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Sudden Memory Loss: My Husband's Story

Updated on July 30, 2017
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I am a mum of two young men. I enjoy detective novels, psychological thrillers, country walks, and eating out in quiet pubs.

A happy memory for my husband, Mark.
A happy memory for my husband, Mark. | Source

Just another Day

Most people would like to have an unforgettable vacation. Last year, we certainly managed that, for a peculiar reason. Halfway through our break, my husband, Mark, lost his memory.

The first week of our stay in Wales was lovely. Blue skies, barbeques, beautiful scenery. We enjoyed visiting favourite old haunts. If it hadn't been for Mark having a migraine virtually daily, everything would have been perfect.

On the middle Friday, Mark decided to play tennis with our younger son, Sam. We left Josh having a lie in, and headed off to the local town, where the guys hit the leisure centre and I went for a stroll. After a potter round the shops, I headed back to watch the end of their match. But as I reached the car, I saw that Mark was sitting in the passenger seat, with Sam standing by him looking flustered.

"Where have you been?" Sam asked. "Didn't you get my messages?" Mobile phone reception is poor in that area. "Dad's gone all weird. He sat down on the tennis court, then forgot where he was."

Porthmadog, Wales

The hills near Porthmadog, Wales
The hills near Porthmadog, Wales | Source

Mark looked perfectly normal. "Are you okay now?" I asked him.

"Of course I am. Don't know why Sam thinks there's a problem." No slurring. I decided to check for signs of a stroke. Mark could hold both arms in the air and smile properly. Then he said, "I'm guessing we're in Wales; those road signs are in Welsh." A shiver went down my spine. He couldn't remember what time of year it was, how long we'd been on holiday, where we were staying, or that Josh was with us.

Sudden memory loss calls for immediate medical attention. It was time for a trip to the local hospital.

The nurse at the walk-in clinic took Mark through straight away. She said there were no doctors in the hospital until later that afternoon, then ran a series of tests, checking Mark's neurological status. Though calm and co-operative, he kept asking why he was there. He'd repeat the same phrase over and over, saying he had a sense of deja-vu. The nurse asked what his job was. He replied that he was a civil servant, but wasn't sure what he actually did. Mark kept looking down at his clothes, saying, "I'm guessing I've been playing sport." Then he asked again if we were in Wales.

Ambulance Time

Soon the nurse popped out, and on return said she's arranged for Mark to be admitted to a larger hospital, about 26 miles away. An ambulance was on its way. I asked Sam to go with his dad as he'd witnessed the start of this, while I dashed off to collect Josh and follow them.

On arrival at Bangor hospital, we learned Mark had had a "funny turn," and had been taken to the resuscitation room as a precaution. My knees went weak. His paramedics were mystified. Mark had been talking, then went quiet and turned deathly pale. An ECG ruled out any heart problem, then he was sent to the Emergency Assessment Unit to await a head CT scan.

As the paramedics were leaving, Mark said, "Guys, before I forget, thanks for all your help." One of them patted his shoulder and said, "You've been thanking us all the way here, mate." A doctor examined Mark, who still didn't know why he was there. The doc asked him what was the last thing he could remember. Mark had no answer. A porter came and whisked him off for the scan.

Thankfully the CT scan showed no abnormalities. The docs still suspected a possible bleed on the brain, and wanted to do a lumbar puncture to check for blood in the spinal fluid. This proved tricky and ultimately unsuccessful, as, over time, three sets of doctors attempted to insert a needle into Mark's spine. When the third try did produce a sample, the doctor used the wrong sample bottle, and the labs couldn't test it. At least they saw that the fluid looked completely clear.

Luckily, we were allowed to stay with Mark on the unit, and spent a bizarre afternoon answering the same question a dozen or so times until something clicked in his head. Then the next question or comment would be repeated over and over. At one point I wrote an answer down so he could refer to it. He read it, then put the paper to one side and forgot it was there. My big guy had the memory span of a goldfish, and I began to wonder if this was how our life would be from now. It wasn't a good feeling.

