I stood hanging on to my shopping cart, mind blank. A fog had descended. I stared at the guy in front of me, picking through vegetables. I remember him, because on the back of his navy blue shirt were the letters, “EMS.” I would meet him a little later.
“Can I help you find something?” A store employee looked at me. I wanted to answer, I really did, but my mouth moved and I made no sense. She took my arm and guided me to an enclosed room and made me sit. I grabbed my purse from the cart. I’m pretty sure there was some produce in the cart—things I had no recollection of putting there.
I knew something was not right.
So started my most intriguing journey of lost memories.
Just before I had dashed into the store, I exercised for a couple hours across the street. I was pooped. The last thing I did in my workout were five one-minute planks, with one minute rest periods in-between. I was proud of how strong I felt at 63 years. I was making great progress. Once a week I did strength training under the guidance of a trainer, and four or five days a week I rode my bicycle for 50 minutes on the dirt roads near my house.
But now I was sitting in this darkened room. The woman and someone else were asking me questions. I was underwater—the air felt thick, sounds were muted. She looked at me, her mouth moved, I tried to answer. A water bottle appeared in the chair next to me. How did it get there?
Then I met the EMS guy. He asked me questions: when did you eat breakfast? What did you have? What is your name? I didn’t remember breakfast, but I knew my name. And I was told later that I kept correcting him. “It’s Terry, with a “T.” I don’t remember doing that, but I often make sure people hear my name correctly.
He told me to repeat a phrase, something about the sky. And I remember thinking, I can say that, and I did, I thought, and I enunciated clearly. But he kept asking me questions. He was right next to me, and he said something like, “I want to take you in.” And I said something like, “yes, this isn’t right.”
It was the heaviness, the pea soup, drifting around me. Ordered thoughts were just out of reach. They were there, lurking about, all the information I needed was there, but I could not snag the right thoughts and spit them out.
Physically I felt alright, just tired from my workout. No weakness, no tingling, no paralysis. When Lorenzo the paramedic took me to the ambulance conveniently parked outside the store, he firmly gripped my arm. I wondered why he was clutching me so tightly. He asked where my car was located. “Over there,” I said. Somewhere.
In the ambulance I asked him how long he’d been a paramedic, and said I had been an EMT. His report that I saw later stated that I was repetitive. Really? I was just being chatty and pleasant. But the dense air filled the ambulance, splitting my thoughts, which swirled around with no particular order. A blood pressure cuff went on, and an IV went in. I learned later that placing a second IV is standard procedure for certain patients—stroke patients—just in case they had to use the clot busting drug.
He asked my birthdate. That was easy, but I could see each word streaming from my mouth, as though my mouth were typing the words. He asked my age. I couldn’t remember if I was 61 or 63. Very disturbing. He pulled out his calculator and figured it out.
His demeanor was casual, but he was moving rapidly. I felt no alarm, really. Instead, I felt rather removed from the situation, and gazed out the back window. Then the sirens raged. What fun. For some reason we needed rapid transit.
I looked at Lorenzo, and said, “This is a stroke, isn’t it?” I wasn’t scared. Lorenzo didn’t say anything.
After an ambulance ride that took at least thirty minutes but seemed like no more than ten, they rolled me into the ER. Six people looked at me. Someone commanded me to do all kinds of things, but I’m not sure what. I remember getting a Cat Scan.
I was there for about five hours. I still wasn’t scared, didn’t feel ill, and was mostly curious about the whole thing, thinking something’s amiss, but what was it? All my tests came back clear—no blockage in my head arteries, nothing seemed wrong. I was still having trouble retrieving information about myself, but things were getting better. Except I had to listen to the patient who was loudly cursing hospital staff and apparently spitting blood on a doctor outside my room.
The ER doctor released me with a diagnosis of a TIA—transient ischemic attack—a mini-stroke. There was a blockage that resolved itself, apparently. But when I saw the neurologist a few days later, she was certain I had experienced TGA—transient global amnesia. This is a relatively uncommon condition marked by a sudden inability to make current memories. Sometimes it is triggered by physical exercise, but what causes it is not clear. It is not likely to happen again and it appears that it does not cause lasting problems, although I felt a bit scattered for the next few days.
The event evoked a range of emotions. A TIA—that’s a warning for a deadly stroke. I’ll be on drugs forever, I thought. This isn’t fair—I exercise, my blood pressure is low, I don’t eat meat, I’m not overweight, what else am I supposed to do? And I could have died in a flash. I wrote my son and mentioned updating my will. Bad move. He called immediately, voice shaking. I hugged my other son, and told him I was proud of him and loved him. Death seemed imminent.
Then I was happy. Elated, in fact. I was walking and talking. And I could pet my cat. And the sun was warm. And the mourning dove had such a lovely coo. But then the daily regimen of aspirin and statins made me sick, anxious. Dark thoughts emerged. Not fair. I had so much left to do in my life.
Thankfully I saw the neurologist who corrected the diagnosis. Now it’s a good story I can tell. With a happy ending. How lucky I was to be shopping for vegetables at the same time as Lorenzo the paramedic. He told me he never got to buy his vegetables. If I ever see him again, I’ll buy him vegetables, whatever he wants.
Life is so darn short. So short. Every moment, every moment is a precious now. I want them all. I want every single now. I want them to keep going. And I want happiness around me. And love. A blanket of love.