Regarding Hallucinations and Dream states while in an induced coma in ICU

I would very much like to compare notes with anybody who is researching or writing about the dream states and hallucinations experienced while in induced comas in ICU.

I am now almost 70 years old but in my life and career have been notorious as a risk taker and been frequently told I had a charmed life for some of the crazy stunts I've gotten away with. It's extremely ironic therefor that in June this year I tripped and fell on a short flight of stairs, only about four stairs up, and fractured my neck and spine in multiple places. It's been hard to accept that such a simple tumble could have done the damage that it did.

Despite the misfortune of the accident itself I was extremely fortunate to have been quickly taken to the ICU at Charing Cross Hospital where the skill of the surgeons and medical technicians there probably saved my life and repaired the neck fractures that might have otherwise left me paralysed. God bless and long live our wonderful NHS. I'm happy to report that 18 weeks later I have made an almost complete recovery and am now back at home, I can get up and down the stairs and even drove my own car again, briefly, a few days ago.

Reading other peoples stories in this community it's tempting to go off on topics like the quality of nursing, the difference in attitudes between nurses in ICU and those in the recovery wards, the information about ones condition and prospects, or lack of it, provided by both doctors and nurses, the insane staff rotations and medication cycles that don't allow patients to sleep properly more than four hours at a time, the noise levels and continual beep-beeping of equipment in ICU, the disco-ordination between departments like outreach and physiotherapy and so on and so forth on and on but that's not why I'm writing.

I was in an induced coma for five weeks. The dreams, hallucinations, phantasms, nightmares, whatever you want to call them, were spectacular and so very 'real', in 3D and technicolor, like visiting other worlds, other lives, other dimensions. All that was lacking from ordinary reality was sensation, touch, scent, etc., but there was sound, language (often difficult to understand), speech, background noises all seeming very real.

As it turns out I later discovered that my experience was far from uncommon, in fact it seems to be typical of ICU patients under heavy sedation. The paranoia, the sense of having been abducted and restrained by some agency or other, some report it as aliens, I imagined that I had somehow stumbled into some kind of CIA mind control program. On at least two occasions I thought myself to be already dead and in some twilight realm beyond.

I'm not going to go into detail of the dreams here, I could write a book, but would like, even need, to compare the content and emotion of my hallucinations with other ICU survivors with a view to being able to help partners, relatives and friends understand better what's happening to loved ones currently in ICU or still suffering from the effects of having been in ICU.



5 Replies

  • I'm so glad you're all right. It's been nearly two years since I was in ICU two weeks b/c of pneumonia, and six more weeks in the regular hospital, where the hallucinations persisted, although not as fearful. Every organ in my body failed during those eight weeks, though thankfully not at the same time. I've made an almost complete recovery, a little weaker, and my vocal cords are shot b/c of being intubated for so long. My doctors say I'm a "modern day medical miracle". BUT, I can't remember much, and what I think I remember is distorted, I'm told. I don't know, but none of my family and friends will talk to me about it. I wish you would write a book; I'll buy it!

  • Hi David I can really relate to your post. I spent a month in hospital earlier this year the majority of which I was ventilated in ICU. I was fighting septic shock, multi organ failure, pneumonia and pulmonary emboli and I won! So pleased you had such a good outcome from such a horrific accident.

    I suffered from delerium and my dreams, nightmares, hallucinations were extremely vivid. I can recall the majority of them unlike ordinary dreams during sleep. I was convinced I was held hostage at one point and also that I was being taken to the morgue when my bed was moved. My family were told delerium is quite common when your body is under such stress and pumped full of drugs. At the time I was convinced my hallucinations were reality no matter what I was told. I still wonder if some of my experiences were real or a mixture of reality and hallucination.

    I unfortunately still have nightmares surrounding my time in ICU but they are nightmares andmost dedefinitely not reality. My family were given a booklet about ICU and within it was mention of delerium etc. The mind is a wonderful thing and I think there is more we do not know than know about its capacity to heal. Our physical and mental health are interlinked so it is not surprising that when we are physically very unwell our mental health and/or abilities are thrown askew.

    Healiing thoughts to all


  • Hi Lesley-Anne, You could be writing my own experience of my hospital stay 2 and a half years ago now. The dreams and memories often hit me without warning even now and I am afraid to go to sleep most nights as any sleep I do get is so full of these nightmares that I don't get any rest. I think during the month I was in hospital with double pneumonia and multiple organ failure, I 'lived' a whole lifetime (most of it in Australia for some reason!) I am undergoing treatment for PTSD but I'm not sure if this helping or not, re-living the dreams really isn't the most pleasant of experiences and it doesn't seem to lessen the effect they have on me. I don't know what the answer is but trying to explain the feelings to someone who hasn't experienced them (even a therapist) is like trying to explain colours to a blind person!!

  • Hi Avrack I understand how you feel about your treatment for PTSD. If you are thinking about a frightening experience during the day then you can train your brain to think of something else. If your frightening experience returns in your sleep how do you train your brain to think of something else before you get fully involved in the dream? I spoke to a CPN about possible treatment but she wasn't sure that regular treatment for PTSD like CBT would work or be helpful. I don't know what the answer is and unfortunately if you don't have a restful sleep it affects your wellbeing. In an effort to have a restful sleep I'm trying to be calm and relaxed when I go to bed. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. I have tried lavender oil baths, lavender balm on my temples, chamomile tea and reading.

    I hope your treatment helps. Healing thoughts


  • Hi brother is still in James hospital Dublin..He had major heart surgery 7 weeks ago. In the last few days he has been moved to side ward just off ICU He had a stroke durning op and also had to have a traceostamoy fitted..poor man has been through so much! While heavily sadated he had very bad hallucinations ..told all the meds were causing this. At the moment he is not on any meds but! the terrors as he calls them are still there! I was in to see him yesterday , wasn't as bad as last week .. much more lucid . .as you can imagine I was delighted . He then asked me for the time..I said are you ok..he looked very upset..then he said... I'm going to be murdered at 3pm! . Mention also that he had ordered a gun for protection as people were shooting at him.It took me a while to settle him and convince him this was not the case . He told me he is finding it difficult to separate what's reality and what's not and he is not on any meds now. .nurses are saying this is all part of recovery . .tough to witness tho..take care all ..tessan

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