The Home Team / Crossing into the Twilight Zone
Published 5:35 am, Thursday, December 1, 2011
Amazingly, I remember exactly when it started. I had just pulled into the garage, after a seriously strenuous workout at the gym -- a fact that would later become quite significant. I was in the process of trying to figure out something, though I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was -- which was very annoying -- when my wife called, needing a ride home from the train station. I pulled back out of the garage and went to pick her up, still distracted by the hazy, undefined, unfinished business in my mind.
After a shower and dinner, during which I couldn't shake this increasingly unsettled feeling, I went up to my study to write an entry on my Beagle Man blog -- but I couldn't remember how to post the photos. I'd done this over a hundred times in the past year, but now I couldn't retrieve any of the steps involved! My failures with technology have been well-documented and are the subject of countless family jokes -- but not being able to carry out a simple function I generally do about twice a week was not so funny.
I went downstairs and said to my wife, as matter-of-factly as I could, "My brain's not working right." I could hear Monday Night Football on the TV in the den. "Who are the Pats playing?" I asked. Now, for the first time, Carol looked concerned. My whole family is football-obsessed. I should know who the Pats are playing. I had talked about the Patriots-Chiefs game several times earlier in the day. She reminded me the Pats were playing the Chiefs. I would ask her the same question three more times in the next 15 minutes.
Carol then did what we always do in dire situations like this one: She called our good friend Marybeth, who's not only a nurse but an amazing font of medical knowledge. Marybeth always listens to our complaints very calmly, and responds very calmly. And we've been through this drill enough times to know that when she says, very calmly, "I think it might be a good idea to go to the emergency room," what she means is GET YOUR BUTT OVER TO THE E.R.-- NOW!
First stop after checking in was the triage nurse, who pointed to my companion and asked me, "Who's this?"
"My wife," I answered.
"Where are you now?"
"Norwalk Hospital. emergency room."
"Who's the President of the United States?"
She had me there. And it's not just that I couldn't recall the name. I didn't even have a picture in my head of who it was! It could have been freakin' Truman, or one of those Roosevelts, for all I knew at that point.
My wife said reassuring things, but I knew exactly what she was thinking: the S-word. As in stroke. It didn't help when I was sent right in behind closed doors and given a gown, without even having to serve time in the waiting room. Clearly, my Obama non-answer had jumped me ahead of the bandaged-up fingers and grapefruit-sized ankles out there.
Nurses kept pleasantly introducing themselves to me, and I kept pleasantly forgetting their names. Doctors kept giving me lists of three random objects to remember -- lamp, pen, dog -- and five minutes later I'd only come up with "dog." (Over the course of my hospital stay, I'd come to call this the "Rick Perry test.")
During those first few hours, the fog lifted twice -- but then slammed right back down again. Finally, though, at 5 a.m. (this adventure had started at 7:30 the night before), my brain cleared for good, and I felt normal again.
Not so fast, said the docs. After you've tried and failed to name the president of the United States, blanked out on how to operate your laptop and can't even remember what NFL team you root for, they don't turn you loose on the streets so quickly. They gave me an MRI along with various other tests, kept me all day for observation, and were going to hold me for a second overnight, but I played the sympathy card, mentioning that my three sons were all coming home for Thanksgiving and how would they feel finding me in the hospital? That's what finally sprung me.
The diagnosis was transient global amnesia -- or TGA. A temporary condition often related to rigorous physical exertion. Check. Typically lasts for two to eight hours. Check. During the episode, the subject can't recall anything outside of the last few minutes. Check. There are no lasting effects. Thank God.
With this adventure tucked safely in the past, it's revealing to note the difference in the concerns that were haunting the two of us, my wife and myself. Her all-consuming worry was that she'd be married to a drooling rutabaga who'd point to our youngest son and ask, repeatedly, "Now what's that kid's name again?"
Mine was that they'd tell me I'd have to scale back my workouts at the gym.
Hank Herman is a Westport writer, and his "The Home Team" appears every other Friday. He also is the author of "Accept My Kid, Please! A Dad's Descent Into College Application Hell."