Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Memory is a Terrible Thing to Lose

Losing one's memory is a frightening thing.
I lost three months of my life when I was seventeen. There was an accident--a brain injury. I was hospitalized for most of that time and even now, forty years later, I have no memory of it other than what I've been told.
My mother had several strokes in the last two and a half years of her life. In that time, she became a stranger to me and me to her. Her personality changed--once an outgoing, optimistic woman, she became shy, withdrawn and uncomfortable around strangers. In the last month of her life, she didn't recognize Collin or I at all.

A longtime family friend was a victim of Alzheimer's. The symptoms began early. He'd forget where he parked his truck. He'd forget where he was going. At first, it was amusing. But with the passing of time, it was apparent that what was happening was no joke. He lived longer than most with the disease, but he wasn't really living during most of those years. He came to the funeral parlor when my dad died. He stood at the casket and looked down at my dad and spoke two powerful words: "I remember."
I was diagnosed with epilepsy after the accident and put on Dilantin, which I took daily for years--but in my early forties, I decided I didn't need it anymore. I wasn't having seizures, after all. That was when the problems started. I was seeing a new doctor and never bothered to mention being epileptic, so when I complained of irritability, mood swings, lightheadedness, headaches, and olofactory distortions, the connection was not made. There were tests--everything from CT scans to doppler ultrasounds to stress tests. And there were misdiagnoses: bipolar 2, a blocked carotid artery, a possible stroke, even a suggestion that I could be diabetic (I'm none of the above).

Finally, an astute neurology resident ordered an EEG and there it was: epilepsy. I told him I'd been diagnosed long ago but didn't have seizures. He proceeded to explain.
Nonconvulsive seizures? Really? So those mini blackouts were seizures? All the times I insisted we had a gas leak and everybody thought I was nuts--those were seizures? I suppose that was explained to me at the hospital all those years ago, but as I said, I have no memory of that time.
Now, the memory issues have worsened. I've been reassured that I am not senile, I do not have Alzheimer's. It turns out that the cause of my memory and concentration problems is so simple it's embarrasing. It's  hormonal.
And here I thought I was breezing through menopause. The hot flashes weren't that bad, and Collin got a few laughs watching me dash out in the snow in shorts. Hormone replacement is out of the question with heart disease rampant in my genes, so....
I suppose I should just be grateful it's not Alzheimer's.


  1. Yes, we are all grateful because you are so important to us. Please don't ever forget me.

  2. I have those moments when I'm driving and suddenly I don't recognize any landmarks, I'm not sure where I am. They only last for a few seconds, and then everything seems to come back into focus. I sometimes joke about "senior moments" in my blogs, but they can be terrifying.

  3. I've worked with the Alzheimer's bunch for 23 years...and let me tell you, it is the worst disease out there. Ok, that's not true...Huntington's disease would be far worse for the patient, but for the patient's families, Alzheimer's is far worse. I am SOOOOOOO glad that you're going to be ok. As Evie says, you are VERY important to ALL of us. (((BIG HUG)))

  4. Alzheimer's is definitely harder on the family. It has sounded to me like the doctor you've got now is taking good care of you.

    I'm glad that the cause of all this is just, as you put it, so simple it's embarassing, rather then something much more serious. You're very important to all of us, Norma!

  5. When I was pregnant I ran into similar hormone memory issues. It was frustrating. I am better now but definately not the steal trap I was before. At least when I was a teen I could "choose" what I didn't want to remember.

  6. Like all of the above.... I so agree. So glad you found out what was really going on and your "OK".
    Good News all around.

    Someday we should trade stories.... Watson and I have an illness in common. In dogs it is "curable" within certain parameters, it takes a huge toll though. In humans there is no cure and it is a stepping stone to other problems.
    Yikes !
    Good Dog Watson !

    You are very important to us, Norma !

    cheers, parsnip

  7. Norma, I'm right with you. Amazing - no matter how hard you try to keep your mind sharp, it still happens. HRT wouldn't help the brain. I have to take it for a 'condition' that affects 1 in 5 women, and it hasnt' helped with memory. I am, however, chunking out nicely.


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