Brain

Photo: Adam Voorhes

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How it Feels... to Lose Your Memory
Alysse Mengason, 45, suffered a bout of encephalitis and meningitis that put her in a three-week coma in 2003. When she awakened, she had lost two to three years' worth of memories.

"I don't remember waking up. My mom says the first thing I asked was, 'Where's Dad?' He'd died in 2001. I thought I was still a TV reporter, though I'd switched careers to public relations. And I only vaguely remembered my fiancé, Andrew, whom I'd known for less than a year. He and my mom asked people to send notes describing their memories of me, and when I read them, small details would dawn on me, like déjà vu.

"Did Andrew have to court me all over again? Well, yes and no. I needed so much care that we didn't have time. But he told me so many stories about our life together, and he was a huge part of my recovery. When I awoke from the coma in February, our wedding date was just four months away. I already had my dress.

"When you come out of something like this, you're almost like a child again. You're being told that you registered for these dishes, that your favorite color is blue. I'd think, 'Hmm, I like that china?' 'Why do I like blue?' Memory loss can be very emotional and frustrating. I spent nine or ten months in therapy, and I was the most uncooperative patient, because some of it seemed so elementary. Once, they took out a newspaper article and said, 'Underline all the capital letters'! But the therapists helped reintroduce me to my old life. We went to my office so I could visit my coworkers, my work space. When I saw everything, bits and pieces came back, but my memory is still not good at all. I'm terrible with names. I was left with epilepsy, but I'm very high functioning. I work, ski, do things with my family. Life is not perfect by any stretch, but Andrew is an incredible husband. We married in October 2003, and we have a healthy, wonderful 8-year-old daughter. They're the world to me."
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