The Mystery of Memory Loss

How often do you forget where you left your keys? Or where you parked? Or an acquaintance’s name? These types of temporary memory loss are common occurrences that almost all of us encounter on a daily basis. And if you have never seen this hysterical video about  “Age-Activated Attention Deficit Disorder,” make the jump after you finish the post for a little relatable humor.

illustration for memory lossBut what happened to me a couple of weeks ago is a memory-related neurological phenomenon of an entirely different nature that I share here as a both fascinating and cautionary tale. I had flown back from Italy over the weekend and was returning to my regular routine, working out with my trainer on Thursday morning. Toward the end of our session, she commented on how wonderfully my dog, Charlie, seemed to be doing after his ACL surgery. When I responded with “What surgery?” she eyed me skeptically. But as I continued to become more disoriented, with greater memory loss, including my recent trip to Italy, she became concerned. I was lucky that she is also a trained EMT and that my sister, who happened to have spent the night, was sitting in the next room. They knew enough to check for signs of a stroke and the importance of acting quickly. After a 911 call, I was rushed off by ambulance to our local hospital where a battery of tests was performed to rule out stroke, brain or heart issues (I am happy to report all were negative).

memory lossHowever, while on the gurney, with my husband and sister by my side, waiting to be shepherded from one test to another, I exhibited classic signs of perseveration, repeating the exact same question over and over, even though it had just been answered seconds earlier. It was evidently so frustrating for all involved (except me since I, to this day, still have no memory of the incident) that my husband and nurse wrote out the note above, which they then showed me each time I asked where I was or what had happened.

memory loss as a theme in MirageHours later, when all the tests (CT scan, MRI, EKG, EEG and full blood work-up) were completed and I was on my way to a room for overnight observation, my memory began to return. It was determined I had suffered an attack of transient global amnesia (TGA). I seemed to be a text book case for this unusual neurological phenomenon that lasts up to 24 hours and has no corresponding illnesses, conditions nor lasting effects. It is sometimes associated with physical exercise or sudden temperature change and although it has been documented for many years, it is as mysterious a condition now as ever. Memory loss has fascinated not only doctors but artists ad infinitum as well. Think of all the seemingly unlikely movies themed around the fragility of memory. Considering the truth-stranger-than-fiction nature of transient global amnesia, perhaps these plots are not as improbable as originally thought. Hitchock was certainly fascinated with memory and featured it many of his films such as Mirage, above, with Gregory Peck, looking understandably paranoid and confused.

Spellbound, Hitchcock's classic about memory loss

In Spellbound, the surreal nature of the mind’s mysterious ways was accentuated by Salvador Dali’s spectacular sets, above. It certainly makes you realize, as my doctor explained, that the human brain is more like a computer than we imagine, with circuit breakers that can momentarily be switched off and then just as inexplicably return to normal. Or perhaps it can be attributed to nature’s ebb and flow. Days after my incident, I was chatting with an old friend of my mother, who revealed that her 14 year old grandson experienced an attack of TGA while playing football on the same day I had mine. My sister pointed out that day was a full moon. Who knows where the mysteries of memory loss lie but I am grateful that mine is once again intact.

26 thoughts on “The Mystery of Memory Loss

  1. Wow…a scary one! So glad you were safely home and in the care of a hospital system you are comfortable with. It makes all the difference. Imagine if you were in transit….on second thought, don’t go there. ;) Glad to read you are well…take care.

  2. I am so glad that all is well. This is information that we all need to have. Our brains are our most valuable resource–it is so important to treat them with respect–enough sleep, proper foods and stress reduction as much as possible. Also–a good laugh is definitely the best medicine. Have a great week. Mary

  3. So glad you are ok!! It must have been so frightening for you and your family. Thank you for sharing this story with us. We understand so little about the brain. This is an enlightening and incredible story.

  4. Dear Stacey,
    I am so glad that you are alright as I have never heard of this phenomenon and was so concerned.
    Thank you for sharing the experience and the information. IT would be great if the doctors had more ideas on preventing this from occurring.

    The Arts by Karena

  5. Stacey–Really glad that you are okay…that was a helpful thing to share, it’s good to be aware of all the strange things that can occur in mind and body.

  6. What the?!?!? Stacey, that is scary! Of course, only you would find a way to connect your personal account with art and culture. Love that about you! So happy to hear that you are well and will continue to entertain and inform us with clarity and in perfect health! ox

  7. Well…I never! Live and Learn and THANKS for sharing this “frightening” event…now I’m going to GOOGLE to see what in the world this is about… franki

  8. Wow…as bad things happen how fortunate you were to not be alone and be with the people who love you the most. I can just picture Bob writing that note with the nurse and your wonderful sister and trainer recognizing that all was not well. God bless you and your family. xo

  9. Oh dear! You were certainly surrounded by a loving group and thankfully, you are just fine! What a scare and an amazing account of what happened. Wonderful for you to share since this could happen to any of us. Sending a big HUG! ox

  10. A friend forwarded this to me as I was diagnosed with TGA on Oct. 14, 2014. My coworkers feared I was having a seizure or a stroke when I began repeating the same questions and actions and called 911. I think the whole incident was scarier for my coworkers and my husband, but fortunately my memory started to return after 3 hours (although I can’ t remember anything from that morning). I went through the whole battery of tests that you did, including a MRA. Must admit it was quite unsettling to find out what had happened. Fortunately the doctors feel this is unlikely to happen again, and I’m sure you’ll join me in saying “Let’s hope it doesn’t!”

  11. Stacey,
    As I was reading this, I knew it was the same condition my mother suffered from while we were in Venice. I swear I am the only person I know who toured Venice in a water ambulance. The Dr. also called it brain fart : ) True story. Glad you are well and I witnessed how scary it can be.

  12. Stacey, please add me to the long list of well-wishers. What an experience! I will say if given the choice of experiences, I would take the (not quite) 48 hours in Santa Margherita and Portofino!
    Thank you for your interesting and informative posts as always, Beth

  13. Stacey
    Despite the fact that you told me about this when I saw you the other day, I immediately teared up when I read this post and the very sweet, compassionate note that your nurse and husband wrote you. Maybe its because my emotions are high with all going on with my mom or just cause I love you so much but we are all so over worked, stressed, driven, and on and on that I can’t help but believe that these things all factor in. Glad you are back my friend. Can’t wait for our Italian excursion. xo CJ

  14. That is indeed such a scary story but really valuable to share. Thank you! The human brain is an incredibly marvellous, fascinating and occasionally frightening thing. Thank goodness you were OK and diagnosed properly!

  15. Stacey, just to add to the chorus of relief that you are all right– and lucky to have smart and loving people around you. And WE are lucky to have YOU. Thanks, Frances

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