Friday, October 22, 2004

Losing Myself

Here is an extended answer to the question, how did I lose and get back my entire memory.

My senior year in high school I caught Mono, not even the fun way, and within a week and a half I had lost my entire memory. At the worst point, I lost the ability to read, then speak, I didn't recognize my mom, or even myself in the mirror and ended up functioning at the mental capacity of an infant. Before it was finally diagnosed properly, I was mis-diagnosed and almost committed to a mental institution. Some things I will never remember, some of the things I do remember are horrifying, and some are funny. The experience made me strong and the effects touch my life even now, 10 years later.

Let me back up a little. First I got Mononucleosis, then Strep, which turned into vomiting and high fevers. Soon after I got extremely dehydrated and went to the doctor. I remember the doctor shining a light in my eyes, I was already becoming confused and disoriented, I kept trying to "go towards the light" like I thought I was "supposed to" and kept bumping my forehead on the doctor's penlight. The doctor hydrated me with IVs and sent me home. A few days went by and I was acting stranger and stranger. My mom found me looking at a newspaper, and on a hunch she said, "Becky, can you read that?" I looked at her, then at the paper and I couldn't read it. I could make out letters and a few of the smaller words, but they wouldn't form into sentences. My mom then, asked me to count to 10 and I couldn't remember past 3. I began regressing fast after that. Later, my mom found me sitting on the floor with a picture frame, just staring. I asked whose picture was it. This really scared my mom because, it was a picture of me--taken only months before. Still later, my mom came into my room to check on me, and I was sitting there just staring off into space. She called my name...nothing. She shouted my name, no response, then she got within an inch of my face and screamed, "Becky, you better f---ing answer me." My mom, NEVER cusses. My brother came running in the room, and told my mom to stop, because someday I'd remember this. Not to worry, Mom, I don't. My mom put me in the car and drove me to the hospital. Next thing I remember, I was in the ER and my mom and dad were standing at the foot of my bed. A doctor asked me what year I was born, I couldn't remember so I just borrowed what the guy in the next bed over said, "1932." (Actually, 1975). He then asked me what was wrong, I stared pleadingly at my dad, who I am very close to, thinking, Dad, help! All I would say was, "I can't tell you." That is how I answered every question. The doctor came to believe, I was hiding some deep psychological problem but what I meant was "I have lost the ability to form sentences and can't tell you." The doctor then ran all kinds of tests, including my first spinal tap. Here is a little something I learned from spinal taps: if you have to have one DON'T SIT UP! You are supposed to stay lying down for hours, I was allowed to get up shortly after with hardly any spinal fluid in my brain. That really, really hurts. After the tap, the doctor determined, that there was nothing medically wrong with me and gave my parents directions to a nearby mental institution. My parents, feeling confused and upset drove me to the institution, (which looked more like a country club), but I had lost the ability to speak and just sat there, literally clinging to my parents. The first psychiatrist I saw, took one look at me and said, this is medical not psychological, get her back to the hospital and demand for her to be admitted. Right about here is when I stopped drinking water, because in my mixed up state, I truly believed that the water people were trying to give me was from the toilet, though I could not articulate this. Back into the emergency room, I remember I was so dehydrated they couldn't find any veins, they kept poking at me, I was struggling, I remember screaming and seeing my blood all over the floor. Needless to say they admitted me. My parents were so relieved, they thought, now she will finally get the help she needs and get better. They went home to sleep, thinking I would have improved by morning. I got much worse. The next day, my mom came in, and the nurse said, "Look who's here!"I had no idea who she was. I had regressed so far--to about the capacity of a nine month old, I was in diapers with no vestiges of my personality left. So much for improving. All I remember from that night is hallucinating all kinds of scary things. I saw the girl who used to bully me in junior high sitting next to my bed playing paddle ball. The days passed by, test after test was done, they stuck needles in my scalp, needles in my arm, my spine. Then my priest came and gave me the annointing of the sick. Slowly after, I started to improve. For a while my mom and I communicated in Sign Language, then I could talk, then I could read again. I remember as I was starting to get better my mom said to me, "Becky, the doctors want to know if maybe you've become sexually active and you are afraid to tell us. That maybe something else is going on." With complete sincerity, I whispered to my mom, "Mom, if my boyfriend and I had sex, I wasn't there." Even under the circumstances my mom thought that was funny. When my dad would visit at night I would tell him, "Dad, lets get out of here, no one is looking!" and try to escape. I kept trying to pull the tubes out of my arm, and make a break for it. He had to stop me from running down the hall, trailing the IV with my bottom hanging out! Another time Miss California came and visited the patients and I was laying on the bed coloring with my clothes on backwards. She must have thought I was mentally deranged!
Days later still the doctors released me. I was doing OK, fever gone, not hallucinating, most of my memory back. Problem was, I would still get confused and, my personality was still out of whack, with no medical explanation why. I went home and began the long road to recovery. I thought I was going home because I was all better, but they just didn't know what else to do with me. My parents made the decision they would care for me at home, even if I stayed, altered. Slowly but surely I just got better. Weeks later the doctor, finally found Epstein-Barre in my spinal fluid which caused the Meningitis--which causes the lining of the brain to swell. That is what caused the hallucinating, memory lost, etc.

It was hard going back to school. I still wasn't "all the way back" but I demanded to be allowed to go. I would ge so overwhelmed and confused, even though outwardly I looked pretty normal. On the drives home, my mom says I would just sit and stare out the window with tears rolling down my face, but I was determined to go. I will always be grateful to my dear friend Cristina. She would act as a human barricade, "Everyone back off, she needs her space." and shoo everyone away when they would swamp me with questions. I was all better by graduation, but by then I felt really far removed, like I'd already moved on.

The scariest thing that happened, through the entire ordeal, is I found a piece of paper in my room. It was in my handwriting but I don't remember writing it. It said, "I know I am not myself and I am afraid I'm not coming back." Still gives me chills. The after effects? I will never remember some things, to this day I have a chemical imbalance, this probably caused or triggered and my faith in God and in myself is stronger than it ever would have been. Honestly, wouldn't trade the experience for the world.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Just...wow. And, glad you're back!

Brina said...

Even tho I have heard the story before, it still fascinates me. What a trip... Oh and by the way, I've decided to resurrect my BLOG. I found out I have other readers as well as you... Yay!