The scare of my life (My life partner Greta gave me permission to publish this story). TGA is rare in humans.
Last Sunday afternoon, my life partner Greta and I drove from San Clemente (California) to Marina Del Rey, a few miles northwest of the Los Angeles Airport, for a reunion of three high school classmates from Jackson, Michigan. We were also all graduates of The University of Michigan.
In the summer of 1960, the three of us toured Europe with two other guys for 85 days, living in a VW bus. Below is a 1960 photo of the five of us at the Hofbrau House in Munich.
Tom in middle with large mug; Mike next to
him on right and Rick far right with cigarette
behind ear. 1960 Hofbrau House - Munich
We three guys and their three significant others met at a restaurant called Shanghai Red's, which is on the water in Marina Del Rey. Besides old friends getting together, the three guys are collaborating on a book about that 1960 European trip. Mike suggests we call it "The Summer of 1960 Beers of Europe Tour." I kept a dairy so we have some pretty good information.
Getting to the restaurant took an hour and fifteen minutes. On the drive up, Greta said her stomach was queasy; she wasn't certain why.
The maitre'd sat us at a window table, with a great view of the water and boats. But the sun was bright and the table was warm. I should have suggested we move to a cooler spot but didn't.
When the waiter arrived, Greta, who was seated across from me, ordered only water, no food, which was quite unlike her. I was a little concerned because she hadn't eaten much all day. The rest of us ordered ample dinners.
I was warm and knew Greta would be warm also, but she kept mouthing the words, "I'm okay" to me, as conversation moved around the table.
After 2 and 1/2 hours of the old buddies reminiscing and telling lots of the summer-of-1960 war stories, Greta took a photo of the three guys sitting on a couch in the lounge.
From left: Tom - Mike - Rick - 53 years later
Greta and I said good-bye, got in the car, and started driving back to San Clemente.
Halfway between the L.A. Airport and Long Beach, Greta said she was going to be sick. I pulled off the freeway, next to a park, but it was a false alarm; she thought she could make it home.
We got back on the freeway, chatted for a few moments, she was humming to the music on Sirius Xm Radio, and then she seemed to dose off. Twenty minutes later, as we drove past the Orange County Airport, she awoke and said, "Was I dreaming?"
I said, "I don't know, you were pretty quiet."
Then, she got sick in the car. Luckily, we had a trash bag that served as a receptacle.
And then she said, "Where are we?"
I said, "On the 405 Freeway heading for home."
She said, "Where have we been?"
Her question puzzled me.
"At Marina Del Rey, with Rick, Linda, Mike and Roz."
I said, "You don't remember?"
She repeated the same questions maybe five times more, before we pulled into our driveway. At first, I thought she was joking, but quickly I knew something serious was wrong.
I helped her inside, and had her sit down on her bed. She repeated the questions again.
I called her daughter, Terri, and briefed her about what was going on. Terri and her husband Don immediately drove to our home, arriving in 10 minutes.
When they came over, Don said to Greta, "What day is it?"
"Wednesday," Greta said. It was Sunday.
Don said to Terri and me: "Let's go. We are taking Greta to the Emergency Room at San Clemente Hospital."
Within minutes, we were there. The ER waiting room was like a circus, jammed packed with ailing folks. To the hospital's credit, they took Greta, a potential stroke victim, inside immediately. That was about 9:15 Sunday night.
Greta was a dichotomy; she couldn't remember the events from that day, from the day before, or that in April, we are taking a month-long cruise in Europe. She had planned and researched the ports of call for weeks, and had been very excited about the trip. Now, she couldn't remember we were going. My heart sank, there was something terribly wrong. However, when checking into the hospital, she stated without hesitation her social security number, home address and birth date. But she couldn't remember her personal physician's name.
A battery of tests followed. I watched the monitor. Her blood pressure was way too high. Her pulse too rapid. She had IV's sticking from both arms. She looked like a pin cushion. A couple of hours went by--slowly.
Because there was no neurologist on the staff of that hospital, a neurologist from Houston interviewed and tested Greta by Skype--today's technology is amazing. The doctor could read all of the reports remotely. The doctor said Greta had a perfect score for normal brain functions. What a relief.
But, the doctor was puzzled by the short-term memory loss. Greta still couldn't remember where we had been four hours before, and why she was in the hospital.
Greta stayed at San Clemente Memorial Hospital overnight. I left at one a.m., the doctor said there was nothing more I could do. Other than the loss of short-term memory, Greta seemed ok.
In the morning, before going to the hospital, I was busy notifying people on Greta's appointment calendar that she could not meet with them on Monday or Tuesday. Plus, I had a few deli items to deal with. The deli had been very busy on the week-end and lots of T's had to be crossed and I's dotted.
I kept myself busy, which is important, because pondering the "what ifs" scares the living hell out of you. We had been together 15 years and I hoped we wouldn't have to change the way we had lived such an incredible life together. The adrenaline keeps you going, you don't ponder what bad things might happen. I washed a few clothes, cleaned the kitchen, and tried to tidy up the house. And then I drove to the hospital.
When I entered the hospital room and saw her, with a big smile on her face, and that inner beauty she posses shining through, I simply lost it. The tears of joy just caught up with me. I knew she was going to be ok. Then Terri started crying as well. Lots of tears for us, but Greta was not out of the woods by any stretch. She had a brain scan scheduled that morning. Her daughter Tina arrived at the hospital, which gave Greta a big lift.
Later that afternoon, after all the tests had been analyzed, a visiting neurologist came into the hospital and said Greta had suffered an incident of Transient Global Amnesia--a very rare occurrence in the USA (see link below). The brain scan revealed no problems.
For people over 50, only 23 in 100,000 have this short-term memory loss. Normal memory function returns in approximately 24 hours. And that seemed to be happening; Greta was remembering some of the events from the day before. And she sure as hell remembered the upcoming cruise.
Rarely, does a similar event occur in a person who had it one time.
Greta's four children had been incredible. Tammi called me from Phoenix at 7:30 a.m. for an update. And then Tina called me from Temecula to say she'd be at the hospital in an hour. Terri was already at the hospital. Her son Tony stopped at the hospital before work. What a support group they were, which Greta and I both needed and appreciated.
The doctor said that Greta could go home Monday afternoon. That's when I lost it for the second time. When an event like this happens, we stuff our emotions into a corner and push them aside, focusing on what needs to be done. When the good news comes, the emotions erupt. My sweet Greta was coming home. She was going to be okay.
After she had a long nap, she joined me at the dinner table. I cooked her a salmon dinner with spinach and broccoli. We reiterated how blessed we are, and how much we mean to each other. But, let me tell you Champs, I sure the hell understood those feelings even more clearly than I had during the 15 years we had been together.
Life can change in a second. I witnessed that first-hand on Sunday. Be kind and hug each other, not just lovers, but family and friends, because when it comes down to it, there is nothing more important in all of life than the people near and dear to us. I am a lucky man.