan will fear I am having a stroke and take me to the ER, where I will be given a battery of tests which will all prove negative.
By now, I’ll bet you’re wondering: What if she had one of these attacks while driving a car? Yes, I am allowed to drive. I would not forget how because it’s stored in my long term memory. But I would forget where I was going or why. So, if you live in Atlanta, don’t worry about me possibly causing a wreck on 285. Anyway, most Atlantans would hardly notice another confused motorist.