Resource type: Article

Not remembering what happened to you

Once patients are transferred to the wards, they often "come to" and have to begin to make sense of what's happened to them. Not remembering (amnesia) how you ended up in Intensive Care and what happened while you were there is extremely common. Patients sometimes "lose" the few days before ending up in Intensive Care, even though they were comparatively well at that time. Not remembering is likely to be a combination of how ill you were, the nature of your illness, the drugs we gave you to keep you comfortable while on the breathing machine or ventilator (sedatives) or any anaesthetics you may have had for an operation.

It can also be very difficult to separate out what actually happened from the very real "false memories" and dreams that patients often have during their time in Intensive Care. Family members often become the most important source of information, but they may sometimes feel reluctant to tell you about how ill you were for fear of upsetting you or interfering with your recovery,and you yourself might not feel ready to hear about it.

Lastly, information is not always passed on as well as it could be between Intensive Care and the ward. You may also have a number of nurses looking after you during your time on the wards, and they may not have the time to look back through your notes. In this section, we've provided some examples of what other people have told us about not remembering much about their time in Intensive Care.

You might not feel ready to hear about how ill you were

Some patients prefer to put off hearing about their time in Intensive Care until they feel physically and emotionally well enough to take it on board.

“I said, “Tell me once I’m better. Don’t tell me just now, because every day is a battle”. Obviously I knew about the collapsed lung, and I knew about the…tracheostomy…but I didn’t want to hear about how ill I’d been. I really didn’t want to hear…how close to death I’d been”

Some patients worry that hearing more about how ill they were might drag them down while they're struggling psychologically with what's happened to them.

"I was really, really quite…well, I wasn’t clinically diagnosed as being depressed, but I was very, very down. I just wasn't able to take anything in."

Others worry that hearing more might interfere with their rehabilitation

“I was just anxious to get on with my rehab. What’d happened had passed was my view at that time. I knew that I’d had an operation, that it was fairly major…but I wasn’t, at that time, interested in what had happened (in Intensive Care).”

Your family might have been too stressed to take in the information they were given in Intensive Care

 “I was with him….. all the time…in Intensive Care and I was able to tell him some things...but I think you forget things yourself as you’re concentrating on just getting through each day."

Family members may also find it difficult to talk about your Time in Intensive Care as they themselves may still be coming to terms with how ill you were.

"He was stressed out to the max, and he’s only able to tell me  a few things about it, but I don’t think he…he didn’t take everything in…which is understandable...and I think he's still dealing with it." 

Some people just prefer not to know

Everyone is different and it's ok not to want to know

You may want to know, however, once you feel better

Others still

"I kind of want to know what happened in those three and a half weeks, but equally, does it really matter? It won't give me sleepless nights of worry, not knowing exactly what went on