By Rande Davis
I have been thinking about one of my all time favorite TV shows, The Twilight Zone, but not for a good reason. On the morning of July 2, I woke up in a twilight zone. The only thing missing was Rod Serling’s smooth, overly calm, baritone voice warning (with that mesmerizing musical score, da, na, na, na, da na, na, na): This cool, placidly normal summer morning is about to take a change for the worst for this otherwise happy grandfather who holds the key to the door of imagination and new dimensions of sound, substance, and mind. He is about to enter a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. He is about to cross over into the Twilight Zone.
You may think I am out of my mind, and I admit there are more than a few people ready to accept that proposition as totally unsurprising. Nevertheless, I awoke in a dreamlike state of mind, groggy and confused in a reality somewhere between asleep and awake, cognizant of my physical surroundings, recognizing my wife and grandson, but otherwise unable to remember any conversation more than a few seconds old.
It turned out not to be the Twilight Zone but something the doctors call transient global amnesia (TGA).
During an episode of TGA, your recall of recent events simply vanishes, so you can’t remember where you are or how you got there. You may also draw a blank when asked to remember things that happened a day, a month, or even a year ago. With TGA, you do remember who you are, and recognize the people you know well, but that doesn’t make your memory loss less disturbing.
Fortunately, transient global amnesia is somewhat rare, seemingly harmless, and unlikely to happen again. Episodes are usually short-lived, and afterward your memory is fine. The doctors at Shady Grove Hospital treat patients with TGA up to three times a month. While I was at the hospital, through the exceptional help of all the healthcare providers, the staff ruled out stroke and other more serious concerns.
I have no direct recollection of the morning but can only recount this event as if it were about someone other than me.
The ambulance was called when I kept asking the same question over and over again, five to six times, within a few minutes’ time. For my wife and grandson, it was bizarre, and at times horrifying. In asking about family, I learned, as if for the first time, that my brothers were both dead even though one died six months ago and the other ten years ago. Then I learned this terrible news for the first time again and again within a few minutes. When my son arrived, whom I had just helped move into the family’s new home in Poolesville, I was shocked and entirely overjoyed that he was living in Poolesville. This joyous news, too, was experienced over and over again.
In the emergency room, I couldn’t figure out how I got there, and when told I came by ambulance, I thought that was unfair. I mean, I took an ambulance ride but couldn’t remember it! I missed the siren and everything?
I know I shouldn’t sound flippant about it since the cause is not known; however, since I don’t actually remember the event, it is less traumatizing to me than for my family. I am proud of my wife who used her professional healthcare experience to help the family through this crisis, and my heart aches for my grandson, who, with tears running down his face, was worried it might be Alzheimer’s.
I share this story so as to help another family through this rare experience in a more hopeful, less frightening way than we did, knowing it can be only temporary and, also, to share the experience as one of those markers along life’s path that note something profound has happened to alter one’s perspective on life. For now, I cannot accept a new day without more appreciation for family and life than the day before. The trick is to see how many more days I can hold that feeling without returning to the dull, assumptive days of normalcy.