This post is going to be about my time in critical care, more specifically my time on the intensive care unit. Whilst some may understand what such a place is, many people have never been anywhere near one (thankfully) and thus have no ideas about the horrors within. I’m going to explain my take on all of it, what I experienced, my thoughts and feelings etc.
Firstly, lets get one thing straight: this post is by no means critical of the doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, or any of the dozens of people that helped me. I am purely speaking from my experience as a patient, and to be honest, my experience was not pleasant. That is not anybody’s fault, it just happened. Below i will explain more, but let me reiterate; I LOVE THE NHS AND EVERYTHING IT HAS DONE FOR ME. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. Let’s go.
After nearly killing myself in my crash, one of the first places in the hospital I spent more than an hour in was the intensive care unit, or ITU. Now, that is every bit as joyless as it sounds. Intense barely covers it; here there are no windows, there are bright clinical lights, and to gain entry you must be about to shake hands with the reaper. Not a place for those with a stubbed toe, even the thought of ITU makes me feel a little bit on edge. The reason for this is pretty simple; whilst I was there, I was placed in a medically induced coma. This involves pumping me full of a lot of strong drugs including sedatives, muscle relaxants and go knows what else. My breathing was controlled by a machine, my drugs were controlled by a team of doctors, and I was left in control of absolutely nothing. Anyone that knows me may say I’m a slight control freak, and so that is point one for why ITU scares me. Another is the unfortunate side effects of the drugs. When one or more of the body’s senses stop working, the brain goes into overdrive. It struggles to understand why you suddenly can’t see or hear, and says “Hey, let’s just make it up!”. This can go one of two ways; you can be sent to paradise with the brain taking you to that metaphorical sandy beach, or you can head straight into the darkest recesses of your brain and all of your fears become reality. What I’m talking about are, unfortunately, hallucinations.
From the LSD parties in the 70’s to people now paying money to a dodgy bloke in a ket hole, people are forever craving that high and the hallucinations that it brings. Not me however. I, apparently, am one of those people who’s hallucinations involve lots of people conspiring to kill me, especially the nurses. Whilst now I know that this is not true, at the time it felt as real as day. Believe me when I say it’s bloody terrifying. The only comparison I can think of is when you have one of those nightmares that leaves you frozen in bed unable to move or even scream. However, once you start to wake up you can move again, and can usually drift off to a better sleep without the monsters or spiders or whatever scared you. When sedated, you don’t get that choice, and for me the nightmares lasted for 8 very long days.
The content of what I experienced varied. I was fighting the sedation a lot, so sometimes I would wake up for a few seconds, see a nurse/doctor/other, then drift back off. Then, my brain would take that brief glance, and turn it into a full blown theatrical experience of that person trying their hardest to see me off. Other times I would be trapped in some form of membrane aboard an alien ship, just waiting for what felt like an eternity for anything to happen.
One of the worst hallucinations I experienced was being in some form of war, not unlike World War Two. As I mentioned above, when deprived of senses, the brain makes it up as it goes. For this one, my brain seemed to think it was a good idea to reenact the Iron Maiden song ‘Paschendale’. Whilst I love the song, hallucinating about a bayonet in my chest and being screamed at to go over the wall was quite simply petrifying; if I wasn’t already paralysed by drugs, I would have been by fear.
Whilst this is a very brief account of what I encountered, i think it covers the main points. Not everyone has an experience like me, but many people do. It’s just one of those things. It has taken me until now to really start to process it, and I don’t think I’ll ever really get over it.