Coping with your post-resuscitation state of mind

The suggestions on this page are not universal: only you know what’s right for you.

Some people have absolutely no desire to know what happened to them or to meet other patients, others will need time to do so, sometimes years: everyone needs to find what works best for them to turn the page and move on

Reclaiming history

Among the means used to regain a sense of control over the situation, some patients feel the need to re-appropriate their history, to understand what happened during the resuscitation phase, particularly the periods when they were unconscious or in altered cognitive (mental) states.

There are several ways of doing this:

  • The most obvious is often to ask those close to you who were with you during your stay in intensive care,
  • In some wards, nurses encourage relatives to keep a diary of their time in intensive care: if this was the case for you, you’ll find a lot of useful information in these records. Sometimes family members spontaneously think of this, or keep diaries of their own, which can also help you to understand your story;
  • You can make an appointment with the intensive care team to find out what happened to you and how you are being cared for;
  • If your department offers a post-resuscitation consultation, take advantage of these appointments to ask any questions you may have;
  • You can also ask to visit an intensive care room;
  • You can also request your medical file from hospital management. Note that a medical file is a care tool that is not always easy to read for people who are not familiar with it: it may be useful, if you decide to ask for your file, to make an appointment with a doctor to help you read it.

As you take steps to reclaim your history, take your time, state your limits and respect them. Stop when you feel things are getting difficult. Diving back into this period can be trying, emotional and frightening: protect yourself, there’s never any urgency in diving back into this period. You can make another appointment later if the need arises.

Meet others with a similar experience

A stay in intensive care is a difficult and unique experience, not easily expressed, and it’s not always easy to talk about it with those around you, including those close to you who accompanied you during your stay. Your experiences are very different, and your experience as an intensive care patient can be mixed with strange memories and recollections of dreams and nightmares that seem more real than reality itself.

That’s why it’s sometimes useful to be able to talk about your experiences with other people who have been in intensive care. Getting in touch with patient groups can be a good way to talk freely about this period, and help you realize that some of your emotions and strange memories are perfectly normal.

Second Life by 101 can enable you to exchange ideas with other patients, as well as those close to patients, which can help you to better understand what the people who accompanied you went through.

Returning to the outside world

It’s common to feel anxious and worried after a stay in intensive care. Time will help you to overcome these emotions little by little, but you may find certain activities useful for improving your state of mind on a daily basis.

  • Perhaps you can try to rediscover some of the activities that used to soothe you. You may not feel strong enough to resume them exactly as before, but you can find a way to adapt them to your level of fitness: if you used to love being outside, perhaps you can resume an activity that will enable you to combine the well-being of physical effort with the pleasure of the outside world?
  • Light physical exercise, such as walking or stretching, can greatly help to improve your state of mind, but don’t be too demanding on yourself: do what feels good, without forcing yourself. The progress you’ll gradually see will also help you regain your self-confidence;
  • Getting out of the house, even to sit on a bench outside, can help with ruminations.

Consult a therapist?

Sometimes it’s too hard to overcome anxiety alone. Your experience in intensive care has been one of extreme stress for both body and mind. You needed support to relearn simple acts such as breathing, eating, drinking and standing up, and you may still need physiotherapy? You can imagine that your mind, too, may need help to recover from this ordeal.

If you’re having trouble letting go of your anxieties, if you’re having trouble sleeping, if you’re struggling to regain your self-confidence, if you’re feeling negative emotions such as guilt, don’t hesitate to ask for help: your GP will be able to answer any questions that may be bothering you, listen to you and help you, or refer you to a therapist suited to your situation.