Loss of a period of time - what happened?
December 16, 2018 3:57 AM   Subscribe

My husband had a period of time where he was essentially walking and talking but evidently wasn't forming memories and couldn't recall certain things in the moment. We're going to the hospital again in a couple of days but I wanted to know if anyone else has experienced similar or knew someone who had. I've seen the other similar questions, but wanted personal experiences.

Last Friday night we were out with my dad on a cold evening, in a hot car, when my husband said he felt sick. Long story short, he sat outside the shop we were visiting, vomited and then can't remember anything during the next 40 minutes or so. This includes coming into the shop, finding me to tell me he's been sick, handing me his wallet and then five minutes later forgetting he'd done so, not knowing what car we had or the fact that we'd had a new cooker because the old one broke. He became very distressed during this period and kept asking what was wrong with him. He knew who I was, what our dog's name was, where we lived. He was giving short answers when he's normally pretty verbal. He says he started coming round and started to remember things from when we dropped my dad off and I took him to the hospital.

The hospital did ECG, blood tests, a CT scan and took a urine sample. By the time he was in the assessment unit, he was "back in the room" and apart from that period of time, could remember everything, including the car and the cooker, but not much about anything else. The CT came back with no evidence of bleeds, strokes or tumours (I asked) and the only clinical findings to date was evidence of infection in blood and urine. He's had no overt symptoms although he had an upset stomach last week with sickness and was diagnosed with IBS a couple of weeks before that.

I am of course freaking out, although he's fine in himself (he has antibiotics). What happened? Why did he blank out like that? I know you are not a doctor, and as above, we're going back to get further tests in a few days, but the doc we saw said she didn't know what was going on so I am imagining the worst of course. I've consulted Dr Google (yes, I know that's just a daft thing to do) and have read about amnesia and transient delirium and epilepsy and brain tumours and UTIs and am spiralling down the rabbit hole.

So have you had, or known anyone who has had, anything similar happen to them? If so do you know what caused it and if nothing was found, did it recur? Husband is 54, if that's relevant.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My dad experienced an episode of Transient Global Amnesia. He didn't have the nausea you described (as far as we know). He just lost about 30 minutes' recollection of what he was working on at the time. It happened only once, and there were no lingering effects. No docs were able to tell him why, they just said it happens sometimes. Spooky as hell though.
posted by mama penguin at 4:33 AM on December 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're going through this.

My Dad had a couple episodes of what was eventually diagnosed (by a neurologist) as "Transient Global Amnesia". All of a sudden, he'd become very confused/disoriented, and described it as "trouble organizing his thoughts".

Those incidents were really scary for him as well as those around him, and similarly resulted in emergency room visits. Each time, he'd return more of less to normal in a matter of hours. Testing and not getting answers was really frustrating and produced a lot of anxiety.

Please take care of yourself.
posted by cranberry_nut at 4:36 AM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is a weird little syndrome called transient global amnesia. Hippocampi take a short break, for unknown reasons; previously consolidated memories are fine but no new memories (anterograde amnesia) until they come back. We don't know why it happens, but it doesn't come back, and although it's scary to witness, doesn't herald other badness.

We basically sure there's nothing else wrong (stroke, epilepsy, etc) so if that's normal we kind of shrug and say "well, OK then." It is quite rare, so don't read too much in the fact the ED doc didn't know what it was. See a neurologist for sure.
posted by basalganglia at 4:37 AM on December 16, 2018 [15 favorites]

No personal experience, except that I know that UTIs in older people can result in personality changes and dementia-like symptoms - and you said he had a blood and urine infection, so it may be related to the infection in some way. (In which case hopefully the antibiotics will clear it right up.)
posted by Medley at 4:45 AM on December 16, 2018 [18 favorites]

Something very similar happened to a friend of mine, complete with vomiting and memory loss. After a lot of testing the hospital put it down to transient amnesia caused by an unusual migraine. (He did get migraines often but hadn't had something like this before and didn't have a headache with this one.) No issues with recovery, hasn't happened again in the 15 years since.
posted by Catseye at 5:24 AM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've had that happen a couple of times as a result of concussion, and it is, of course, what happens in alcoholic blackout. Is he a heavy drinker? Was there any time when he could have fallen and banged his head unseen?
posted by ckridge at 5:32 AM on December 16, 2018

The mention of IBS makes me think of this article about the effect of life stressors on physical symptoms: Their pain is real – and for patients with mystery illnesses, help is coming from an unexpected source
posted by alusru at 6:12 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes. Exact same thing happened to a friend. It came from getting a very cold shock of water (standing under a waterfall on holiday). Transient global amnesia for a few hours but zero lasting effects. Of course, this is just an anecdote, not medical advice.

(Though people have researched the cold water scenario.)
posted by whitewall at 6:31 AM on December 16, 2018

How is his blood sugar? My husband is diabetic and although he hasn’t hypo’d for awhile, the whole sitting down/vomiting/confusion and memory loss for that period is quite familiar to me.

