I hung up the phone. Numb. Cass would be at yoga for another hour or so, her cell phone off. I was at home with the kids, right in the middle of bedtime madness. I couldn’t leave, but I didn’t want to stay either. I thought about calling the neighbor to come over to stay with the kids, but I just couldn’t subject them to the wrath of Hurricane Isaac.
I sent out an A.P.B. prayer request to my tight-with-Jesus friends. One of whom, George, is a pastor, and I was hoping he might have a little extra oomph in his petition.
When Cass got home I debriefed her on the situation. She immediately called the neighbor and asked her to stay with our sleeping and now harmless children while we dashed to the hospital.
When we got there, Dad seemed relatively fine. Mom, my sister Nicole, and my friend George were already there. Mom seemed weary, and I was about to find out why.
For hours now Dad had been repeating the same line of questions every 2 minutes, in almost the exact same order:
Dad: Did I go to work today? And I rode the bus home? Then what?
Mom: We had dinner.
Dad: What did we eat?
Mom: Kielbasa, beans, and tomatoes.
Dad: And then what?
Mom: You went out and cut the grass.
Dad: I cut the grass? The back or front?
Mom: The front. With the push mower. Then you put water in the pool.
Dad: I put water in the pool?! And then what?
Mom: We talked to the neighbors and then you came in and took a shower.
Dad: So I guess I must have been incoherent, that’s why you brought me here?
Mom: No, not incoherent. You were just having memory issues.
Dad: Yeah, no shit. I cut the front yard and put water in the pool?
Dad: Wow. I don’t remember any of that. Now I’m scared.
Then tears would well up in his eyes, both out of fear and frustration, and seconds later it would start all over again:
Dad: So I went to work today?
Dad: And then I rode the bus home?…
And so it went, hour after hour. He was like a record that would skip at the same spot and then jump back to the beginning. Just as we’d explain everything to him, he’d suddenly forget it all and we’d be right back at the beginning. We tried to keep a straight face, but after you say “Keilbasa, beans, and tomatoes” for the umpteenth time, you can’t help but laugh.
“What are you laughing at?”
“Don’t worry about it, Dad. You won’t remember in a minute anyway.”
The doctors weren’t sure what was going on. They had done a cat scan and an EKG as soon as he arrived and everything looked clear. No signs of a stroke, bleeding on the brain, or anything serious like that. The funny thing is…I knew what was going on almost immediately.
About a month ago I was out on a long run, listening to a podcast called Radiolab. The particular episode I was listening to was about different kinds of loops. One of these “loops” was the story of a young woman whose mother had called her one day and was having trouble remembering things. The woman immediately took her mother to the hospital, thinking it was a stroke. Then, over the next several hours, the mother repeated the same set of questions every 90 seconds or so (Sound familiar?). Eventually, as the hours passed, the mother’s short-term memory slowly began to expand and she began to remember more and more until she had made a complete recovery. They determined it was a rare and relatively harmless malady known as Transient Global Amnesia (TGA).
When I got to the hospital and observed my dad, TGA immediately came to mind. All the signs were there: the repeating questions, the lack of any other symptoms, and the fact that he had probably overexerted himself mowing the lawn in the 90-degree heat.
“I think I know what this is!” I told my mom. “Transient Global Amnesia!”
About an hour later the doctor came in and gave us her expert opinion. “We think it may be something known as Transient Global Amnesia.”
Way ahead of you, Doc. I locked eyes with my mom and smiled.
Hearing this gave me some peace, but it was still exhausting — and somewhat freaky – to answer the same questions over and over again for someone who seemed otherwise normal. At one point Dad didn’t remember that I had a son or the fact that we had moved to a new house almost three years ago. Another time he asked if his parents were still alive; they passed away more than a decade ago.
Around midnight we all agreed that it would be best if we just went home and let Dad try to get some sleep. Thing is, it was hard picking a good moment to leave. As soon as you’d get up to go, the line of questioning would begin again. So I went out and asked the nurse for a pen and paper and I wrote Dad a note explaining everything, should he get confused in the middle of the night.
Or two minutes after we left.
It was difficult falling asleep that night. As I lay there, I thought to myself, What if it never stops? What if he just keeps asking the questions over and over…forever? (“For the millionth time, Dad—KIELBASA, BEANS, AND TOMATOES!!!”)
But eventually morning came and I headed back up to the hospital to see how he was doing. When I walked in his room, he was sitting up, hands folded on his lap, a confused look on his face.
“How you doin’?” I asked.
“You tell me.”
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“Well, I know I’m here for a reason. I just can’t remember how I got here. I know I went to work yesterday, but after that it’s all fuzzy.”
He remembered he had gone to work! He remembered! Thank God.
I began to fill him in on what had happened, totally expecting him to turn into a broken record again. But he never did. He just stared at me, amazed and bewildered. For him, the previous day never existed.
Soon my other family members (and George, too) showed up, and they were all thrilled that Dad was doing so well. We spent the morning laughing and joking about the previous day, as Dad wiped away the tears—this time from laughter rather than fear.
Was it a coincidence that I had heard that podcast just weeks earlier? I don’t think so. Some things are just too coincidental to be a coincidence.
Welcome back, Dad! We love you very, very much. To celebrate, Mom’s making us all dinner!
Guess what we’re having?