Weird Times and Guardian Angels

“I don’t know where I am,” I said. “I don’t recognize this place.”

“Well, you did get here. Where’s your car? Did you drive?”

“I don’t know how I got here.” And since I also didn’t know where I came from or where I lived, it was not going to be easy to get home.050910-F-MS415-009

My short-term memory had totally, inexplicably vanished

I had just told the story of my long-ago (1956, to be precise) back-alley abortion at a fundraising event for nonprofit TEACH (Teaching Early Abortion for Comprehensive Healthcare) in a San Francisco theater. One five-minute speaker followed me, and the program ended. When we got up to leave – I was on the second row next to my young friend Alexa and her visiting aunt and uncle – I didn’t know how to get to the lobby. Since I had met with other speakers onstage before the event and had led my guests to our seats, something was obviously weird. We finally did get to the lobby, where we had met and visited before the event, and the above exchange took place. At that point something weird turned into something frighteningly wrong.

Alexa left her aunt and uncle to find their own way back to their hotel, summoned a cab and gave the driver my address. Later I would have a dim fragment of memory about being in the cab, and another fleeting memory of entering our building, going up to our condo and then seeing my husband.

“Something’s wrong,” I said. “I need to go to the hospital.” He and Alexa had long since come to that conclusion. She had been texting with one of my children on the east coast and on the phone with my husband since the exchange in the theater lobby. Finding my car safely in its garage space, she had already called a cab to get to the emergency room.  But after that moment of seeing my husband, the next four or five hours are lost to me forever.

Its official name is Transient Global Amnesia. If you have it, it’s a good idea to be among friends.

Since I come from a long line of stroke victims, that had been the immediate fear. But it only took a few tests in the Kaiser ER to rule out stroke, a few more to rule out other serious afflictions and arrive at the diagnosis of TGA. Sometime around 2 AM my conscious memory swam back to the surface of reality, which was Alexa sitting on the side of my bed. Then, with a little help from some drug they gave me, I fell asleep.Guardian angel

Fewer than one half of one percent of people in the U.S. experience episodes of TGA every year. It is most common in people between ages 56 and 75, with the average age being approximately 62 – unless I’ve now upped that by a decade or so. For the victim, TGA is really no big deal. You don’t remember anything anyway; but there’s no pain, no suffering, no after-effect and no permanent damage. All I do remember is the comforting vision of my lovely friend, who is known as my West Coast Daughter (now additionally Guardian Angel), sitting on the side of my bed. I was visited by numerous concerned physicians and nurses, several of whom said they’d never heard of TGA.

But now we all have! Before sending me home the next day the very cautious Kaiser people did an MRI of my head, and lo, my brain was still there. Actually, it was functioning on remote even while I was malfunctioning. When posing the traditional questions about what year it was (Nope, didn’t know) etc the ER doctors asked if I could say who is the president of the U.S.

“Noooo,” I said, “but I know I don’t like him.”



  1. Fran, I’ve been SO behind in everything this past half year, that I’m only now seeing this blog post! Wow and good grief!!! So glad you had friends around and came through it OK. I know of two other people who have gone through that, and neither suffered any permanent disability. Could your talk about the abortion have caused a big brain short-out?

    1. We think that might’ve been the trigger. Although I’ve read my story a zillion times to assorted audiences, this was the first time I’d told it, onstage, no notes. Different. But all’s well ever since.

  2. Yeah, I experienced a TGA moment also, which I described in a blog. Same outcome, too, an overwhelming appreciation for being alive. Mine was initially misdiagnosed as a TIA by the ER physicians, but thankfully a neurologist corrected the diagnosis. Otherwise I’d be on a daily regimen of statins and aspirin. Yay for the squawking jays and clouds that make stories in the sky! Enjoy life!

  3. Fran—I haven’t been around in what feels like forever, and this is the first thing I read on returning. I’m so glad you’re okay. And I loved that last line! 😉

    1. Good to hear from you, and hooray for popping back online. I think popping off whenever one feels like it is an excellent idea. Just hope you were only mentally vacationing and are otherwise fine.

  4. Wow! Rich had heard of TGA. But didn’t know anyone who had suffered it. Is everything all right now? Much love, T.

    From: Fran Moreland Johns Date: Sunday, July 01, 2018 6:54 PM To: Subject: [New post] Weird Times and Guardian Angels Fran Johns posted: ““I don’t know where I am,” I said. “I don’t recognize this place.” “Well, you did get here. Where’s your car? Did you drive?” “I don’t know how I got here.” And since I also didn’t know where I came from or where I lived, it was not going to be easy to “

    1. I was absolutely fine in 6 hours, & cleared to go ahead with trip to GA the next weekend. But it’s sort of like that rhyme “My face I don’t mind it for I am behind; it’s the people in front that I jar.” TGA is more jarring to the people around you I think. Still, I am immensely grateful to Alexa!

  5. I wonder if there’s a “re-boot” acupressure site that
    restores memory in case one slips into TGA. So glad you’re “all better,” Fran. Much love from Budapest.

    1. I’m good with the blank spot, during which I was surely coddled and well cared for (I heart Kaiser.) Sandy & I send fond regards to Budapest (sigh, wish I were there); Bud & I send love. xoxoxo

  6. Thanks Fran for sharing about your experience and diagnosis so openly. It will help others. Please let me know if you did my help in any practical way (driving etc.). Connie

    1. Thanks!! Though it’s a little scary to think I might actually have gotten behind the wheel (if I’d driven to the theater, and if I could have remembered where I parked . . .) once my memory returned at abut 2 AM I was totally fine, and there are no after effects. I think the broader moral is, if someone’s acting even a little strange, just get him or her to the ER. I am hugely grateful for the Kaiser ER folks!

  7. OMG!!  What a story!  So very glad you had the help you needed and came through like the trooper you have alwaysbeen.  Leave it to you to come up with the least likely.  And to be able to write about it so clearly.  Kudos!! Just sick I missed your party in Atlanta.  Could not be helped.So hope you will be back soon and we can once again havea hug and a visit. Herb continues to decline mentally.  Otherwise hale and hearty except for the stroke caused limp which does worsen.We’re doing daycare when I have bridge or golf.  He will be86 on 7/13 — son-in-law Allen and his new wife are comingas is son Ryan and Tara from NC to celebrate his day.  Hecalled and asked to come.  So heartwarming and dear.   Love you dearly Fran,Doris

    From: Fran Moreland Johns To: Sent: Sunday, July 1, 2018 9:54 PM Subject: [New post] Weird Times and Guardian Angels #yiv2054985807 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv2054985807 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv2054985807 a.yiv2054985807primaryactionlink:link, #yiv2054985807 a.yiv2054985807primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv2054985807 a.yiv2054985807primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv2054985807 a.yiv2054985807primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv2054985807 | Fran Johns posted: ““I don’t know where I am,” I said. “I don’t recognize this place.”“Well, you did get here. Where’s your car? Did you drive?”“I don’t know how I got here.” And since I also didn’t know where I came from or where I lived, it was not going to be easy to ” | |

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