When the Brain Stops Working

brain scan image

We were in a movie theater watching a long and boring subtitled foreign film when it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't know where I was. Literally. I had been slumped down in my seat day-dreaming about sex and money when the realization flashed into my head like a light globe in a cartoon illustration: I'm lost.

I turned to my wife, the perceptive Cinelli, and whispered "Where are we?" She whispered back, "At the Laemmle," which was the name of theater. "Where?"  I insisted. "What city?" "Encino, California," she said, turning to study me. "I'm not sure where that is," I said.

I have a tendency to joke at inappropriate times, which annoys the hell out of her, but she knew that this time I wasn't kidding. I was indeed unaware of my whereabouts. "Come on," she said, leading me up the aisle. "To where?"  I asked.  "To an ER," she said. And off we went.

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I didn't know it at the time but I was suffering from Transient Global Amnesia. My brain had been swept clean of recent memory. I didn't recognize the theater, the name of the hospital we were heading for or where exactly we were at the moment even though we had lived in the area for 40 years.  "Where are we?" I asked over and over again. For all I knew we were driving down a street in Ulan Bator. That's in Mongolia, by the way.

My memory began to return in the 20 minutes it took to reach the hospital. The ER doctor knew immediately what it was. The brief memory loss was a typical symptom of TGA. It can have many causes, ranging from emotional stress and mild head traumas to strokes and seizures. Age is a factor and so are migraines. Harmless as they are, the attacks could be harbingers of much more serious medical conditions.

What caused me to fall into a dark, blank pit remains a mystery months later. I had suffered no traumas, physical or emotional. It just happened and then went away. My memory of all events, including the short blackout, is strong and clear to this very day.

After examining me, the ER physician strongly suggested that we seek out a neurologist if it happened again. It never has and I don't anticipate that it will because in the future I am going to avoid long foreign movies with subtitles unless I have read a rave review about the one we are about to see.

I'd tell you the name of the film we were watching when the TGA struck me blank, but for the life of me I can't remember. That's a good thing.

Photo Courtesy Wellcome Images Flickr photostream


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