The silent observer

March 2, 2011

An hour of the Diane Rehm Show today was dedicated to experiences in intensive care. It brought back memories. Nothing good at all, but I listened anyway.


For doctors and nurses caring for patients in intensive care, the number one concern is the patient’s survival. Pain killers, sedatives, and bed rest are standard procedure, but in recent years, a second objective has been added: to improve the patient’s longer term quality of life. Recent studies have shown that prolonged sedation, for example, can lead to reduced brain function years later and immobilization is associated with slower recoveries overall. Join us to discuss how changes in intensive care procedures can improve patients lives later.

Although the program concentrated on the deleterious effects on brain and physical function caused by prolonged sedation, they did touch on some issues that I have personal experience with. I have wondered for some time if ‘PTSD’ was even applicable to the experience, whether or not I could rightly call it being ‘traumatized’. I had some secondhand hearsay to back up my experiences and, ultimately, dismissed any special or supernatural power to them.

But I see now that others have been through what I have, that I’m not alone. This is the first time I’ve heard it openly spoken about, these drugs causing paralysis, or hallucination, patients feeling like their doctors are trying to kill them. Mistaken, sure – but hard to shake.

There’s an unspoken admission there, I guess. But other people have felt it.

The folks may remember how it was back in 2006 when I was freed from the hospitals and rehab facilities and forced back into routine life. They may have seen or heard a few hints of it while I was in the ICU. I think the Diane Rehm program demonstrates how people are still struggling to understand what is happening to patients, and struggling to figure out how best to handle it. I don’t have any answers there, either. It’s a terrible thing to contemplate.

I had real experiences; real enough in my head, anyway. I don’t seek to blame anyone for what happened. Everyone was doing what they thought was best, even if they didn’t necessarily understand all the consequences. I doubt I will ever feel up to openly discussing the specifics. The things I’ve already told a couple of people have tested my comfort zone’s limits. But I survived, and recovered. That counts for something.

And although hearing about other people’s experiences brought back some horrible memories and creepy experiences, it is oddly reassuring as well. Perhaps just not being alone in it. Not having to question my sanity.


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