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Name of Media:
The terror and trauma of surviving intensive care with Covid-19
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Country of Origin:
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the)
Primary Focus of Media:
Post Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS)
Paul Henderson can’t remember the journey to Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital on March 24, 2020, but he knows that he arrived at two in the afternoon and nine hours later he was on a life support machine. His next recollection is waking up in the hospital’s intensive care unit in a frenzied state as doctors explained that his case of Covid-19 was so severe he had been placed in a medically induced coma for 30 days. Slowly, as the medication started to wear off, the full details of his illness were revealed to him by doctors and nurses on the ward.
Henderson came close to dying several times while on the intensive care unit. His colon was perforated, leaking toxins into his bloodstream and causing organ failure. His kidneys stopped working, leaving him strapped to a dialysis machine. Eight blood transfusions were required to replace the blood he lost. He struggled to breathe as his lungs filled with fluid due to acute pneumonia caused by the virus. To help him breathe doctors cut a hole in his throat, inserting a tube to compensate for his weakened respiratory muscles.
The ordeal left him gaunt and weak. He lost 12 kilograms. The muscles in his legs had diminished so much that he struggled to walk two paces. And yet it was the mental impact that troubled him most: the petrifying dreams he had experienced under sedation continued to haunt him. “The delirium was terrifying, I had very disturbing dreams and as far as I was aware they were real,” Henderson says. “[I thought] my wife had left me because she was having an affair. Then she shot herself in a wood. I could still hear the screams.”
The delusions were constant. At one point Henderson felt he was floating above a table in a white room with a friend who had died from cancer three years earlier. Another time he imagined he was drowning in the hull of a boat alongside his brother who had been killed by a drunk driver 14 years ago. Then he saw a close friend being kidnapped by the Ulster Volunteer Force and shot in the back of the head.
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