In 2003, I was admitted to hospital with broncho-pneumonia and respiratory failure. Following a tracheotomy, I was in intensive care for four weeks in an induced coma.
Although I was aware of my surroundings, my view was completely distorted; I thought it was a hospital in a jungle and I was surrounded by trees and pools of sunlight. I believed I had been kidnapped by Japanese people (although all the nurses were English) and was being held to ransom from the company I worked for. I was a global account director for an advertising agency and travelled around the world all the time. In some places I visited (particularly South America) there was a threat and I was always provided with a minder. I had never visited Japan nor had any dealings with the Japanese.
I made elaborate plans to escape. On one occasion, I beckoned the nurse to me and when she was in reach I hit her across the face. I remember her telling me I was horrid, whereas I was absolutely delighted that I’d managed to strike a blow for freedom ! When friends and relations visited me, I either thought they were in on the plot or had also been kidnapped. Apparently I gave the impression of being totally terrified. I also believed I was on constant intravenous Coca Cola!
Eventually, one of the nurses started talking to me, telling me who I was, where I was and what was happening to me. After a while, I trusted her and realised I’d been dreaming. When I told my story to the consultant, he didn’t seem particularly concerned or surprised.
The learning from this is that medical staff should be aware that patients could be going through this kind of trauma and should make efforts to talk to patients, even if they are sedated. Also, the more publicity is given to occurrences like this, the better. I had the occasional flashback for a few years afterwards, but have mostly managed to forget the whole thing.