Patients may be physically weak and experience a type of post-traumatic stress. The exact cause of post-intensive care syndrome is unclear. It could be the result of patients not getting enough oxygen or blood to the brain. Or, it could be sedative medications — critical for what physicians must do in acute care, but with potentially long-lasting ramifications.

“I had one patient who came to our ICU recovery clinic, who told me that he was kind of at half conscious state the whole time,” Bellinghausen said, “He thought the nurses were hooking up poisonous snakes to his arms.”

Of course, the nurses were simply putting IVs in, but the patient experienced it as trauma.

When patients recover to the point of being discharged, cognitive difficulties may follow.