“Are They Trying to Kill Me?”
The newspaper section headline grabs my attention. I read the next line. “Delusions. Depression. Physical Pain. The Bizarre and Frightening After-Effects of Intensive Care Treatment”.
Isn’t that interesting, I’m thinking. My sentiments exactly.
A year ago, I had open heart surgery and several hours later, I wake. It’s 3 a.m. I know this because the first thing I see in the dimly lit room is the wall clock. I panic because I realize I can’t breathe. I am in ICU and my thrashing and moaning draws the night shift to my hospital bed. They pull the thick breathing tube out of my mouth, and I settle immediately.
The next several days of my recovery has elements described in the Edmonton Journal’s article. It reads that tens of thousands of Canadians with ICU experience are left with new and profound thinking, memory and psychological problems that feel like we’re losing our minds. Why? Because no one has thought to help us recover from recovery.
You see, I understand. I feel like during the recovery process, the focus was on reducing pain, increasing medications, and that’s about all. Oh and potty training. Don’t get me wrong. I had the best team helping me. The best. The ICU nurses and doctors cared for us with all their talents and abilities. And they care.
I manage to get my sanity back. But not everyone does according to the stats.
Researchers are now leading the largest study of its kind of ICU “survivors” and their caregivers. After Intensive Care, a large percentage experience Intensive Trauma. Dr. Margaret Herridge, Professor of Medicine at University of Toronto says, “Why on earth do we invest so much in the ICU ad the critical illness portions of this person’s care, but we’re not investing in their recovery? It makes so sense.”
Apparently thousands of ICU patients experience symptoms of post – ICU syndrome. It all starts with the stress of beeps and lights, dings and moaning patients beside you, pain, drugs, more pain and hallucinations because of more drugs. And the body and brain remain weakened.
Let me show you.
I am hooked up to a catheter, water bag, blood bag, and let’s say, oh about three other tubes coming out of my solar plexus, some draining, some adding.
My senses are heightened because the amount of pain killer drugs is unusual for my body. I don’t even take a vitamin pill let alone pain pills, so a morphine high generates hallucinations. I dream lucidly, bright oranges and reds. I fix things that I don’t even know what the hell they are. An imaginary group of foreign women walk and whisper around me. They box clothing and items. One looks at me, nods to her friend and they continue. I feel a swoosh of ghostly presence tickling my skin. I think I should freak out, but rely on my common sense; it’s not real, it’s delusional and I’m okay.
My bed is automated and groans, bends and the mattress shifts like clockwork. I use the sounds as beats to a rhythm and lull myself to sleep imagining an orchestra plays for me.
The best medicine I have in my zero arsenal of healing after major surgery is given me by my brother who endured hours of cut and paste surgery trauma for cancer. He said, “Don’t lie there. Get up. Sit up. Then walk. Walk every day, twice, three times and more as you get stronger and stronger.”
So I did.
My second day in ICU, still plugged to dozens of tubes, I asked for help to get up and walk around my bed.
My slow shuffle and unsteady gait worries the nurse. But she agrees to help and could see the benefit as I creep forward. She rolls a wheelchair behind me, pushing the tall steel pole apparatus where my fluids are hanging.
We do this together, twice this day.
The next day three times.
By then, tubes are coming out, less effort to walk the halls. And I do.
But I’m all alone in the short hall.
The ICU is full of patients. And except for me, they are lying in bed, moaning, watching TV, sleeping, some with a visitor, most alone.
By day four I climb five steps and back down. Now I know I am healing.
I go home and two days later, my husband brings me back to Emergency because I’m having panic attacks and shortness of breath.
I know what the problem is. The drugs. I take about 13 different pills, one to refill potassium lost in the blood let of heart surgery, several levels of pain relievers, stuff I can’t name and don’t know what for, and one I think sets off my delusional and rambling shit. My husband knows this isn’t me, and worries I’m losing my mind. I am.
Lucky for me, after several hours lying half naked in a cold Emergency room, I speak lucidly and ask to stop taking the drugs. The attending physician looks over the list and makes the call. I am left with one pill that all heart surgery patients continue to take for years. Acetaminophen. Baby Aspirin.
I am now left to heal another critical aspect. My foggy brain. And I know this occurs from having less oxygenated blood flowing to my brain. Plus the stress and fear of dying.
My research shows I need to exercise the brain as much as strengthen my body after bone, muscle and heart breaking.
I find mandala colouring to reduce stress, lessen fears, and increase calm. I use several different stress reducers over the months, yet somehow colouring works the best.
I smile, colour, and notice my relaxed brain is remembering more and feels sharper.
As the newspaper article concludes, we owe it to our most vulnerable patients (those in ICU recovery) that their care doesn’t stop with they exit ICU. I took my own stand and created adult colouring books for myself. And I aim to help as many as I can to recover brain and reduce stresses to heal well.
My name is Patricia Ogilvie and you can find my adult colouring book, “Please God, Don’t Let Me Lose all My Marbles” here: http://proriskenterprises.com/dementia-reversible/
Listen. I’m not any more special than the woman who lay next to me in ICU. Same surgery but three weeks later she finally gets to go home. Me, four days because I am motivated to stop thinking like a victim, and instead, go into solution. It’s the cure that requires the focus.
For anyone who has gone through an ICU experience and finds the aftermath of the trauma lingering, busting the stress, reducing the meds, and waking up with a smile are the key ingredients to healing. Let’s get this disease of stress off the map. Let’s do this together. And I promise I’ll guide you all the way. You can do it.