He’s in his fifties, diabetic, and nearly died of COVID-19. But ICU delirium can feel like a fate worse than death.

Learn more about preventing ICU delirium and the post-critical care survivor syndromes here with my interview with Dr. Wes Ely (an expert on this).
Transcript Below

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– [Zubin] Hey, everyone, Dr. Z. So I wanted to read an email I got, because I think it’s just really powerful, and it really speaks to a lot of the stuff that’s at the heart of our confusion and suffering right now during this pandemic. So this person who emailed me gave me permission to share this, but I need to keep them anonymous, so let’s call them John, and I might change a few things in the email, just to make sure that we don’t give John away. So John writes, “I was recently hospitalized with COVID-19 for two months, “and I remember waking up in the ICU after being extubated “to a computer monitor next to my bed.

“Your image graced the monitor as part of a screensaver. “It showed you posing in dark scrubs “in front of a dark background, “and there was a notice, or an ad regarding “an upcoming lecture you’d be giving.” So to fill you in on this, this was at a hospital system, where I was gonna speak virtually about vaccines, talking about mandates, and all the nuance around it to try to connect with the staff, and say, Okay, here’s how you make an educated decision that’s right for you… He says, “The expression on your face projected “a smug satisfaction with an almost predatory grin.” That sounds like me. “The ZDoggMD title finished off the ad, “and I could barely resist asking “any hospital staff I saw how their facility,” and he goes on to give the name of the facility, “could rationalize being involved “with an obviously arrogant and self-satisfied prick.” This guy’s, he’s actually got me kind of nailed. I actually think I know the image he’s talking about. It’s pulled from my website, and it’s a really, it’s like a smirky kind of, yeah, I totally get it. Like I would look at it, and be like, “This guy sucks.” Now, remember he’s two months in the hospital with COVID, and wakes up being extubated to this on the hospital computer.

“One of the attending doctors agreed that “the image could’ve been seen as strange, “but he assured me that he’d seen some of your videos “and thought that you had plenty of great things to share “with all of us. “I was suffering from ICU delirium, “and your image on the screen, “as well as other less imposing images, “were haunting my waking hallucinations “and my sleeping nightmares. “It got so bad that I finally made a habit of asking “the nursing staff to turn the monitor away from me “to avoid seeing it.” All right. Let that sink in for a second. Okay, John wakes up. He’s had ICU delirium. Now, I did a show with Dr. Wes Ely, who’s an expert, he’s a critical care specialist whose expertise is in ICU delirium, and how ICU survivors cope and recover from everything from PTSD to permanent brain changes that look for all intents and purposes like dementia, and John is describing this. When we talk about COVID-19 cases and people getting sick in the ICU and they recover and they come home, we hardly ever talk about this. We talk about staff PTSD, which is real. We don’t talk enough about patient PTSD.

Now, imagine you’re strapped down. You can’t move. You’re paralyzed. You’re sedated. You have a tube in. You’re in a strange place. Your blood oxygen is low. What is happening in your mind at this point? And John describes this beautifully, and then he wakes up and he sees my face looking at him. “After being released to my home a few weeks ago, “I was able to get online with my home PC “and happened across one of your videos. “I’m happy to say your image that once haunted me “was replaced by a man with a genuine smile, “kind eyes, and a message that was not only easy to take in, “but also spoke to introspection, self-awareness, “and true communication over reactionary diatribes. “I’m catching up on your videos “as much as my schedule will allow me.” Oh, isn’t that… So he went home, and as the delirium cleared, he actually went and found me, and watched, and his whole frame of perception changed. Isn’t that fascinating? And he survived, survived COVID, two months in the hospital. Let’s read on. “COVID-19 caught me at work. “I’m currently 22 years in, working in law enforcement.” I’m not gonna say exactly what he does. “I was unvaccinated, not for any dumb political ideology, “but because I’m a pathological procrastinator.”

I know that feeling. “I just kept telling myself “that I’ll get the shot next week. “Being in my 50s and having Type 2 diabetes “certainly contributed to this illness “kicking me to death’s door, “but only putting my co-workers on their butts “for a week, or so.” Hmm. Very true. “Prior to law enforcement, I worked almost 10 years “in the medical field as an EMT, “and working about a half dozen different positions “at my local small town hospital. “This helped me to immensely understand,” sorry, “This helped me immensely in understanding “what had happened to me, “and the steps I was gonna have to take to rehabilitate.” So this guy is actually an insider, and look at the struggle. Imagine if you know nothing about medicine how terrifying ICU delirium and all these aftereffects must be, and you know, this is a smart guy who has medical expertise and he simply procrastinated on the vaccine. It wasn’t even an ideological thing, although wait, ’cause we’re gonna get to an interesting point. He goes on, “The hospital staff was amazing, “and not a single person there “was anything less than inspiring. “They refused to give up on me, “even though I was convinced that I was dying “due to my delirium and hallucinations, “and I was SUPPOSED to die in order to end my ordeal.” You guys, just hold on a second. ICU delirium is so terrifying for people who go through it, and their families. I had a close friend, who’s a physician who had sepsis, ended up in the ICU, and described his delirium in such detail to me, and even a couple of weeks after his hospitalization, he still was unclear what was real, and what wasn’t real. And this is somebody with a very high IQ, a high-functioning physician, and this is a terrifying human ordeal, and we’re seeing it en masse because of COVID-19.

