Wandering Thoughts

January 21, 2009

Post Perfusion Confusion

Filed under: Aortic Valves — terence @ 8:10 pm
Tags: ,


I keep meaning to write about this side-effect of surgery but never do. When it’s happening I’d rather not write; when it’s not, I’d rather not think about it.

Anyhow, just twice in my life before surgery, many years apart, I had a strange and distressing thing happen to me. In the middle of two otherwise normal days I was king hit by a feeling of déjà vu and then all of a sudden, unbidden, memories of dreams followed, crowding into my head. (I don’t know how I know they were memories of dreams. I’m not even 100% sure that they were, but that’s what they seemed like.) As this was happening my short term memory evaporated. Oddly enough, this didn’t render me entirely, helpless; I could still function from moment to moment, I just had to struggle like heck to remember what happened the moment before (beleive it or not I gave a lecture at the tail end of one of these events). Anyhow, after an hour or so the memory loss would ease away and I’d feel shaken up but normal.

The same sensation was there at the beginning of my post surgery memory loss. Except this time my short term memory was muddled for much longer and only slowly returned. As my mother and I rediscovered, memory loss after open heart surgery is pretty normal and normally transient. And my memory did slowly return. So the only thing unusual in my case was the déjà vu and dreams that came at the beginning of it.

Hhhmmmm…well not quite the only thing. Ever since then, at the rate of about one a day, I’ve continued to have very minor memory loss episodes. The routine is one I’m now familiar with: a sense of déjà vu (or sometimes just funny thinking), then the sense of dreams returning, then my memory goes. Accompanying this usually is a sensation which I’m never going to be able to describe to you – simply because it’s unusual beyond the grasp of metaphors. It’s almost like a taste or a smell – an unpleasant one – being sensed in a part of my brain which senses neither taste nor smell. It’s distinct and does definitely feel like a sense (i.e. taste, smell, etc), just no normal one. What ever it is, to be honest I hate it.

The good news though is that the memory loss that follows is very short and mild (it’s a nuisance in meetings mind you). And through out I’m compos mentis enough to continue functioning and conversing and the like. A minute or so later I’m okish again.

Anyhow, the even better news is that these episodes seem to becoming fewer and fainter. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find them disconcerting and discomforting.



  1. […] can’t imagine my understanding is the same as the author’s. I’ve written about my post-perfusion confusion before. Deja vu, dreams recalled, memory loss, and a feeling I could never describe other than to […]

    Pingback by Dreamt « Wandering Thoughts — May 3, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

  2. I had valve replacement surgery in 2007. I have had permanent issues with my short term memory and have also experienced those deja vu moments. From what I can gather, they are a normal side product of being on bypass. A friend of mine who works in the field of research involving the filtration of blood explained it to me. He said that when they mechanically filter blood, that it causes micro bubbles. These bubbles get back into the blood stream and into the brain. As your system works these micro bubbles out, your memory is supposed to return. As for the deja vu, not sure how it all comes into play. For me it was an uncomfortable yet at the same time euphoric feeling. There was also a musical quality to my feeling. I never can remember the tune. I hate the feeling… it is similar to the feeling of not being able to remember something important and yet it seems very important. I sympathize with you.

    Comment by Ron — August 29, 2013 @ 11:51 pm

  3. Thank you Ron. You are the second person who has contacted me telling me they have similar symptoms. So I guess we’re not alone.

    Out of interest, do you have a mechanical valve? I do, and take Warfarin. It would be interesting to learn if the problem we suffer is specific to mechanical valves and the drugs associated with them. Although, I need to stress that I have no evidence of this, and am not suggesting it is the case. It just strikes me as a possibility, which is why I ask. If you don’t have a mechanical valve we will at least be able to rule that out as a cause.

    In terms of what I now know, the only useful thing I’ve discovered is that the symptoms you and I suffer are very similar to those of simple partial seisures. Although I had diagnostic tests run on me by a neurologist (maybe not particularly accurate tests) and he confidently informed me that I don’t actually suffer from such seisures, just something that feels like them.

    Are you still suffering the deja vu? I am. (My surgery was in 2008). It comes and goes a bit. I’ll occasionally have a week or two without any episodes then maybe a cluster of 1 a day for a few days. Occasionally it comes with something akin to very mild euphoria for me, but usually the overarching emotion is anxiety, which I do not think is from the spells themselves but rather my fear of them.

    Deja Vu like episodes aside my memory is definitely better than it was after surgery but still not as good as it was before, I think.

    I sympathise / empathise with you too.

    I hope you are doing as well as possible in all other aspects of your recovery.


    Comment by terence — August 30, 2013 @ 10:11 am

  4. Actually, I do have a mechanical valve and I am on warfarin. Many things are related to the warfarin, but I believe this particular issue to be from the heart bypass. I have talked with people who have tissue valves and people who have just had open heart surgery that have experienced this too. I will try to elaborate more when I have an actual keyboard (I am on my phone)

    Comment by Ron — August 30, 2013 @ 11:23 am

  5. Thanks Ron – that’s useful to know. And I’m looking forwards to hearing more.

    Comment by terence — August 30, 2013 @ 11:36 am

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