Medical Mondays: Amnesia & Amoeba

Ask The Book Doctor!    

This week’s questions come from stories in the news this past week.

If you’re a writer or a fan of books, TV shows, or movies–or even a news junkie–and have a medical-themed question you’d like to see answered in this weekly column, check out the submission guidelines at the bottom!


Q. A recent article in the newspaper featured a British man who, after getting stung by a wasp, had a severe allergic reaction that put him in a coma for week and when he woke up, he lost 20 years of his memory. Can you really get amnesia from an insect bite?


A. If the wasp sting caused a cardiac arrest or severe shock, yes, indirectly. And it could be severe or fatal. But the period of memory loss is highly suspect for being psychosomatic, not real.


Q. I suffer with allergy and sinus issues and have regularly used a Neti Pot, which my physician recommended, as did Dr. Oz on TV. I just read that two people in Louisiana died after being infected with “brain-eating amoeba” from the water used in their treatment. How frightening! Should I be worried? I live in a large city and thought my water was safe? Why are there amoebas in the water and what can I do to protect myself?

Neti Pot for Nasal Cleansing Photo Credit: Aikhan from


A. You must be sure you use pure water in the Neti Pot. Distilled, boiled, or reverse osmosis (RO) water is the best. Naegleria fowleri, the amoeba in question, is normally not a problem to have in drinking water as your digestive system is used to processing many impurities. However, your nose is not equipped to do this. I personally saw a case of this amoebic infection in a young woman who, while water skiing on a stagnant bay, fell face first into the water. There are only about 3-4 cases each year in the US, so it is, fortunately, very rare since it is almost always fatal.



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Attention writers and readers! If you need quick insight/advice on a medical condition that affects a character or impacts a storyline, or are curious about a medical story in the news, please email your question to I’ll post two answers here every week!

Due the volume of requests received, I am unable to provide personal responses. Questions should pertain to characters or stories you’re writing, books you’re reading, TV shows/movies you’re watching, or health issues in the news. If you have a question about a personal health issue, please contact your doctor.


Transient Global Amnesia

As originally posted on Dr. Lyle’s Writer’s Forensics blog.

“Where am I?” you ask the nurse on the locked psychiatry ward.

“You are in County General,” he replies.

“Where is that?”

“Downtown. You were found wandering inside a coffee shop, confused, and without identification.”

“I remember nothing since I left home this morning. My memory is just blank.”

“Your husband is on his way. I called him a few minutes ago after you were able to recall your name and phone number for me. He said you pulled your car out of the garage, ran into the tree in front of your house, left it there, and then drove his car to your clinic. He said he had a day off so he slept in and has been trying to reach you ever since he realized something was amiss, but you left your purse, briefcase and cell phone in your car. You went to work, went through mail, charts and dictated letters. Your secretary said you seemed a little different–she thought something was definitely wrong when your dictations didn’t make sense. She said you went out for lunch and never came back. By that time your husband had called your office and the police brought you here, confused from the coffee shop.”

Transient Global Amnesia or TGA is a condition I diagnose in patients 2-4 times per year. There are many causes, but often none is found. Almost all patients have a full recovery, but in a few, the condition will recur. My first case was essentially the one described above–an MD whose TGA was caused by an unusual medication reaction. In almost all cases, patients function somewhat normally but their judgment is impaired and they make no memories.

My second case was a man who also wound up in the locked ward. He had a continuous epileptic attack but was able to talk to me reasonably well.  He was confused, but fluent in speech. I went through my usual protocol of blood tests, an electroencephalogram (EEG), and brain scans. When I looked at the results of the EEG, I noticed that he was having continuous seizure activity, yet was not moving a muscle. I re-examined the patient to see if I had missed some shaking, eye twitching, or anything that might look epileptic, but I saw nothing abnormal.  I gave him a large intravenous dose of a seizure medication. The next morning, he was totally recovered. He recalled nothing of the day before or of my examining him twice.

Other causes of TGA may include a large number of factors including migraines and various chemical abnormalities, as well as stroke-like problems. There are other patients who simply have psychiatric problems or feign the condition after perpetrating certain criminal acts or hoping to get an edge in legal cases.

Overall, Transient Global Amnesia is a fascinating condition that demonstrates the complexities of the brain and our limited understanding of what is the organ of the human body that we understand the least. The brain is the last frontier of medicine.