Is it normal to feel this traumatised?

I was a day surgery case for a minor gynae op. I woke up in ICU 36 hours later. I had a tube down my throat and strapped to my head, drips in each hand, a catheter and I couldn't move or speak. I'd had a "laryngospasm" (?) while under general anaesthetic, and pneumonia in my left lung. Although I was well enough to be moved to a ward the next day I can't forget my time in ICU. It was like some surreal nightmare and the confusion and fear I felt are still with me. I felt like I was drowning or choking and I have bad dreams and episodes of crying and feeling so helpless even though I have been home for nearly 3 weeks now. I missed two doses of my antidepressant (seroxat) while I was unconscious and that was enough to send me into withdrawal. I couldn't tell anyone because of the tube in my throat but I was having terrible attacks of panic and hallucinating. I can't seem to get my head around what happened to me. I feel very depressed and tired and scared of going to sleep because of the dreams and the feeling that my throat will close up and stop me breathing. My throat is still very sore and I'm worried that it's been damaged by the repeated intubations while I was unconscious. I have a great counsellor to talk to each week but I still feel so stressed and scared by the whole experience.

11 Replies

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  • Yes, Invisiblewoman, it is normal to feel like that. Being in ICU is horrific and terrifying for lots of people. I think you have to have lived through it to understand. ICU staff say they know about the problem, but they can't really know, all they see are people lying quietly on beds, they can't know whats going on in their minds.

    I'm so sorry you had such a rotten time, but it will pass, with the help of your counsellor there will come a time when you can remember it all without being frightened by your thoughts. In a way you were lucky, you were there for such a short time. I was there for a month, and many people are there for much longer. But the staff did their very best for us and they have saved our lives. But at what cost mentally. The problem is the drugs that have to be used, but I think they are trying to find less harmful ones.

    It's only three weeks since your op., give yourself time. By the way, I love your name!

    Jane

  • Thanks Jane, that's very reassuring. I hope you're staying well and happy xxx

  • My husbands experience is almost identical to yours many weeks after coming home he still gets emotional about the dreams/nightmares he had the fear of his throat swelling and him not being able to breath as he also woke with a tube then re sedated and woke with a trachiotomy he was unable to speak and had to have suctiones due to fluid nearly every hour it has to this day traumatised him but he now just talks it threw and is moving forward with psychological help, you have been threw a lot I wish you all the best! X

  • Hi Invisblewoman,

    I was almost in the exact same position. Minor op that went a bit wrong. I'm 5 weeks down the line and feel the same. I went to my gp yesterday and he just gave me some pills to help me relax. I don't know about you but anytime I think or speak about the episode I burst into tears. Now I avoid all my friends who supported me. It's not good but the only way I can deal with it. Have you spoken to any of the critical care follow up team. I found that helpful, when the sister said it was normal for my memory to have gaps because of all re medication I felt a sense of relief. Get in touch with them, or go to one of the support groups. I'm so glad you wrote your post as I thought I was the only one and that I was going potty. X

  • Hi Invisible

    I almost had a flash back reading your story. I woke up choking and unable to communicate six days after an operation where they removed the wrong arteries. When I tried to remove the tube myself they tied me to the bed for my troubles. It's been two and a half years. I am left with permanent physical disabilities and the emotional scars run very deep. My best advice is to be patient. Don't knock yourself out trying to get better too quickly. Be kind to yourself. Although your chances sound pretty good, some of us never recover, often depending on why and how long we spent time in the ICU. No matter how horrible the experience the upside for all of us is that this is our second chance. Something that most people don't get. That makes you (and me) pretty special. It's up to you whether you want to be a victim or a hero. Joining this web site is the best step towards becoming the latter. Good luck remember there is always some one here willing to talk. They have been helping me for the past two and half years and I seriously don't think I would be here without their support.

    Garry

  • Hi there, your experience is very common in terms of making sense of what happened to you. You are kept asleep in ICU using sedatives but this is not as deep a sleep as a full anaesthetic so sometimes people have fractured memories of the tubes, equipment, sounds and activities that go on whilst they are sedated. Your throat probably tightened because of some kind of allergy but the best way to find out is to contact the hospital ICU where you were and ask. Some hospital ICU's offer a follow up service after people have been there as so many people like you have queries and questions after wards. If not maybe your GP can help. It sounds likely that you had a reaction to one of the many drugs they give you whilst having a general anaesthetic so therefore it's unlikely this will happen again in your every day life, but the memory of it is nonetheless very traumatic for you. Keep talking it throughwith the counselor. I hope I have offered you some reassurance but I know what a scary crazy place ICU is so it's completely understandable that you feel traumatised by it. Keep talking and asking questions and hopefully the feelings of trauma will reduce over time. Good luck and take care. Xxxxx

  • Hey, this is common place, it's PTSD. It doesn't matter how long or what you were in for, it's traumatic to many if not all. Try whatever support is offered to you - personally, time, medication and speaking to those that have been there (former patients) was/is the best for me (2.5 years on). This is still very raw for you and you've won one battle already, this next one may be longer and bumpy but you are certainly not alone, not going mad, not selfish, not a burden - you've been CRITICALLY ill and some 'injuries' are invisible. Keep 'talking' on here whilst you find your way, you're no stuck record. All the best in your full recovery and new appreciation of many things to come xx

  • Thank you everyone for your kindness and support. It's such a relief to find I'm not alone. I've thought about contacting the hospital and asking to speak to someone and it seems like that will be a positive step.

    Thanks again, everyone who replied, it's been so reassuring.

  • poor you! what a dreadful shock,so good that you have had councelling so quickly (it took almost 10 months for my husband abd I to get help---- unless we were prepared to pay !).Keep positive x

  • Completely normal.

    Even a planned stay in ICU can cause horrible fears and even hallucinations. You're trying to make sense of why you are being assaulted and pinned down, which whilst an awake and healthy brain can see everything is to save your life, a drugged and confused brain will process it as danger, that people is trying to hurt you or kill you.

    It's totally normal and it feels real.

    Time helps. Talking helps. Relaxation helps. Ultimately you are alive because they acted in your best interests, which you need to hang on to.

    My DH spent two and a half weeks in ICU and still has horrendous flash backs. It's getting better and all the things above have helped him.

    Hang in there. It WILL pass. The fear will diminish and you will get through this.

    One thing we found really helped was to visit the ICU unit afterwards. It really helped make sense of some of the hallucinations. And made them less scary.

    You're getting help and support- and you've found this page. Well done on getting this far. You can do the next bit too :)

  • Hi I too had the nightmares and the feeling of helplessness but i think that you are expecting too much too soon, all these things that you are experiencing will all get better but you have to be patient and give it time, i am twelve months down the line now and almost there, just a little tired but i think once you know that what you are feeling is normal and will get better in time i think that enables you to cope, well i hope so, take care and look to the future IT WILL GET BETTER

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