I was recently in the hospital for almost a month. Most of that time was in the ICU. I had to be put on a ventilator. I had no idea what I was going through, because I can’t remember, but my family was told that I was very agitated and wanted to pull my breathing tube out. A person had to be placed next to my bed to make sure I did not pull it out.

Once awake, I was already suffering from ICU delirium. I did not know where I was. I asked my ICU nurse the date. She informed me I had been there a long time. “What,” I thought. Weeks had passed. I was so confused and alone. I was having panic attacks. One great nurse tried to tell me I was safe, and nothing was going to happen to me. Despite that, I thought someone was trying to kill me. I felt like I wanted to jump out of the window. My nurse gave me some medication to help calm me down, but it didn’t help.

I had horrible visions and thought the soap dispenser was an alien wanting to attack me. Once I was out of the ICU and on a regular floor, it seemed to get worse. The worst day, it took five nurses and four security guards to tie me down, because I was going to rip my central line out. I thought the nurses and doctors were stealing medicine and selling it for extra money, and since I found out about their plan, they were going to kill me. I was yelling for help, but no one was coming.

The hospital called my parents, and they put the phone to my ear. They told me the hospital was trying to help me. I could not believe my parents were on the hospital’s side. I felt betrayed, even though nothing that was happening was real. Within a few days, I was back to normal. I can’t fit everything I went through in this article, but it was horrible and traumatic. Why did I get ICU delirium and why was I not told it could happen to me?

ICU delirium is very common. Eighty percent of patients in the ICU develop delirium. ICU delirium is a severe state of confusion. You cannot think clearly. You have a hard time understanding what is going on around you. You may see and hear things that are not there. It causes patients to feel frightened, angry, lonely and ashamed. What causes this delirium? For most people, they get it while on the breathing machine or soon after. Experts think delirium is caused by a change in the way the brain is working. Examples are less oxygen to the brain, certain medications, infections and many more.

Experts used to think that once you left the hospital, the patient’s delirium went away. This is not the case. A recent study showed that 50 percent of patients who suffered from delirium had cognitive impairment a year after the hospitalization. Patients can suffer from PTSD, many the same level as a person who went through a war. What can a family do to help? If allowed in a hospital room with the patient, they can say things to calm the patient down. With COVID and family not let in to see patients, delirium has been worse for COVID patients.

Why are families not given a pamphlet about ICU delirium and how it may happen to their loved one? Families should know what it is and what they can do about it. As a patient, I should have been told what I was going through and be reassured that I would be OK. No doctor came to my room to tell me what I was experiencing. I did have a few good nurses who tried to speak nicely to me and make me feel less alone. There definitely needs to be some changes in patient care and education regarding ICU delirium, and I am hoping this article opens more discussion about this important topic.

Stefanie Daubert lives in Bakersfield and is a Master of Social Work student, a writer, podcaster and speaker.