Brief vacation from myself

I was looking in my closet, choosing a shirt, when I lost my mind.

Four hours later, I_m in the E.R., and ...

I was looking in my closet, choosing a shirt, when I lost my mind.

Four hours later, I_m in the E.R., and I don_t know how I got here. My wife, Shawn, stands at my bedside, her expression alternating between reassuring and dismayed. Next to her, a doctor in his mid-50s calmly tells me he_s going to name three objects.

_I want you to hold these in your mind,_ he says. _Apple, table, penny._ I nod, noticing a semicircle of young interns behind him, listening intently. Then the doctor asks me to multiply 17 times 3.

_I_m not very good at math,_ I say. He waits. _Let_s see. Twenty times 3 is 60, minus 6._ I pause, correcting myself. _No, minus 9. Fifty-one?_

_Good._ He smiles. _Now, what were those three objects I named?_

I can_t recall the objects. I barely remember that he listed them. Flustered, I purse my lips and slowly shake my head, looking at Shawn.

She fills in the blanks for me: I woke up, took a shower, and when I stepped out, I seemed disoriented. I sat down on the bed.

_Wait, remind me, what are we doing today?_ I asked her.

_Do I need to remind you again? We_re having lunch at the Swerdlows_._ I didn_t remember that.

I put a hand on my forehead, then lay on my back. _What day is it?_ I asked her.

Concerned by my blank stare, Shawn shot me questions: Do you know who came over last night? (I didn_t.) Do you remember what we argued about yesterday morning? (I couldn_t.)

When I couldn_t recall that our eldest son was in college, she called my doctor. He told her to take me to the E.R. immediately. She told me to get dressed and went downstairs to tell our teenage sons what was going on, sort of _ that Dad had a bad headache and needed to go to the hospital.

When she came to retrieve me, I was wandering around the bedroom in my boxers. Her phone rang _ the doctor.

_I don_t care what he_s wearing,_ he told her. _Go._

She drove, and I asked questions: _We_re going to the hospital?_ _Did you bring my wallet?_ _I have my contacts in _ what about my glasses?_

She answered patiently. Then I asked again. _We_re going to the hospital?_ _Did you bring my wallet?_ And again. After the fourth repetition, my wife was crying. After the sixth, she pressed harder on the accelerator.

At the E.R., they gave me a CT scan _ no bleeding. The doctors asked me questions: Who is the president? (I couldn_t recall.) What do I do for a living? (I_m a writer.) What did I have for breakfast? (No clue.) The doctor asked me to draw a clock and draw hands to show 11 o_clock. I managed to do that.

My memory picks up around the moment the doctor is giving me a diagnosis. _We know what this is,_ he says. _It_s benign, and it will happen only once in your life._ He gives it a name: transient global amnesia, in other words, inexplicable short-term memory loss. For four hours my brain has replayed the same two-minute loop, recording nothing and missing large chunks of the recent past. I_ll recover, but it could take days. The only long-term effect, he says, is that I_ll never remember these four hours. Ever.

He sends me to a hospital room for observation. Lying there that afternoon, I spot a black striped shirt on a hanger.

_Who chose that?_ I ask Shawn. _I would never pick that shirt._

_You know you_ve already asked that question 10 times, right?_ she says. (I don_t.)

That night I get a brain M.R.I., the next morning an EEG. The tests confirm that my brain is normal, but that doesn_t help me shake the disconcerting feeling that we are all just one misfiring neuron away from forgetting who the president is or what we did last night or what transpired in our most intimate moments. In an instant, I had become like my grandmothers in their last years, floating through life, uttering the same old phrases as if for the first time.

Your accumulated memories make you who you are _ how terrifying is it that they can simply vanish? What do you become then? This question still nags at me every morning I can_t remember where I put my keys, each time I can_t recall why I came downstairs. Now I have a simple way to ground myself. I repeat three words in my mind: apple, table, penny.

New York Times | By TOM FIELDS-MEYER

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