My ITU Experience

It was 7am in the morning back in December 2007 when my carer arrived to shower and dress me. She found me unconscious in my recliner chair.

Previously, in 1989, I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) which was a massive blow and I couldn't believe that such an active young man could be struck down with this disease. I kept this news to myself for some 12 to 18 months as I continued my training to become a paramedic with the ambulance service. My condition deteriorated slowly to the point that I was no longer able to climb stairs and was having to consider arrangements for my bed to be moved downstairs. For some considerable time I slept downstairs in my recliner chair as I just couldn't bear the thought of having to bring my bed into the family's living area.

I was taken to hospital by ambulance and after the initial medical examination in casualty was taken to the ITU ward where I was placed on a life support machine. Whilst still in a coma I had a CT scan which didn't show any significant results i.e. Stroke, Haemorrhage or other bleed and my wife was informed that I was brain-dead and would not survive. She was advised to make arrangements for a hospice. You can imagine this was a very bitter pill to swallow for not only my family but my work colleagues, paramedics and officers who swamped the ITU ward.

I remained on the ward for a further four days until my wife was asked if, when they took my life support away from me and I was unable to breathe and survive for myself, she wanted the medical staff to resuscitate me. Everyone knew that I wouldn’t have wanted to be in a vegetative state and so she declined resuscitation.

It was then, as the apparatus was removed and my respirations got shallower and shallower, that I fought back and started to breath for myself. Throughout my stay in ITU I was told that my brain was agitated and my arms were swinging about – appearing to fight for my life and my arms had to be restrained.

I can remember being on my own, lying in a bed but could not make out any faces of people or anything that I could associate with. I remember hearing loud bangs that sounded like those massive iron presses, one after another after another and I just wanted it to stop. My eyes were clouded like glaucoma and as people approached me in white coats it appeared that their heads were like apes heads, dark brown and hairy and from the back of their heads was a long brown almost electric cable like wire that connected them to the nose or chin of the next person in a white coat behind them.

As these people moved around from one place to another there was what appeared to be clear glass domed shaped vessels with bodies in them just like in the matrix films. I can then remember thinking that my body had been snatched and in my mind the sort of thinking of what I could do to let someone know that I was alive and indeed that I had been snatched. I wanted to shout but couldn’t speak I felt trapped and couldn’t move, it was like a massive, massive nightmare in a film but it was really happening. I felt an ID bracelet on my wrist and I was struggling to rip it off as I wanted some evidence to prove to the police and my wife, so stuffed it under my bottom so in some way I could hide it until someone came to help. I was so frightened, helpless, was I the next in a line of people to be entombed in a glass coffin?

My eyes started to open and after a while the blur started to clear and I could see people that I knew, my family and work colleagues who appeared to be looking down at me through the glass of a photocopy machine and I was looking up at them and was trying to kiss them and trying to be back with them in some way that I could get out of this situation. I didn't know what had happened or why I was there and thinking was this the divide between my life and death and was this the last time I would see anyone?

As I continued to come out of this coma I found that I was unable to talk and my wife brought pictures in of my family and, after what seems an absolute age, she helped me to remember faces and talk again. As I continued to make progress I was transferred onto another ward and can remember each time I opened my eyes that the ward looked different and the handles on the doors appeared to stretch longer and longer and longer as I appeared to be hallucinating but was frightened to tell anyone in case they thought I was mad! As people were allowed to come and see me I can remember my next door neighbours (whom I was very fond of) coming and although I was talking to the lady I didn't know who the man was that were standing in front of me. I do remember his wife leaving my bedside for some time and felt extremely awkward as I racked my brain to think who this man was.

I remember not wanting to eat the evening meals that had been specially prepared by the nurses as it was Christmas. I refused and rebuked their generosity. I snapped at my sister for not getting me the correct squash and a number of other people that came to see me for no real reason. It wasn't until probably 10 days later that I suddenly awoke at midnight, wanting to know where I was! Shouting at the night sister “why am I here” “what has happened” “when is my wife coming, and when can I see my children” The night sister sat with me to calm me and to reassure me that everything was okay.

As it was Christmas there were no physiotherapists on duty but I was told that I was not to get out of bed until one of them had been to see me. As the days went by I literally had to insist I see a physiotherapist to get me standing so as to get strength back into my legs. I knew that the more I lay there the weaker I would become. On two separate occasions a member of staff from ITU came on to the ward regarding another patient and enquired as to how I was and stated that they didn't believe that I had survived my ordeal and that it was a miracle that I was alive. I do remember a senior member of staff from ITU coming to me asking lots of questions but I am unable to recollect what they were.

At no point was I requested to attend ITU to fill in the time that I had been in a coma or my experience. My family were never invited to attend to discuss how they felt and the many pieces of the jigsaw that were missing from my mind. It was only after some time that speaking to the many people who came to visit me that bits of the jigsaw were gathered but I was having to fit them myself which just seemed to be absolute agony.

It wasn't until one of the MS specialists came to visit me at home asking how I came to be wheelchair-bound and what was it about the need for various specialists to supply equipment for me that I started to tell my story of being in a coma when I suddenly stopped as my emotions took over as I re-lived the experience again. It was at this juncture that she recognised that I may have PTS. She had heard a programme on Radio Four that depicted everything that I was explaining.

Each time I tell the story or think of it myself, the memory is like a spade smacking me in the face, I don't know why! However, I still have flashbacks, nightmares of suffocation and electrocution with extremely vivid flashes that you would see within a comic. Within that dream, knowing that I am on the brink of death, I do fight to live, or give in, to end this mental torture.

I'm not aware of any diary being kept by anyone and I had to insist that the physiotherapy was undertaken whilst I was in hospital and also after my discharge in order that I may regain strength in my body to start again.

I would like it to be seen to be a formal requirement of being invited back to ITU with the family and specialists and indeed other people who came to see you, in order that pieces of the jigsaw can be found and put in their rightful place.

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  • thank you for this brilliantly written account - brought back memories for me, but I think that's a good thing and helps us process the experience- much easier when you realise other people had similar experiences/hallucinations. I also felt my body had been snatched, to be used for body parts - I think that comes up a lot in other people's accounts.

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