Recent stories of COVID-19 survivors involve so much more than just difficulty in breathing and failing lungs. Statements from some of the recovered patients resembled scenes that usually occur only in mental health facilities. Within the walls of Coronavirus-infested intensive care units, are tales of derangement, paranoia, and borderline insanity. It goes without saying that this new strain of a virus is extremely deadly, but it is evident that the extent of its damage is far worse than we realize.
Actual reports on Coronavirus-related psychosis have begun back in April 2020, but was not emphasized as one of the primary symptoms of the disease. However, with the increasing number of admissions to the ICU, studies have gathered one common denominator among the cases. The explanation for this can be traced back to the mechanism of action of the virus, affecting respiratory functions. As a result, oxygen supply to the brain is compromised, therefore leading to an alteration in brain function.
Stories of Survival
Kim Victory, a 31-year old former ICU occupant, admitted to experiencing vivid nightmares and seeing strange visions during her time in the hospital. More reports emerged and this condition was dubbed ‘hospital delirium’. It was initially observed in older patients who already had underlying mental ailments such as dementia. But as the cases progressed, it began affecting patients of all ages, even the ones without history of mental disorders. It had also begun affecting even patients who were just admitted for a short time. For just four days of intubation, Anatolio Rios, 57, experienced having visions of people with guns threatening his life.
Reports say that patient behavior ranges from complete detachment from reality to severe bouts of rage. A common testimony from patients is that their mind convinced them that the nurses and doctors ‘were trying to kill them’. Being ventilated and sedated for three weeks, Ron Temko, 69, revealed a horrifying vision of a human head stabbed with nails. Every now and then he would give a vague explanation. It wasn’t until a medication was prescribed to him that he began to talk comprehensively again.
Possible medical factors that can be attributed to the acquisition of these complications are prolonged exposure to ventilators and sedatives. These factors increase patient susceptibility to more severe mental and psychological ailments. Delirium expert Dr. Sharon Inouye says that the environment inside COVID-treating intensive care units also contributes in triggering hospital delirium. The agonizing solitude brought about by little to no interaction with familiar faces can also be an emotional factor.
These health challenges take so much toll on the patients’ mental health that they confessed these experiences kept haunting them even after they leave the ICU. The neurological damage that was inflicted followed them even during recovery, that Ms. Victory confessed her worries that if the virus did not kill her back then, it might just have impacted her mind enough to do so now.
Now, healthcare experts are coming up with guidelines to prevent these cases. Measures are being taken to make isolation bearable to the patients.