Anne Diamond talks medical nightmares and local hospitals
PUBLISHED: 11:34 18 July 2013 | UPDATED: 11:34 18 July 2013
Our vital intensive care units save lives every day but for some patients the experience produces ‘memories’ straight from horror films, says Anne Diamond
It’s been like discovering a well-hidden secret - but not for a second am I implying anyone has deliberately kept it so. It’s just one of those things that Those In The Know have accepted and the rest of us haven’t even suspected.
What I am talking about is how a few life-saving days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of your local hospital could cause you a lifetime of awful, horrible, terrifying hallucinations and recurring dark dreams.
I couldn’t believe it when I first heard the true facts, as I was broadcasting a series of live outside broadcast programmes for BBC Radio Berkshire from within the NHS. I was trying to find real life true stories from those who experience the NHS as both patients and professionals.
I met impressive former patients who were convinced they’d been terrorised, probed, and tortured by aliens during their time in ICU.
I say impressive because I want to convince you these people aren’t weirdos. These are people you’d be happy to have as your next door neighbours and trust babysitting your children. And the professionals, the doctors and nurses who have treated them, take them utterly seriously.
Fact is, according to them, they’ve been restrained and tortured, they’ve been haunted by ghosts and bewildered by visions both (occasionally) comforting and (usually) terrifying. And their visions, their experiences, live with them to this day, months and years after their time in ICU.
It’s a problem, I suspect, the professionals are only just beginning to understand. At the Royal Berkshire, they acknowledge, it’s common (more than 65% of those who have been on life support). And they now hold clinics for former patients who remember their time in ICU as desperate and terrifying.
Many hospitals have yet to understand the terrifying legacy they endure, which occurs through no-one’s fault.
As well as the patients, can you imagine how dreadful it is for a dedicated, caring ICU professional to be thought of as an alien, masked, torturer?
Gordon, from Reading, a cardiac patient, has revisited ICU many times as a volunteer, but still feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end when he sees his nurse, one of the team who literally saved his life after a multiple organ failure.
He still recognises her as a creature from outer space, with a squeaky voice and gruesome equipment, who was trying to kill him.
Sally, another former ICU patient, ‘remembers’ staff trying to slowly kill her, cause her utmost pain, probe her and carry out painful experiments. Her partner, bewildered by her hallucinations, even videoed her - the most graphic and upsetting images I’ve ever seen. In the video she’s plainly under the best hospital care, with tubes and breathing equipment keeping her alive, but she’s seeing an entirely different reality. At times, she’s desperately upset. Then she’s seeing her newborn baby (she went into crisis whilst giving birth) or choosing to wave ‘goodbye’ to long lost relatives.
Others I spoke to remember a paranoia of pain, tubes, and blood dripping down the walls whilst much mourned loved ones entreated them to either walk towards, or retreat from, a blinding light.
Are we to understand all of this as biological - the bi-product of necessary but aggressive medical treatment or as some sort of spiritual experience? I know not. I’m just glad the NHS is just beginning to try to understand, and help.
I only hope that many more hospitals respond to this growing awareness with comfort and support for both patients and NHS staff.
Listen to Anne on BBC Radio Berkshire, 95.4 and 104.1FM, from 10am to 1pm