"Researchers are alarmed by
what they are finding as they track patients for months or years after an ICU
Patients, even young ones, can be weak for years.
have difficulty thinking and concentrating or have post-traumatic stress
disorder and terrible memories of nightmares they had while heavily sedated.
Researchers are increasingly convinced that spending days, weeks or
months on life support in the units can elicit unexpected, long-lasting
effects." - Gina Kolata, January 11, 2009
Dr. O. Joseph Bienvenu, a
Johns Hopkins, worries about
While many remember
nothing of their time in an ICU, others cannot forget horrifying
The experiences are all the more terrifying because
patients cannot talk with mechanical ventilator tubes in
Their illnesses may
produce delirium, but so may the drugs used in sedation.
told me he saw children's faces that were blacked out and blood running down
the walls," Dr. Bienvenu said. "He thought he'd been kidnapped and tortured.
One woman said she saw her husband and a nurse talking, and she thought they
were plotting to kill her."
Scientists are beginning to worry about the
effects of simply being in an intensive care unit, on a mechanical ventilator
that pushes oxygen under pressure in and out of the lungs, receiving doses of
sedatives, narcotics and anesthetics high enough to make even healthy people
stop breathing on their own (patients who are resting and sedated are also
given less oxygen).
They have been particularly
surprised by how quickly patients lost strength.
It looks like what
was lost may not completely come back, even years later.
When Dr. John
Kress, director of the medical ICU at the University of Chicago, began focusing
on lasting effects of an intensive care unit stay, he wondered whether the
sedatives keeping patients comfortable might actually be making them worse.
So his group tried an experiment, waking patients briefly every day by
turning off their infusion of sedatives.
Patients actually did better
and even had a significantly lower rate of post-traumatic stress disorder,
which is manifested by such things as mood disorders, anxiety, difficulty
concentrating, shortness of temper and frightening memories.
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