A Bout of Amnesia – The New York Times
On a Monday night in April 2021, my sister texted me: “Have you talked to mom?”
The announcement feels ominous. If it was good news (“Have you talked to mom? She won the lottery!”), my sister would say the same. I ran through my mental checklist of the reasons I should have talked to my mom. Did I forget Mother’s Day? Her birthday? Mine birthday? Once I concluded that I had not (again) been derelict in my duties as a Careful Adult, I realized something was very wrong.
Whether through nature or nurture, both my father and mother own a deep land, New England needs to show it. everything is fine, nothing to worry about. My mother sometimes delayed relaying bad news until the situation stabilized or resolved completely. My father, a glazier installing glass facades for decades, developed stoicism as a tool of trade. Regarding his professional conduct, he is also reluctant to disclose or seek treatment not at all diseases. He tends to see how long he can tolerate the discomfort in the hope that it will go away on its own.
So every few years my dad grinds his teeth, such as a migraine that becomes so intense that he can’t sit up or his thumb can’t stop the bleeding after chopping vegetables. Then, once his energy was too depleted for him to protest, my mother took him to the hospital, updating my sister and I as things calmed down. Knowing that there was such a possibility, I called my mother (something I do frequentby the way).
Earlier that day, she told me by phone, my father had moved some of the framed paintings from the shelf where they had been for years to another location in the family room. Twenty minutes later, he asked my mother why the pictures weren’t in their usual place.
He was able to recognize her and he knew the contours of their house, but it seemed his brain had automatically cleared in the past few weeks and years before that. He repeatedly expressed concern that he forgot his sister’s birthday, which he didn’t miss (but I was…sorry).
My father again could not refuse a trip to the hospital, so my mother took him there. At the ER, he wondered aloud why everyone was wearing masks.
He expressed his confusion disoriented, not a wake up anti-mask tone. When asked a series of memory-rating questions, he couldn’t pinpoint the day of the week, but he did know that Joe Biden was the incumbent president.
All I can do is worry. I wanted to get in the car and drive from my apartment in Brooklyn to the hospital in Boston, but because what? Because I am not fully vaccinated (curse my relative youth and good health!), my presence would be more of a threat to my parents than a consolation. The hospital wouldn’t even let me in. My deep concern, plus this surrounding coronavirus stress, has turned me into a supernova of pure anxiety.
During the pandemic, my family acted much more cautiously. Meaning: When my dad went to the hospital for a checkup, I hadn’t seen my parents for almost a year and a half, and I didn’t think some other Medical misfortunes may befall them during this time.
I was caught off guard. I feel the strain of horror that one must go through when faced with the fact that a loved one’s brain can be (to use a clinical term) dunzo. It’s hard not to assume the worst; and the worst, in this case, seemed indescribably bad. I was too nervous to make theories about my father’s condition to my wife, as if the theory out loud would make my fears a reality.
I slept that night, but barely slept, the cell phone clutched to my chest with the ringer volume turned all the way up. Two hundred miles away, my mother, sitting awake in a chair in the hospital room, had no reception. Because of Covid protocol, she was not allowed into the hallway where I could approach her if needed. But of course she didn’t tell me that.
The doctors returned the test results the next morning. The scans showed that my father had amnesia, a disease I am mainly associated with 20th century TV shows. Someone had a coconut on his head and forgot his own name. I wondered if the doctors had tried hitting my father with a second coconut, a treatment I remember doing for Gilligan.
Specifically, my father was transient global amnesia, a condition that sounds as if you are so rich that you forget where your assets are. (“Summer House in Turks… or Caicos?) In fact, transient global amnesia is a form of short-term memory loss that occurs rapidly and completely (hence “global”) and disappears. take within a day or two (ie, temporarily).
Doctors tell us that once the transient global amnesia passes, it won’t come back, but they really don’t know what causes it. They suggest that because the condition sometimes co-occurs with a severe migraine attack, the two phenomena may be related.
I heard all of this directly from my mom via text. Things got worse because of distance, uncontrollable circumstances. Then I read that transient global amnesia can also co-occur with a strong orgasm, and if that’s true, I guess, congratulations to my parents!
Around lunchtime on Tuesday, my father’s memories came flooding back. Technically, his strategy of simply waiting for a bout of illness has proven to be successful.
My mother knew he was fully back when he asked if they had been tested for Covid at the hospital. He doesn’t remember anything about his blackout. OH, he said, as she filled in him with the details of yesterday. Great awesome. She still cringed when I told her about the night my father died. Exhaustion and uncertainty were still accessible, immediate, to her.
My dad thinks the whole thing is hilarious. Why doesn’t he smile? He wasn’t really there, so he never knew there was anything to worry about.
In a way, I’ve been there more than him. I am spiritually present even when I am physically distant. Caught between the first and second doses of vaccine, I found that the difficult questions became even more complex. How far should we insulate those we love from painful truths? How can we be there Because the people we love when we can’t be there with surname? Where do we put our anxiety when there is no clear way out? The pandemic has increased this tension but not created it. There is always some kind of circumstance. We can only get close to those we love.
The reasons my mother didn’t want me to worry were the same reasons I always did.
Episode is a weekly column that explores a moment in a writer’s life. Josh Gondelman has worked as a writer for “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” and more recently as the lead writer and executive producer of “Desus & Mero.” His comedy special, “People Pleaser,” is available to stream.