Also known as Traveler’s Amnesia
I hadn’t heard of this ailment when we set out on our flight to Milan in October, 2004. I don’t know that I would have cared. Our slick plan to snag a three-seat row for just the two of us by booking both aisle seats in the last row backfired. I ended up sandwiched in coach between my wide-shouldered husband and a gangling snoring man, despairing that I had ever had the good fortune and enough SkyMiles to fly business class two months earlier. It’s just cruel to learn what life is like in the front of the plane, only to return to the circle of hell that is economy international.
I had taken one little sleeping pill at boarding. When the group of friends three rows ahead gathered in the aisle for a raucous chat (despite purported rules against congregating I might add) I called it a night and swallowed another Halcion. As I don’t approach the normal height and weight of an average adult this was not the best idea. But I did sleep, for the first time ever on a transatlantic flight. We were in Milan the next thing I knew. Disturbingly, I found myself on a bus in Milan.
When did we land? Did I have breakfast? What was customs like? What did I say when they stamped my passport? I know they did—I have the stamp. Did we use the ATM? How did we even find the bus? I’m in charge of details on the ground like that – Brian doesn’t know about these things. It’s disquieting to think that I have no recollection of my arrival in a foreign country. The bus ride, the portion I even recall, is hazy. The first lucid memory I have is of buying sunglasses in the Milan train station. I knew in a haphazard way that I had ingested too much Halcion but didn’t give it much thought after the wooziness subsided.
Some time later I heard about Traveler’s Amnesia. Turns out it’s a documented malady affecting people unwise enough to exceed recommended dosages of sleeping medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 258 No. 7, August 21, 1987) describes three jet-setting neuroscientists who chased their triazolam with alcohol and later “experienced an episode of anterograde amnesia that lasted several hours.” The FDA label for Halcion tells the intrepid reader that:
All benzodiazepine sleeping pills can cause a special type of amnesia (memory loss) in which a person may not recall events occurring during some period of time, usually several hours, after taking a drug. This is ordinarily not a problem, because the person taking a sleeping pill intends to be asleep during this vulnerable period of time [no kidding!?]. It can be a problem when the drugs are taken to induce sleep while traveling, such as during an airplane flight, because the person may awake before the effect of the drug is gone. This has been called “traveler’s amnesia”. HALCION is more likely than other members of the class to cause this problem.
I learned my lesson. I’ve obediently followed the label on the bottle since then. It’s scary business thinking about what can happen to an unsuspecting and presumably incoherent American tourist dropped off in the hinterlands of a busy international airport.