Although this was a larger hospital, it didn't have any neurosurgeons or neurologists, and we were told Mark might be moved to a specialist unit in Liverpool, ninety minutes away.

At one point Mark grew upset, thinking he must have scared Sam, and got stuck in that scenario for a while. Thankfully, he moved on to planning his escape. "I'm bored now. Let's get the hell out of Dodge." Again, and again. It was like he was caught in a re-boot mode.

Signs of Hope

As the afternoon wore on, Mark suddenly said, "We went fishing, didn't we? Josh caught a carp." That had been three days earlier - it seemed a small breakthrough. Slowly, little comments showed Mark's memory was returning. Things were a bit patchy, but looking more hopeful. He ate his evening meal, making the same corny joke between each mouthful, then looked at the empty plate and asked whose it was. Soon, it was as if Mark was waking up, returning to normality. He could retain answers to his questions, and remember more of recent events. The repetitions lessened, apart from the requests to leave hospital, which the doctors were unhappy about. On their advice, he agreed to stay the night.

Unfortunately, things rolled slowly on for the next few days. Transferred to a ward, we were restricted to visiting hours, but at least Mark had a spectacular view of Mount Snowdon. The Rescue helicopter landing pad was also in view, and we joked that Prince William, who worked on the rescue service, kept popping by.

Reaching a Diagnosis

On the Tuesday, a neurologist from Liverpool came to visit. His diagnosis was that Mark's sudden memory loss was transient global amnesia, or TGA, in his case brought on by disruption from multiple migraines.

This condition is an odd phenomenon that's been medically recognised for around forty years. The sufferer retains social skills, usually recognises people they know, but forgets recent events. Typically, they will repeat the same phrases over and over in exactly the same manner. (This is one of the most striking features, and what helped the doctor to diagnose Mark.) Memory usually returns within twenty-four hours.

The consultant arranged a couple more tests, to be on the safe side, and the hospital let us go out in the evenings to have a meal together and throw a few stones on the beach. Mark's memory would lapse a little, which he put down to being in hospital with poor sleep. Thankfully, he was discharged just as we were due to return home.

When we managed to Google TGA, it looked like Mark's case was a classic example. He saw our family doctor, who said in all his years in practice, he'd only met one other person who'd experienced this form of sudden memory loss. It wasn't even a patient, but his own father-in-law. This phenomena usually only occurs once, though his father-in-law did have a second episode. The family recognised what was happening, and sent him to bed to sleep it off. I think I'd get a medical opinion before doing that!

TGA versus stroke or brain haemorage symptoms

Transient Global Amnesia
Possible stroke symptoms
Possible brain haemorage
Sudden loss of memory
Facial droop
Sudden onset of terrible headache
Unable to retain new information
Unable to hold both arms in the air
Repeats phrases in exactly the same manner
Slurred speak
Photophobia (dislike of bright light)
May become scared or upset
One sided weakness
Usually recognises people
Unable to understand words
Possible drop in conciousness
Symptoms usually resolve within 24 hours
Unable to find right words to say

All's well that ends well

Thankfully, Mark's memory is now as good as ever. He takes migraine preventatives, as his headaches persisted for a while, and Sam refuses all offers of a game of tennis. Mark never has remembered anything about that day, from leaving the house around 10.30 am, until some time in the evening. Ignorance is bliss. The boys and I will never forget.