He goes on, he says, “These hallucinations constantly reminded me that “I had defied the odds of even coming off the ventilator. “They called me their,” so the staff, “called me their miracle patient, “and assured me that I was getting better. “That stuck with me, “and eventually I adopted their reassurances, “and told myself and my family and friends “that I was getting better every day. “I even created a mantra for myself “and performed meditative and self-hypnosis exercises, “where I visualized breathing in pure air “and breathing out COVID, while repeating, “‘I am getting stronger with every breath I take.’ “I had to believe it, too, “because my breathing at the time was very restricted. “Double pneumonia and a collapsed lung “with a tension pneumothorax had really done a number “on my respiratory system.” All right, let’s just unpack this for a second. Oh my gosh. The effects that we healthcare providers have in our how we communicate and connect with the human being sitting in that bed, having the worst experience of their life, whether they’re delirious, or not delirious, those effects are real, and they’re more powerful a healing agent than everything else we do, honestly. Look what happened to John.

So in the height of his delirium, the staff are constantly encouraging him. They’re talking to him, they’re giving him, instilling him with energy and hope, and he was able to take that, and actually do meditation, where he did visualization exercises of breathing out COVID, and breathing in pure air. And honestly, it sounds like this helped him tremendously because he had a tension pneumothorax, which means they probably had to intubate him and force air into his lungs at high pressures, which often happens with this disease, because you have this kind of restrictive lung scarring, and things like that, and all the schmootz. We’ve talked about this in other videos. And so, you can actually perforate the lung, and end up with air outside the lung that pushes on the lung. And he went through an ordeal, physical, mental, and it sounds like spiritual on top of all this. But he took control with the help of the staff. So he says, “Now, the great news is that I’m home. “I’m moving around with greater efficacy. “My breathing has improved greatly, “and even though I was sent home with an oxygen tank, “I haven’t had to use it since the day I got back.” That’s remarkable. “I get winded from exerting myself with stairs, “or heavy objects, but I quickly recover “with a little rest and belly breathing.”

And Ron, Dr. Ron Sinha and I were talking about the importance of breathing and how you breathe and breathing exercises. “Let me end this by reiterating “how much I appreciate the videos you’ve put out, “your message, your lessons, “and your support of medical professionals “who work to the brink of collapse “in a flawed administrative institution “with an uncaring business model. “I’ve been recommending your videos to anybody “I find myself discussing these topics with.” Okay. John, so thank you for sharing this, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, I realized I need to change the image on my website, ’cause it looks snarky AF, okay? Second of all, what we see here is the experience of a really good person who tried to do the right thing, who was late to get the vaccine, who has a comorbidity, who’s over 50, who got very sick in the ICU, had an ordeal, physical, mental, and spiritual, and recovered enough, partially due to the staff, partially due to his own innate strength and recognition that his mind actually mattered, his spirit actually mattered to his recovery.

And then he had the grace to write me this email, and the grace to allow me to share it with others. If you don’t have a deep love for humanity, even with all our flaws, even with all our division, even with all our polarization, even with all our superficial stupidity, if you don’t have a deep unconditional love for humanity after reading this, and feeling into it, we have a lot of work to do. The other reason I’m so glad that John shared this email is in the follow-up he told me, “Listen, what I’m telling my friends “when I share your videos is this. “You can be vigorously opposed to government mandates, “to leadership decisions. “You can vote in the next election people out “that you don’t want in, and people in that you want in. “You can do all of that, “and still voluntarily choose “to get vaccinated for COVID-19 “if it’s the right decision for you. “Those are not mutually exclusive processes.” And I could not agree more, and after reading this, I hope that people, particularly who are older with comorbidities, or who can expose those people to COVID-19, will consider getting vaccinated. And the other important thing here is we better understand, treat, and prevent ICU delirium. This is a unique form of human suffering, and we’re gonna see a rash of the aftereffects of this over the next years, and it’s gonna cost our healthcare system millions, and it’s gonna cause untold human suffering. And the last thing I wanna say is John brings up the power of presence, visualization, meditation, mindful breathing.

These are crucial. He did it in the hospital. He continues to do it. This is something we could all take a lesson from, no matter what we’re struggling with, even if it’s just our daily life. All right, guys, please share this video. I love you so much. If you wanna support our show, be a supporter, zdoggmd.com/supporters. We’re a tribe of people that have private live show discussions about these things. We go quite deep. We’re really into the meditation, awakening stuff, too. So if you’re into that, definitely join us there. All right, guys, I love you, and we are out, peace.

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