Two weeks after her son Brian was born, in December 2006, Angela Johnson ended up in the emergency room with pneumonia. After a lung was punctured during a draining procedure, she was moved to the intensive care unit at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. “It was the scariest time of my life,” said Johnson, who is 42.
And that was before she heard nurses betting on how long she would live.
“They came in the room and were like, ‘Isn’t she going to die already?’ ” Johnson said.
The schoolteacher also saw a nurse poisoning her IV fluids and trying to steal her DVD player. Terrified, she began begging for help from people she thought she could trust. “I said, ‘Can you please just hold my hand and tell me how to die? I just can’t take this anymore.’ ”
Fortunately, Johnson’s experiences weren’t real. She was in the grip of ICU delirium, a condition causing terrifying hallucinations that often strikes intensive-care patients. When they arrive at the ICU, people with acute respiratory distress syndrome, such as Johnson, are particularly at risk. Studies have found that the condition occurs in 60 to 85 percent of patients who are on mechanical ventilation.