He may not be diabetic but as he has had stomach related illness recently, that can do a number on your blood sugar levels for a bit.
posted by halcyonday at 6:54 AM on December 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

My brother-in-law had several periods of memory loss due to Lyme's disease and he also experienced off-and-on stomach problems, but unless you live somewhere where ticks are currently a threat that seems unlikely.

It is very scary and I wish you both well.
posted by Emmy Rae at 7:15 AM on December 16, 2018

Oh, as far as personal experience - he did things like insist my sister rush him to the ER in the midst of a dangerous snowstorm, and when they got there he didn't remember feeling ill and had no idea why they were at the hospital. At this point he remembers very little about most of that year since he repeatedly tested negative for Lyme's and therefore wasn't treated. He also doesn't remember my sister giving him shots for treatment which is probably for the best for both of them. So we all just have this weird gap in our relationship. He doesn't seem bothered by it but that could be because there is no distinct end and beginning of memory for him.
posted by Emmy Rae at 7:22 AM on December 16, 2018

This happened to my mom a few years ago, when she was about your husband's age. She lost about thirty minutes, most of which she spent driving a car. The best theory the ER could come up with was heat sickness/dehydration (and, knowing a bunch of other context, that sounds plausible to me.) It scared the crap out of her and my dad, who was with her, but she's fine and as far as we know it never happened again.
posted by jameaterblues at 9:09 AM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

the only clinical findings to date was evidence of infection in blood and urine.

I have only seen this happen in elderly women but yes, an infection can do this on its own without any other neurological cause. it is natural to mistrust that as a total explanation because frankly it doesn't make sense. but it can produce temporary personality changes, agitation, and cognitive dysfunction to the point where an actual doctor told me, without waiting for scan results to come back, that it was clear cancer had spread to [my person]'s brain. (It had not. she just had another UTI.) it is very hard to trust anecdotes or internet folk wisdom on something so serious but it is true and everybody knows it except, for some reason, a lot of doctors.

untreated, these episodes can go on for months getting worse and worse if nobody thinks to run the right test and clear it up with antibiotics. it is lucky your husband isn't 20 years older because at his age they are less likely to write it off as dementia and leave it untreated. demanding that they test for every possibility, no matter how unlikely, is a very good idea. but an infection is a plausible explanation. if he starts getting them chronically, do push to find an explanation for that (immune system issues or whatever it might be).

and even if his symptoms don't recur, do try to get them to test him again in a few weeks to make sure the antibiotics worked. doctors cannot be counted on to follow up on things like that, and you don't want it to keep coming back. if the cause of his episode turns out to be something additional or unrelated, it'll be much easier to figure that out with the infection(s) removed as a possible factor.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:16 AM on December 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

As Medley and queenofbithynia noted, a UTI that becomes systemic can have effects like this. In the last years of his life, after his third stroke took away his bladder control, my father was continually catheterized, which caused recurring UTIs. One of the ways we could tell he was likely starting to get a UTI and wasn't just dehydrated was that he would start to hallucinate.

We were never sure it was entirely the UTIs, because he had a few confounding factors. His sight had declined further, leading me to think he might have developed something like non-24-hour sleep wake disorder, and it's possible he'd experienced other neurological changes from the strokes. But the timing of his starting to have a lot of hallucinations and making no sense in conversation seemed to correlate with onset of UTIs or other infections he had.
posted by limeonaire at 9:16 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all for your comments - we're both reading them and it's interesting that quite a few people seem to have experienced something very similar, for a number of reasons. To clarify, he doesn't drink, smoke or take drugs, is generally pretty healthy (apart from the IBS) but has been experiencing work-related stress increasingly over recent weeks.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 9:29 AM on December 16, 2018

My neighbor has this happen-she's in her mid 50s. No nausea, just was in the middle of a conversation with her partner and then suddenly had no memory of the fact they had been discussing something for the past hour, did not know what she was doing, and was somewhat agitated - *very* out of character. Her partner thought she might be having a stroke and took her to the ER. She was diagnosed as Transient Global Amnesia. No lingering symptoms - she just "came to" after about two hours, and a follow up MRI etc. found nothing. They think it may have been brought on by fatigue and emotional upset (her brother had recently died). That was several years ago and she's not had any other issues. The docs, like those mentioned above, were pretty nonchalant. Said you'd be surprised how often they see it.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 10:13 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

My colleague’s husband had this, he’s in his 50s, fit and well, it happened in the gym once and hasn’t happened again since. It was diagnosed as transient amnesia as above, they were told it tends to happen more in men and is sometimes connected to exercise. Also as above, the doctors were pretty relaxed about it, despite how alarming it was to experience (particularly for his wife, who was with him).
posted by penguin pie at 12:04 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

What gave me fits about my post-concussive amnesia was the compulsion to cover up when I was beginning to come out of it. I kept working on ways to conceal the fact that I couldn't remember anything longer than three minutes or so. I knew it was a bad idea, but it was as automatic as catching oneself after a stumble.

