Laura Barnett Psychotherapy
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Intensive Care Q&A

 

After a stay in ITU many patients feel that ‘life has been turned upside down’.  Every patient’s experience of ITU is different, but there are also some feelings that a lot of patients share.

 ‘What happened to me?’

Some patients have many memories leading up to their admission to hospital and ITU; they can remember what it felt like to be in ITU all ‘wired up’; they can recall the nurses, the sounds, the light, their dreams, their feelings…  Some have no recollections whatsoever.  Others only have a few vague impressions of that time.

When nurses or relatives tell you what happened to you in ITU, you may find it difficult to understand. You may also have trouble concentrating and remembering things.  This is not unusual.

‘It’s like time got lost.’

Most patients experience a stay in ITU as unsettling; for many it is as if, somehow, time was ‘lost’.  And that lost time is not simply a few lost days or weeks: for many patients, it is the strange feeling that life went on without their being aware of it.

 ‘I had the strangest dreams.’

Many patients report having very vivid dreams in ITU or shortly afterwards. The dreams may feel so real that when patients first come round in ITU, the first thing they tell their relatives comes straight out of their dream.  This can be confusing and upsetting, both for the patient and for the relatives.

For some patients, dreams are their only memories of ITU.

Talking through those dreams with the counsellor can be very helpful. 

 ‘It’s all so confusing.’ Patients who have been in ITU often have strong, mixed feelings and mood changes, like:

‘All I keep thinking is: why me?’

‘I feel so lucky, and yet… .’

‘I get really irritable and angry, it’s just not like me.’

Having someone to talk to about what happened and about how you are feeling can make you feel calmer and more yourself. ‘What’s going to happen to me now?’

When you are lying in a hospital bed, unsure about what is happening and what the future holds, it is difficult to think straight.  But there are always possibilities before you and choices for you to make, even if sometimes these are very limited.

You may need some support to think about the future - about the things that have changed and those that haven’t, about your priorities, your hopes and your fears.  Counselling can be a good place to talk things over and take stock of your situation before making decisions, and possibly changes, in your life.

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If you have a question for me in relation to experiences of Intensive Care, please contact me by email at laura.barnett@croydonhealth.nhs.uk

A link to my articles in Therapy Today appears below:

www.therapytoday.net/archive/may2006/cover_feature4.html

also the June 2006 issue. The following daily Mail article may be of interest:

www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-446387/Why-intensive-care-living-nightmare-patients.html

I have also written a chapter entitled 'Surviving Intensive Care' in Laura Barnett (ed.) (2009) 'When Death Enters the Therapeutic Space' Routledge. Available from Amazon and other online bookstores.

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