Mark's a pretty laid-back guy.
Mark's a pretty laid-back guy. | Source

A relative's account of TGA


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    • profile image

      Dale 9 months ago

      I have just returned from picking up my husband from the hospital. He had an episode similar to Mark. All test results, blood work etc. proved negative. The doctor was pretty sure that it was the beginning of dementia. A few minutes ago, I typed in "sudden memory loss" into my computer, which brought me to your story. My husband 's symptoms were almost identical to Mark's. Then I researched TGA, printed the results, and now we have something to show the neurologist, because I'm certain that this is what happened. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 22 months ago from uk

      "Crazy experience" is so true! Thank goodness your husband was with people who knew you. Interesting that he's had a couple of brief episodes since. I hope that's an end to it for him.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 22 months ago from United States

      My husband had a TGA episode about 10 years ago. It started while he was exercising at the YMCA at around 9:00 at night. They knew us and called me. I took him to the hospital, which did all sorts of tests. He finally came back about 8:00 the following morning. He had a couple of other instances of about 15 minutes lost and now doesn't do any sort of exercise like weights which causes his blood pressure to rise quickly. However, he can run 4 miles with no problem. It is a very crazy experience.

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 2 years ago from uk

      S. I'm so glad you found this article helpful. Hopefully your father is now recovered. We joke about some aspects of Mark's experience these days, but it was no laughing matter at the time.

    • profile image

      S. 2 years ago

      Thank you for this article. My father had a TGA episode on Tuesday and it scared the hell out of us. We read your article prior to hearing a diagnosis of TGA and were quite relieved as we didn't have any other information yet besides the fact the CAT scan showed no signs of stroke. What a bizarre experience but exactly like yours. Some contributing factors for my father was a three week strenuous vacation, loss of his best friend to Parkinsons disease and a migraine headache two days prior. Anyway your article provided us some comfort and hope until we met with the neurologist. We appreciate you sharing your experience.

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 3 years ago from uk

      Chris, I hope your Dad recovers fully soon. At least you know he got through things last time.

    • profile image

      Chris 3 years ago

      Almost the exact same thing happened to my Dad about a year ago. They put in a pacemaker / heart monitor. Today he's having a second attack, he's forgetting things after about a couple minutes, but at least this time he remembers a lot more from his long-term memory, although there are still some parts he's missing for now. I'm optimistic that he'll get it all back again this time just like last time (other than the memories of the episode itself).

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      AK, it's hard to credit the sudden change. Transient global amnesia isn't always connected to migraines, but two neurologists have said that seems to be the cause in Mark's case. Sometimes it's linked to stress or strenuous physical activity, sometimes it's of unknown origin. It is a scary situation, good thing your dad's getting checked out thoroughly. Very best wishes for him and the family.

    • profile image

      AK 4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this. The same thing happened to my Dad yesterday, although he hasn't been having migraines as far as I'm aware. But it was SO sudden - one minute fine, the next he was saying "Why am I dressed like this?" and asking the time over and over again. Very, very scary. So he was admitted to hospital last night...what made us hopeful was that he was all pouty because it meant he had to miss the Chelsea-Man U game! We'd really worry if he had expressed no concern about that! He's still there and we're waiting for the CT scan and other test results. Fingers crossed for a happy outcome too.

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      Becky, thanks so much for your comment. It did make me wonder about people who go missing - have they lost their memory and wandered off? I'm so glad Mark wasn't on his own when this happened.

    • Rfordin profile image

      Rfordin 4 years ago from Florida

      Oh my.... I was a bit worried in the beigning of the article I must say. I'm happy things turned out "good" for you and Mark. I can only imagine.

      Thanks for sharing.


    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      Thanks for commenting, SAM ELDER. Mark read this for the first time recently, he said it sounded scary!

    • SAM ELDER profile image

      SAM ELDER 4 years ago from Home

      Interesting Hub ,, wow.. and scary...

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      It was a bizarre experience, CarNoobz, completely out of the blue. I know what you mean about memory problems and poor concentration. It seems a fairly common difficulty, especially in these stressful times. Having Alzheimer's in the family must be a concern., hopefully your awareness gives the opportunity to consult a doctor for reassurance. Thanks for commenting.

