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Resource type: Article

Why can’t I remember what happened to me?

Why can't I remember what happened?

There are a number of reasons why this happens; the sedative drugs we use to keep patients sleepy and comfortable whilst on the ventilator or breathing machine (sedation), how very ill you were or the type of illness you had. 

It can take a while to clear sedative drugs from the system, especially if you needed large amounts or if you received them for more than a few days. Patients who develop kidney problems can sometimes take longer to wake up, as can patients who receive general anaesthetics (e.g. during an operation).

Some people don't mind not remembering

Some people like to think of "not remembering" as helping to protect them from what might otherwise have been an unpleasant experience

“Well…it would’ve been a nice way to have finished life, really. Well, I was out to the world…and if I’d have gone then, I wouldn’t have known a thing about it, would I?" (laughs)” 

“They say your mind has a room it’ll go to… if you’re in trauma or something major happens, and that’s exactly where I went.”

“Everybody has said, “Oh, what a massive thing you’ve been through!”, but for me the whole ICU bit, I was completely out of it. So forget all that, what most people consider to be the worst part, because I had no idea what was going on!”

Some people find "not remembering" upsetting

Other people find not remembering a real problem. Some patients struggle to make sense of how and why they ended up in Intensive Care, and feel vulnerable or worried about becoming ill again. Others struggle to make sense of why they feel so physically, mentally and emotionally worn out and why recovery seems to take so long.

"It’s amazing what that does to you…it’s hard to explain…you’re out for the count and you’ve got…no say in what they’re doing to you (sounds emotional).”

" This is the thing about wanting to see my (medical) notes...I feel as if I’ve been on some great journey but I don’t have any postcards, don’t have any photographs. And that’s a loss....."

See the section called "How can I find out more about what happened to me?" for some general advice.