Emeritus professor discusses experience of post-operative delirium following major heart surgery

Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology Michael Wang from the Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour has been interviewed by Imperial College London about experiencing post-operative delirium after major heart surgery in 2012.

In the interview Professor Wang says: "I first woke around 18 hours after my operation at a Leicester hospital. A doctor was speaking with a nurse about my operation at the foot of my bed, and I asked them where we were. The doctor replied Nottingham, which confused me as I thought we were in Leicester.

“I formed the conclusion I was on a hospital ship, sailing down the River Trent.”

Professor Wang’s operation took place over the Christmas period, and he thought perhaps the ship was a private facility allowing surgeons and anaesthetists to earn extra money.

During the experience, Professor Wang experienced a number of hallucinations, including believing he was in a sinister Chinese mausoleum under the intensive care unit.

“It felt like some kind of nightmare, with dark recesses and glowing Chinese symbols,” he says. “I have since realised these symbols were based on the illuminated heart monitor buttons on the wall opposite my bed.

“Although my hallucinations sound frightening, I felt strangely detached from them. I think this is because of my familiarity, through my work, with the intensive care unit environment and the experiences of patients - and so part of me knew I was suffering from delusions. Indeed, I have researched post-operative delirium and I know that most patients find their experiences far more terrifying than I found mine.

“However, the experience allowed me a crucial insight into what patients experience in post-operative delirium, and why it’s so important to gain understanding to improve treatment and prevention of this condition.”

Professor Wang has previously collaborated with Imperial experts on post-operative delirium research.