The ICU Psychologist and Me

The weeks following discharge from hospital were a rollercoaster ride of emotions. When I left hospital, I didn’t expect to feel the way I did. Nobody had prepared me for what I might feel or how I might react to being at home after being away for so long. I guess it’s assumed that you’re happy to be going home but rarely, it seems, is any thought given to the potential psychological effects of discharge after a long stay.

My first appointment with the ICU Psychologist was difficult, emotional but also enlightening. Having had essentially what was a breakdown in the outpatient waiting area, I was dreading having to explain myself to her. I told her how I was feeling, about the flashbacks and the weird memories and visions I had in my head. I told her about the impact it was having on my life and that of my family. I found myself apologising constantly and saying how silly I must sound. How could she possibly understand?! In my mind, all she was going to do was tell me that it was all in my head, it was normal after trauma and that I’d get better in time…….

But – she said the complete opposite. She smiled, sympathetically and said very calmly and gently “What you are experiencing is normal for someone who has been in ICU. You’ve experienced severe Deliriums and as a result, you have PTSD”

I sat in stunned silence, trying to process what she’d just said…..and then it hit me. I broke down into a big, snotty heap!!

Prescribed were sessions of EMDR therapy, which in my case would involve following a light whilst talking. The therapy would apparently help me to unpack all of the deliriums and everything associated with them and re-package them into a box in my brain, for safe keeping. Now, I’m not one who believes in psychological ‘stuff’ and I genuinely couldn’t see how me talking to a light was going to help! But, this lovely lady understood everything I was saying and so I had to give it a go.

I left the hospital feeling lighter and more positive, unaware of the trauma inducing conversations that would unfold in the weeks ahead!

I feel incredibly lucky to have received the fantastic support of the rehabilitation services at University Hospitals Plymouth (Derriford). From the patient advocate work that I now do, I have discovered that post ICU rehab is a postcode lottery. I was naive in thinking that everyone gets offered the same support and services that I did – because they don’t, and that’s wrong. On ICU, patients receive a completely different level of care to what they might receive on a ward. Therapies that took place in ICU in some cases can suddenly stop. Your time in ICU is all but a distant memory and nobody understands the environment you’ve come from. Some patients are lucky to continue receiving rehab on the ward, have a visit from an ICU staff member to see how they are doing or even a rehab package once at home. But not everyone is that lucky.

People don’t just wake up from a coma and walk out the door. It can take months, even years to get back to anything close to your normal self, if at all. And then there is the psychological impact – trying to understand everything that happened, why you’re feeling the way you are. Post ICU can be a scary place and it’s absolutely right that every person gets the same access to rehabilitation and support wherever they are in the country.

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