    • CarNoobz profile image

      CarNoobz 4 years ago from USA

      Oh my goodness. How scary that must have been! I worry about my own memory problems, sometimes. Alzheimer's runs in my family, and I always seem to forget stuff or have EXTREME difficulty concentrating.

      Voted up

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      So pleased to hear, Gray, thanks for taking the time to pop back! My husband's been fine since, hopefully your mum will be, too.

    • profile image

      Gray 4 years ago

      Hiya thought I would let you know mum is on the mend memory coming back apart for Friday! They say she may have had transient global amnesia

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      It's early days, Gray. We kept reassuring Mark he was okay, and didn't really ask him what he could remember in case he got freaked out, realizing how much he'd forgotten. It's a weird situation to be in when things happen so suddenly. Take care.

    • profile image

      Gray 4 years ago

      Thanks my mum kept asking the same questions what time is it where am I what date is it is Wendy alive .. Then if we asked questions on recent events ie last two years she had not a clue ! Think as she was in a panic it made things worse and worse ! No change overnight the hospital say

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      Hello Gray, sorry to hear this, of course you're worried. In my husband's case, it was the fact he kept repeating things in the same way that meant he was diagnosed with transient global amnesia. There are other causes, I'm sure the hospital will help your mum all they can, it's horrible waiting for news. Take one step at a time. Very best wishes for your family.

    • profile image

      Gray 4 years ago

      Hi this has happened to my mum last night , the docs have no idea yet what the problem is. One sec she was reading a boom, then bang memory loss! Report from the hospital this morning is no change. Nothing is showing up on the brain scan , father said she did have a bad head in the morning . I pray her memory comes back ! The scan pic looks ok but they will take another one today ! Fingures crossed from very worried G

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      Kosmo, thank you for commenting. Sorry to hear about your mother, that's difficult to deal with. My dad had dementia. Mark's memory loss was so sudden, it was really odd. Thank goodness he's been fine since.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      This is a fascinating story! It's amazing how medical science can be baffled by such a condition as temporary amnesia. Regarding such, my mother had Alzheimer's disease but, unfortunately, it wasn't temporary. Later!

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      Thanks for the comment, Scribenet. If only we'd been home when it happened, our nearest hospital has a large neurology department. Still, we're very grateful Mark's had no long term effects.

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a harrowing experience and thankfully all turned out well. Good that it was not a stroke.

      Still very scary. Thanks for sharing, I am sure there are others out there needing this info.

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 5 years ago from uk

      It was a chilling moment, ithabise. If only someone had picked up on the diagnosis sooner, things would have been different. It's a relatively rare condition, so everyone involved will have learned something. And yes, I'm very thankful life returned to normal. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • ithabise profile image

      Michael S. 5 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      Riveting, innerspin! I could feel your fear when you said, "I began to wonder if this was how our life would be from now." How thankful you must be that all turned out well and that it was nothing worse than what it was. Thanks for sharing this experience.

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 5 years ago from uk

      Thanks for your comment, J. Frank Dunkin. We certainly hope that it will be a one-off. We can look back and laugh at some of the situation now, but it was pretty intense at the time.

    • J. Frank Dunkin profile image

      Joseph Franklin Dunkin Jr 5 years ago from Foley, Alabama

      Fascinating. Can only imagine how concerned you were. Praying you never have to go through that again. My ex-wife had migraines a lot. Finally started taking niacin which worked, but would turn her beet red for about an hour.

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 5 years ago from uk

      Hi Redberry Sky, thanks for commenting. Yes, it was pretty freaky, a case of " keep calm and carry on." Not the most relaxing holiday!

    • Redberry Sky profile image

      Redberry Sky 5 years ago

      What a scary experience for you, and written in a fascinating way. I once worked with a woman who suffered terribly from migraines after she had a car accident, and very occasionally she would have little episodes where her memory seemed to be on the fritz - nowhere near as bad as your husband suffered, but quite disturbing nonetheless. Migraines are so strange and scary, I do hope your husband continues to be free of them.