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Judy Spooner column: Humor helped us cope with scare

The amnesia was temporary and friend Ruth recovered completely within eight hours, but it was a scary experience for our family.

After we knew she was OK, we coped with the event with humor.

Ruth, my best friend for more than 30 years, is part of our family and another mother to our children. Through good times and bad, we stick together.

The incident began when Cottage Grove police officers, who are also paramedics, called me from Ruth's house. Ruth had been found wandering in a grocery store parking lot saying she couldn't find her car. When officers found her car, she said it wasn't hers.

Officers wanted to establish if her behavior was normal, so they called me.

After arriving at her house and talking to her, I said her state of mind was definitely not normal for her. No, I hadn't noticed any previous memory loss, I told them, and persuaded her to go to United Hospital in St. Paul by ambulance.

(I'm interrupting the story to say a few things about Cottage Grove police officers. Through my job as a reporter, I've covered police events for years. This time, I was on the other side. They knew Ruth needed to go to the hospital but guided us through the process with respect and understanding. I can testify, with no reservations, that we have terrific cops.)

The officers suggested Ruth might have had a small stroke. Having been a nurse, I agreed. But physically, she showed no signs that it was severe. Still, I was scared and so was our family.

When son-in-law Eric and I arrived in emergency, Ruth seemed more like herself. The ER doctor came in to tell us that, after X-ray tests, Ruth showed no signs of a stroke or Alzheimer's disease, which her father died of.

She had Temporary Global Amnesia and would fully recover within a day with no lasting effects, he said.

I could have kissed that doctor, although he wasn't my type.

TGA is rare. It's a sudden temporary episode of memory loss when the person knows who they are but can't recall what happened during a period of two to eight hours. There are theories, but no agreement, on the cause.

Doctors kept her overnight for more tests with favorable results and I "sprung" her the next day.

That was when the string of amnesia jokes started because it's one way to cope with a traumatic situation after it passes.

"Ruth, you had an extreme senior moment," said daughter Margie after I took her home. "It was a 'brainami' or a mind apocalypse."

I laughed and said that the officer, while testing Ruth's memory, asked her if she remembered the name of the dog that lives next door.

"I never could remember the dog's name," Ruth said.

"You'll be going around with strings on all your fingers," Margie said.

The next day, on Christmas Eve, Margie was helping me in the kitchen.

"Are we going to play dominos on Christmas Day?" asked Margie.

I told her we probably would since it's our favorite family game.

"Good," she said. "Then, we'll be able to tell Ruth all the new rules."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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