What the heck is Transient Global Amnesia?

Maybe I just don’t remember…

Lovely Puppy PortraitPicture this. Waking up in a room in the ER. Only you haven’t actually been sleeping. You’ve been awake the whole time.  Talking, answering questions, and who knows what else. You just don’t know that…

On April 11th of this year I lost several hours of my memory. At about 7:30 PM that day – without even being aware of it – I called my daughter and said, “Can you please come over. I’m confused.”  She asked if I wanted her to call an ambulance.  I said no. I don’t remember my daughter and my son-in-law rushing into my home and taking me to the emergency room. I don’t remember talking to doctors and nurses; I don’t remember getting a CT scan. And I didn’t know who our president is. (I won’t tell you what my daughter said about that!) All of this time I had no sense of fear or concern because I was totally unaware of what was going on.

I “woke up” about 9:00 PM that evening, still in the ER and still confused.  I didn’t remember that earlier I had gone to teach my evening class at the local community college. I didn’t remember cancelling the class because I didn’t feel well. I don’t remember driving home.

I was admitted to the hospital at about midnight that evening.  It wasn’t until about 1:00 AM that my mind started to really clear. I remembered that I did, in fact, start my class and then cancelled it.  My memory of parts of the evening grew by bits and pieces. However, there were and still are several “lost hours” of which I have absolutely no memory.  In the morning I felt pretty much like my “old self.” After having a normal MRI, I was sent home.

In retrospect the whole experience was and is very scary.  While it was happening I was oblivious, in “conscious unawareness” (my term, not a medical term!) so I was not scared or disconcerted. However, I know that my daughter and my other loved ones were very frightened.  No, I didn’t have a stroke. No, I didn’t have a TIA (transient ischemic attack). I did have transient global amnesia.

Here is how the Mayo Clinic describes transient global amnesia (sometimes referred to as TGA):

Transient global amnesia is a sudden, temporary episode of memory loss that can’t be attributed to a more common neurological condition, such as epilepsy or stroke.

During an episode of transient global amnesia, your recall of recent events simply vanishes, so you can’t remember where you are or how you got there. In addition, you may not remember anything about what’s happening in the here and now. Consequently, you may keep repeating the same questions because you don’t remember the answers you’ve just been given. (I did that…over and over and over!)

The condition most often affects people in middle or older age. With transient global amnesia, you do remember who you are, and you recognize the people you know well. Episodes of transient global amnesia always improve gradually over a few hours. During recovery, you may slowly begin to remember events and circumstances. Transient global amnesia isn’t serious, but it can still be frightening.

That last statement is so very true. However, more frightening to me than experiencing this amnesia is thinking about how scared my daughter must have been to see me in the throes of this episode. I was not “me.” She had no idea if I would ever be “me” again…

I am so thankful that it didn’t take long for me to “get over” my experience with TGA and return to a sense of well-being. While the cause of TGA is unknown, stress is very likely a factor. Since, generally speaking, life causes stress for all of us (!), I am doing my best to handle my life’s stressors in positive ways.

While it’s unlikely that I will ever experience transient global amnesia again in my lifetime, having one episode was certainly – to say the very least – a learning experience. Now, if you’ve kindly taken the time to read this rather lengthy post, you also are aware of this unusual, rare condition.

As travelers on our life journeys, learning experiences abound. Some are pleasant; some not-so-much. Here’s to welcoming all life experiences. Quite simply, those life experiences mean we’re still alive!

Yay life!