Should we change the channel?

What Do Harvey and Irma have to do with ICU Psychosis?

Twelve years ago in 2005, after waking up from my multiple surgeries, with a trachea, trying to understand, process and make sense of all that had happened to me was a huge undertaking – a monumental task for any human being. In August, just as I was starting to comprehend all that had occurred in the last 75 days, the TV was turned to CNN and I was hearing about Hurricane Katrina.

I thought I was in the middle of a storm raging around the hospital and that I was unable to get out. I knew I wasn’t alone…the stories of people being rescued – and stranded – persisted for days. What I didn’t know was that the people on television were experiencing Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans…and from my hospital bed in Boston's hospital district – Katrina’s water and the storm winds were a world

away . . . but not to me!

I thought that after surviving the transplant – the worst was over. For me, the last month in ICU left me in a constant state of fear that I would die of suffocation. No one had explained to me that, since I wasn’t breathing on my own, the machines were breathing for me, and they were gradually and deliberately being dialed down to help my lungs work harder and become stronger in order for me to eventually breathe on my own and get off the ventilator. I thought they were trying to kill me. What I didn’t know was that I was suffering from ICU psychosis.

It's a fairly prevalent condition that very ill patients have due to various meds they're on, ironically, sometimes to calm down, relax, etc. They can also cause psychotic episodes of seeing and hearing things that don't exist, not understanding your surroundings and absolute paranoia.

So what do Harvey and Irma have to do with all of this? For me, in watching the disasters in Houston and southern Florida (along with the earthquake in Mexico and fires in the wilderness brought back the frightening memories for me while I was in ICU and I can't imagine I was alone in thinking these thoughts of being left unattended, unable to be reached and waiting endless hours, days for help. I imagine others in ICU in the past two weeks might have had some of the same frightening feelings.

My advice for healthcare professionals and family members of patients -- that during times of national disaster it's better to turn the channel, -- and ask a patient if they might like a family member to bring in music or entertainment they might enjoy. The news is upsetting to individuals regardless of their mental state, but I could feel the upset that these disasters might be causing patients in and outside of ICUs -- who may be unable to switch the channel themselves and turn on Jeopardy, instead of watching death and destruction on television.

If in doubt, please change the channel. The thought crossed my mind to visit ICUs and do just that. Ah, saving patients suffering from ICU psychosis -- one television set at a time!

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