I wonder how often this sort of things passes undetected because people cover it up and then forget it happened.
posted by ckridge at 12:29 PM on December 16, 2018

I have had similar things happen to me from various concussions, and from long term use of medications for chronic conditions, but mostly from severe migraines. The migraines sometimes cause transient aphasia, sudden dizziness and vomiting with attendant cold sweat/shivering, vision and hearing problems, slurred speech; in general a bunch of things that look (to bystanders) like I'm having a stroke. It's very unpleasant. I almost always have pre-symptomatic signs as well as aura but there have been times when it's hit me out of nowhere and it's extremely scary and disorienting. I don't have brain tumors or epilepsy or anything that anyone would find on a scan or test. I just have a brain that likes migraines and wants them always, since I was about 5 years old.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:36 PM on December 16, 2018

My husband has epilepsy, and has had similar symptoms surrounding seizures (as it sounds like you’ve read online). He has had seizures where he can talk, but gives very short or nonspecific answers, as well as has amnesia surrounding the seizure. The effects can often last 30+ minutes, and then he becomes aware of himself again, often asking what happened and if he had a seizure. It sounds like there are other likely causes for your husband, just wanted to add my two cents.
posted by bluloo at 1:28 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

One day in my early 40s my wife found me just standing on our deck with a blank look. I would answer her direct questions but basically in the most yes no manner possible. She took me to the hospital where I got CT scanned, blood tests, etc. I only remember about half of the time in the hospital and nothing for at least a couple hours before (maybe 6 hours total). The neurologist I saw (ER docs identified an area of concern on my CT; turned out to be nothing to be worried about or even unusual) figured it was the symptom of a viral infection which puts a label on something without actually knowing what it was. Been fine since.
posted by Mitheral at 2:09 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have only seen this happen in elderly women but yes, an infection can do this on its own without any other neurological cause.

Nthing this -- a UTI can really mess up your brain. (Weirdly. Bodies are so odd.) My granny would also hallucinate with them occasionally, and after a round of antibiotics would be fine. (She lived a very long and generally healthy life, otherwise.)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:45 PM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

One of my (adult, early 20s) sons went through a period of intense anxiety and panic attacks after a break-up. At one point, he disassociated so severely that he drove, spoke with people, and even dropped off gifts he later had no memory of any of it. After he was eventually located, he'd ended up in a state that he was not able to communicate and was taken to the ER. Much to my surprise, one of the things that they tested for at the ER was things like UTI, and my understanding of the reason was that the infection could trigger all of those symptoms, so they needed to rule out potential physical causes instead of assuming it was mental health-related. (When we figured out how many miles, and that he'd drove through DAYTIME, DOWNTOWN traffic with zero memory of it, he was promptly under VERY close supervision until we got a handle on things. That was TERRIFYING.)

Another adult son had a traumatic experience as an older teen, when resulted in PTSD. There were several times that he had disassociative episodes when he was in or near the location the incident occurred, the worst of which triggered vomiting near the beginning of the episode, and led to the loss of about 8 hours of time. He was very confused during most of it, when we could get him to respond at all.

I mention both (though I'd guess what your husband experienced to be similar to the first) because it still amazes me just how similar the occurrences were, and the ER made it clear to me at the time that his symptoms could very easily be due to an infection. I'd never have thought that something so seemingly simple as a UTI could present in such a way.
posted by stormyteal at 11:03 PM on December 16, 2018

I've experienced something similar a few times, usually when under great stress and after some sleep deprivation. So far, it's unexplained and seems to have no medical consequences 20 years on.

Also, I hesitate to mention it, but is it possible he's been drinking on the sly? You may have very good reasons to dismiss the idea, but it is consistent with the description given here.
posted by eotvos at 9:20 AM on December 17, 2018

This happened to a friend of my father's. He ate some toast while talking with his wife and then at the end of the talk looked at his empty plate and asked where the toast was. There have been a bunch of incidents like these lately. He also, coincidentally, became a Trump fan around the same time this started happening.
posted by xammerboy at 10:56 PM on December 17, 2018

Response by poster: Brief update for posterity, and many thanks to all of you for your helpful comments.

We went back to the hospital today and husband had follow-up bloods and urine tests, plus a chest x-ray and an ultrasound scan of his abdomen. The doctor said that there was nothing at all showing on the CT, and that the blood tests showed that the white blood cell count indicative of an infection had halved through the action of the antibiotics. There was still blood showing in the urine, but he'd consulted with a urologist who said that it was still within a normal range (husband has actually had this before, some years ago, and the doctor's informal thinking is a kidney structural issue - husband is being referred again for routine investigation). The abdominal ultrasound (kidneys and bladder) was normal, as was the chest x-ray.

The issue of global transient amnesia came up (thanks to our MeFi chums giving us the background and vocabulary to raise it) - the doctor acknowledged this as a possibility; while not dismissing it out of hand, he said that TGA was a diagnosis of exclusion so suggested in this case it was much more likely to be related to the infection in the first instance.

We will hopefully not have any recurrence now that the modern miracle that is a bloody huge dose of antibiotics has done its bit, so all I have to work on now is not dissolving into a puddle of spent adrenaline and stress related emotion before Xmas.

Thanks again, all.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 10:01 AM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

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