I had never heard of Medical Delirium until I suffered from it.
It’s hard to know where to start, but in 2008, at age 45, I suffered a Grade 5 Brain Aneurysm which burst and resulted in 6 weeks in an induced coma, followed by rehabilitation at Hampstead. I had hoped that would be the worst thing to happen to me and my family, but in 2019, after urgent Heart Surgery at age 55, I woke with a severe case of Medical Delirium.
Apparently, the surgery went well and I was up and mobile late that day and had walked to the toilet and back. About 48 hours after surgery I removed a tube from my chest, made out I was going to the toilet, but instead struggled with staff and tried to abscond by making a run for it. I was chased by a lot of staff/security and after a short time collapsed in the corridor and was returned to my ICU bed and woke this time with a breathing tube in, unable to move, talk or see properly as nobody had realised I need my glasses to see. Later I was informed that I had in fact suffered a stroke when trying to abscond. I'm told this happened during a 3-day period while in ICU after the heart surgery. Due to the Medical Delirium and the effects of having had a stroke, the exact order of happenings become hazy for me, but I do recollect being very confused and frightened and just wanting to get out.
During my stay in ICU I was hallucinating, hearing knocking noises on the back of the bed (air mattress) and I was very scared and tired, but I couldn't sleep as I thought if I did, they would kill me. I was convinced they were going to hurt my wife and I was trying to tell her, but couldn't talk due to breathing tubes; during this time, I became very frustrated, scared and anxious. One of my children (Rachel) finally realised that I wanted my glasses and this was the first little bit of communication I had, which helped me calm down quite a bit at that time. While trying to abscond on another occasion, I recall trying to hide after a code black was called for aggression in radiology, when 16 or so guards cornered me eventually and then a short struggle began before I was overpowered and restrained.
All this caused me to have a Special Nurse around the clock and a security guard when I was on the ward. It was hoped that the Delirium would pass soon, but it was stubborn and as I was not being treated for a heart condition anymore, I was taking up a valuable bed. After about 4 more weeks, I was finally transferred to the Port Pirie Hospital where I then stayed until my wife and family believed the Delirium was reducing and they felt comfortable enough with my progress and attitude for me to come home (as I had now come to realise that they might be right and I may have Medical Delirium). I continued to take the anti- psychotic medication prescribed for a few months until being able to gradually ween off them, after having a video link up with a doctor from Hampstead and getting the go ahead. I continued to have some Sundowners (a feeling of sadness and doom/ being irritable and difficult) in the evenings for a few more months, but this has gradually diminished to the point I know now why I am feeling that way sometimes.
Perhaps the level of Medical Delirium and duration I suffered was impacted upon in my case, due to the previously massive assault my brain received in 2008, but this is just a hunch. The effects on my wife, children and family have been difficult and I will forever be grateful for their love and support during my times of need; without that support I don't know what might have happened, as I struggled with reality at the time. A family's worth cannot be underestimated.
Thank you to a very special RAH Cardiothoracic 4F Unit, Inga, Shaun, Patrick, Mary, Lourdes, Ralph, Greg, Gabby, Tilly, Ulana, Fran, Chi, Louie and Dr. Rachel, along with the security guards I got to know! Too many names to remember and mention, but thanks to you all. Survive and Thrive has been very good for me also.
Andy and Janet of Port Pirie, have been married 30 years with 2 daughters, Carly and Rachel.
This story first appeared in Survive and Thrive Newsletter #1 May 2020. We thank Andy for giving us permission to publish this story on the My Life After ICU website.