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When Memories Don’t Light the Corners of My Mind

Do you know that old song? The Way We Were? The first line is, “Memories, light the corners of my mind.” Well, have I got a story for you.

Early this week I met my boss for coffee. He arrived first and ordered his coffee. I arrived shortly afterward and he ordered mine as well. His was ready first, and he jumped up from our table to get it when they called it out. When mine was ready, he jumped up to get it too. He came back to the table and set it down in front of me…

And that’s the last thing I remember until about five hours later when my mind started to reboot – in the hospital. Suddenly I was looking at a doctor who had one of those large masks on that look like a platypus bill. She was sharing results of some tests. I was totally confused because she was talking to me and my husband (who sat beside me) as though we all knew each other. And my husband was responding in kind. That was my first clue that something wasn’t right. I tried to listen more intently to what she was saying but my mind was really stuck on her familiarity when I didn’t know her at all. It was also hung up on her mask. It's a silly shape for someone is a fugue state.

Then my husband started asking questions.

Him: Do you remember we got a new roof?

Me: (Scoff) Yeah. It’s black. (I might have rolled my eyes because he made a big deal about changing to a black roof.)

Him: Do you remember we went to the coast?

Me: Yeah…?

Him: Good, because you didn’t remember either of those fifteen minutes ago or for the last couple of hours.

The doctor seemed pleased with me and told me she was going to get me some snacks and let us hang out and talk. She said when she returned, she would ask me a question. “I’ll ask you what color my shoes are!” She held up a foot to show her red Crocs.

Me: They’re my favorite color!

I dutifully ate a fruit cup and drank apple juice while my husband explained that I had called him earlier in the day saying I had just gone to coffee with my boss but couldn’t remember any of it. He said I then started to wonder if I actually ever made it to coffee. I told him there were leaks in my car and asked if he knew why. My poor husband was terrified that I was going off some deep end somewhere and told me to stay put, he’d be right over.

When he arrived, he said I was pretty distraught that I couldn’t remember anything from the day. He ushered me from my car to his and noticed there was a leek (the vegetable) sitting on my passenger seat! That at least explained that question. Better than me seeing water or oil leaks where there weren’t any, right?

He told me that when we arrived at the hospital the entrance was blocked by several police officers. He was worried that the hospital was in lockdown, but they let him weave through their cars so he could get me into the main entrance. I don’t remember any of that. The gal at the front desk was worried I might be having a stroke, so she put me at the front of the line and we went straight into a room where I apparently met the doctor with the platypus mask and red crocs. She did the stroke protocol; pulled my mask down to check my smile, had me touch my fingers together, my nose, asked me to repeat certain words and phrases, tested for feeling on the sides of my arms and legs, etc.

“She’s not having a stroke,” she said. “We’ll do all of the tests to make sure, of course, but I think this is a case of Transient Global Amnesia.”

My poor husband had to watch as I forgot more and more things (the roof, the trip to the coast, that my favorite co-worker had given notice, that I had spent the weekend writing and had almost finished my book, etc.) but then after several hours it slowly – very slowly, started to come back again. Until the doctor walked back into my room and said, “I told you I was going to ask you a question. Do you remember what it was?”

Me, squinting: No.

Doctor: What color are my shoes?

Me: Oh, red! Your shoes are red!

In the end, I don’t think my mind finished rebooting and restoring until about 2:30 a.m. when it woke me up so it could try to figure out what the heck had just happened. That was when I was able to remember specifically when my mind stopped cataloging memories and when it started again. It wasn’t until the next day when I talked to my boss that I truly figured out that I’d lost about five hours. Five hours I will never get back again because my mind simply didn’t record the memories. You just don’t even know what you take for granted until it doesn’t happen, right? Every mundane action and thought is normally stored in your brain without you thinking about it.

Turns out I had a complete (and supposedly good) meeting with my boss, though he will have to recap it for me next time I see him (as the owner of the company, he’s rarely in the office). He never once guessed I was in the beginning stages of TGA. Heck, I don’t think I figured it out until I DROVE away and must have realized I had no recall of the meeting. I had the wherewithal to call my husband, I answered all the questions the doctors and nurses asked. I walked. I peed. I was one hundred percent normal, though I imagine I was scared. But I can’t remember any of it. SUCH A TRIP!

It isn’t a super common condition, but my case was classic. It usually lasts about 6 hours, doesn’t leave any lasting effects beyond the memories you don’t have, and the best part, it isn’t likely to recur.

Ironically, I have a manuscript with a main character who gets amnesia. See the lengths I will go to for research?

Anyway, isn’t that the craziest thing you’ve heard today? I challenge you to top that. I’m still reeling from it. But I’m very comforted by the fact that I was me the entire time, that I recognized my husband, and that it isn’t likely to recur. And now I’ve had a CT scan, so I know I don’t have a brain bleed or a tumor. Bonus.

Have you ever heard of Transient Global Amnesia? Have you ever known anyone who has experienced it? I’d love to know!

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Kai, I had the feeling I was reading a piece of fiction that you were writing. And I'm still not sure if this is real or fiction. Is this kind of amnesia related to that of the young woman in the movie, played by Drew Barrrymore, 50 First Dates? No, I've never know of anyone with GTA.

Kai Strand
Kai Strand
Oct 14, 2021
Replying to

Hello Barbara! So good to hear from you. This is so crazy, right? It absolutely happened. I don't think they are the same types of amnesia. Though it isn't a common occurrence, it does happen enough for them to recognize what I was going through. I'm so thankful to know that it isn't likely to happen again!

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