‘Forgetting difficult hospital admissions but then being haunted by memories and not being able to put them together and make sense of them all’

World Delirium Day- 17th March 2021

Delirium is a serious disturbance in mental abilities that results in confused thinking and reduced awareness of the environment.

Delirium is rarely spoken about. Many people can feel ashamed because of the delirium they experienced due to the memories they have. There is often the perception that if you are delirious you are mad or have been taking some illicit substances but more often than not delirium is caused by medication you are given often when critically ill to keep you in a medically induced coma. You can also experience delirium when coming out of a medically induced coma as the drugs leave your system.

For me I have experienced delirium and it has mostly been due to hypoxia I have when in a severe asthma attack. I have also had some delirium from being in a coma and coming out of coma too. It can be split into 2 categories for me the conscious delirium and the unconscious.

The unconscious has been a mixed of very traumatic and also amusing. For example one time I felt like I was a cartoon car and in a race on Rainbow Road from Mario Kart 64 for the Nintendo 64. I kept skidding as I would go so fast but wouldn’t break for the corners so would lose speed. I also couldn’t win the race either, anytime I got close new bits of track would appear that I had to complete before it would let me win. It was very bizarre and also amusing when I look back on it. I have also had some very traumatic experiences which was almost like being in a horror movie but all those in the movie were all my friends too. I don’t like to remember it because it upsets me and scares me a lot.

I know a lot of people who have had very traumatic experiences with delirium and cant even bring themselves to talk about it. Some live in fear that they might turn into the person that they were while they were in a delirious state. I cant imagine how horrendous that must be.

The issue with what I call unconscious delirium is that it effects everyone differently and even if you have been in a medically induced coma more than once despite having the same drugs and same length of time in the coma you may have a totally different experience with delirium. It is so hard to understand and know what causes it, how to stop it and why people are affected differently.

The other type of delirium I experience is when I am very hypoxic as a result of low blood oxygen levels brought on by a severe asthma attack. Again there are some very amusing experiences which I have no recollection of but have been told about after the events.

One of such events was when I decided that the bed rails and medical equipment were all part of climbing frame. I apparently tried to fit between the bars and though the drip stand was a fireman’s pole. At the time it was very serious because I was so confused and convinced it was a climbing frame and could not be convinced otherwise. Once the hypoxia was reversed I was ok again but I had no recollection of my antics. It makes me wonder what else have I been up to when hypoxic and not been told about.

During hypoxia I also find that I almost protect myself from the experience by not remembering events. What I do find and it is hard to deal with is when snap shots of things come back to me. One that comes back to me fairly often is being taken to ICU with all the emergency drugs and crash cart for intubation came too. I was not sure if this was accurate or if it was a dream. It turns out that it was real but it came back to me a long time after the hospital admission in which this happened during.

These type of memories come back to me at random times and sometimes I find it a bit distressing because I don’t know when they happened, what attack it was during, if in fact it is a true recollection or a dream, and what else happened during the whole event.

I think nurses and medical staff have a responsibility to speak to their patients at discharge or when they are seen in follow up clinic to discuss episodes of delirium and the patients behaviour. Not so much to worry them or scare them but to let us know what happened, when it happened and how they treated it because otherwise you do get confused and upset at these random memories coming back to you not knowing where they fit in.

Everyone experience with delirium is different and this is just my own and a very small snap shot of how it affects me. Above all I think delirium needs to be spoken about more as it occurs to anyone young or old, it doesn’t matter. Don’t be ashamed of your experience and if you need to speak to someone about it so you can make sense of your experience so it will not haunt you and leave you questioning your memory as I have often been left doing.

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