I just got Wes Ely’s new book, Every Deep-Drawn Breath. You do need to buy this book to learn about delirium, Post-Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS) and what Dr. Ely and colleagues are doing to prevent it. PICS is a syndrome patients suffer after being hospitalized with severe medical illness in critical care units. It includes impairments in cognitive skills (impaired executive functioning), emotional functioning (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder), and physical function (weakness, myopathy, and neuropathy).
Reading the prologue and first chapter reminded me of my early years in medical school and residency. It also reminded me of my frustrations when I was working as a psychiatric consultant trying to teach my colleagues about delirium, which a large percentage of patients suffer in the intensive care unit (ICU). I retired a little over a year ago.
Dr. Ely’s book also reminded me that I wrote an article about delirium 10 years ago, which was published in Psychiatric Times. I can still find it on line. The title is “Psychiatrists Can Help Prevent Delirium.” Prevention is the key because once delirium sets in, the challenge to offset the neurocognitive impairment becomes far greater.
A couple of years before I wrote it, I had tried working in private practice in Wisconsin. Aside from gaining weight from the good food there, I didn’t adjust well and quickly returned to Iowa City. I did make a consultation visit to a primary care clinic where I worked, which was a welcome surprised to the clinician who asked for help. You can take the psychiatric consultant out of the hospital, but you can’t take the hospital out of the psychiatric consultant.
I also met Dr. Ely around that time as well, because I kidded him about what he wrote in another book, Delirium in Critical Care (2011). There was a couple of paragraphs in a section called “Psychiatrists and delirium.” I’m going to risk somebody rapping my knuckles about copyright rules, but I’ll quote the sentence that usually made me chuckle: “Should we, or should we not, call the psychiatrist? Can we replace them with a screening tool and then use haloperidol freely?”
I think that was meant to be funny—and it was in an ironic way. Every psychiatric consultant knows that the main treatment for delirium is not haloperidol, but treating the underlying medical illnesses. Anyway, I poked a little fun at that book section in a blog post (which I no longer have, called “The Practical Psychosomaticist”) and shortly thereafter, he emailed me, asking me to write a few posts highlighting the serious and important research he and others were conducting about delirium. I learned a lot.
Eventually, I actually met Dr. Ely, at meeting of the American Delirium Society in Indianapolis. I respect and admire him. He’s a brilliant doctor and a caring man. And you should buy his book.