Hallucinations following a critical care admission

Unfortunately many patients experience hallucinations, such as seeing things that aren’t there, whilst on critical care. Almost two thirds of the patients we see in the critical care follow-up clinic admit to having experienced them. They can be very frightening and bizarre. Patients frequently report feeling that they were trapped or being held captive. Some people even felt that the staff were trying to harm or even kill them. 

Even though I was in hospital there was a strange thing going through my head that I had been very lucky to have been on stage with the rock star Tom Petty. Strangely I can remember those images better than I can almost anything else that happened at that time in hospital. Today I can still see those images in my head really vividly and I actually cherish them, even though they didn’t happen!

Recovering critical care patient

Although these hallucinations can appear completely real and very frightening, they represent false memories. What can make it even more confusing is that they are often mixed up with memories of things that really did happen. This can make it very difficult to work out what actually happened and what, although feeling very real, was only imagined. 

Hallucinations have lots of different causes. They may be caused by the powerful medications used in critical care. Or they may be caused by being seriously ill and being in a strange environment such as critical care. A very disturbed sleeping pattern is another common contributing factor. 

It is quite normal to experience very unusual memories but if you find them distressing please talk to a member of your family, a doctor or a nurse. Fortunately they usually decrease over a few weeks.