Are hallucinations after surgery normal?

19 answers | Last updated: Jun 06, 2016
Betsyanne asked...

My husband recently underwent heart surgery, from which he has made a full recovery. He insists 'They took him to Russia to see the Olympic games whilst he was in hospital,' to which we have agreed must have been very entertaining!

He now wants to know what else we did whilst we were there. I am at a complete loss how to react to this. Any suggestions please to his hallucinations after surgery?


Expert Answers

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

It sounds like your husband had some delirium from the anesthesia.  When people undergo a complicated surgery, sometimes they get confused, agitated, or delirious afterwards.  While, it is interesting that he thinks he went to Russia, it seems like he absolutely believes that this really happened.  This is a delusional thought.  A hallucination would be to hear and see things that are not there. 

What I would try to do first is reassure him that while he thinks he went to Russia, he really was in the hospital recovering from a procedure.  I would not laugh or joke about it, as the experience was very real to him.  Tell him he was reacting to the medications they gave him, but not to worry, as he recovered well.  Hopefully, this will make him understand.

One last thought:  If he continues to have any new delusions, I would definitely let his health care provider know, as this can be a sign of something more serious.


Community Answers

Rosalie, cape town, answered...

When I had surgery on the lining of my lung to remove 700 mls of liquid in May of 2007, I was in the ICU for three days and I was convinced the Israelis were going to take over the hospital. I remember telling the nurse who was at a desk close to me and she just shook her head an told me not to worry. I was petrified and then they came â€" I watched as the lift came up to the 10th floor and made a leap for the stairs. I found myself walking on the Main Road in my home suburb. When I eventually did wake up my son laughed at me and told me I was hallucinating. It seemed So very real at the time but I noticed I was catheterised and realised I could not possibly have gotten out of the hospital and it was only a nightmare!


Popengena answered...

My husband just went thru a 9 hour open heart surgery, and was in the CICU for 12 days on a ventilator. His confusion level was thru the roof. He had several delusions that he is convinced truly happened. One was where he thought there was a conspiracy in the hospital and the nurses were plotting a takeover..He thought that Brian Williams came to interview him. He also got very angry at me for bringing the ICU home and putting all the doctors and nurses in our basement.....He had no day/night to gauge things by, was on a ton of medications etc. I've just let him tell me his stories, then I tell him what really was going on. He's 4 weeks out from the surgery and finally coming home today, but he has very little memory of even the 2 months prior to his surgery, so each day I just go back to his last memory and try to fill in the blanks. It's taken a while for him to beleive that I am telling him the truth, but the more I reinforce his reality, the more things are coming back to him.

I guess I'm lucky, because there was a man who had the same surgery as my husband, and when he woke up he refused to let his wife into his room!! He was 100% convinced that she was having an affair with his anthesthesiologist....whch did not happen. It took quite a while for the staff to convince him that it was just post surgical delusions.

Hope this helps..I've been told it is very very common...Just keep acknowledging that what he beleives is real, was something he was dreaming, but remind him of what is real. I've begun telling it all like a bedtime story...he's starting to be able to separate what is real, and what he imagined.

Good luck to you!


Silent answered...

i recently had a large portion of my lung surgically removed due to lung cancer. After surgery i remember very little but do remember the horrible severe pain. I was released from hospital after 12 days and for two weeks was hallucinating ( seeing naked people dancing in the front yard ) and such things. y children and friends tried to help me and called the doctors and even the emergency for an ambulance, lbut they found no help. I finally woke up to reality when i was taken to a doctor after my daughter made and appointment and i was in the office at the clinic. I knew NOTHING of the past 24 days and to this day have no memory of it all. I do not even remember the hallucinations and my children told me of them. I had run out of the clinic beleiving that the doctor who saw mw was going to committ me to a phsiciatric unit . The doctoor called the police and i became so scared that i walked home and got in my car and drove to my mothers home scared out of my mind and completely unaware of all these weeks . Since then, i have noticed loss of past memories and daily memory problems as well...i do not know what caused this but think that it may have been the drugs i was given or the anesthetic. I know that i was under huge stress and my body could not take the pain .


Parthan answered...

I had an emergency admission to Hospital in India for electrolyte imbalance in 2007. I was in ICU for a week or so. When shifted to ward I had severe delusions and what the doctor described as " confusion" I would say a lot of silly things whenever asked to take my food. I told my wife not to ask my daughter to come to the hospital as some one will kidnap her. The doctor told me that this was caused because the drips administered at the time had to be given very slowly; but since it was for a long period and many persons had handled it, sometime it might have been given too fast. I am 78 now and have other health problems including difficulty with memory. Even for the above facts I had to verify with my wife. But the main reason why I am writing this is to let all know that juat about a fortnight back I have started an Ayurvedic treatment. The Dr. has given me a "maanasa mitra" tablet to be taken at bed time. I believe it helps remove the past impressions like these. I have to wait for the full results. Good luck to all those suffering from such delusions and their care givers. Don't lose hope.


Heavy sedatives answered...

heavy pain killers such as endone or morphine while in hospital will surely cause all kind of horrific and strange delusions...something that i've experienced with my ill mother, who was given heavy sedatives to ease her pain


A fellow caregiver answered...

I feel so much better after reading all your stories, my Father-In-Law has just under gone Heart ByPass, A couple of days after the surgury, he thought that Terrorists had taken over the Hospital, then Russians were out to get him and all the Nursing staff had ganged up against him and were plotting something to keep him away from his family. He was only in Hospital for 6 days but to him he thought he had been there for months and we had all deserted him because we weren't visiting him. As he woke from short sleeps, the Nurses had always changed shifts and he thought it was a new day. He also said he could hear chooks, cats & dogs walking around the ward, things crawling up the walls. He was also very emotional and little things really upset him.


Ahuva answered...

My husband had open heart surgery. He did have hallucentations and dellustions and did not act normal. I did ask for a psch-evaluation and had to refuse to take my husband home with out one because I think the surgeon who never met my husband before thought he had alheimers or something. (emergency surgery). The psch doctor told me it would last 6 months. It was difficult. My husband saw a neurologist and was tested and scored very high. I think a phycyatrist did give him some medication that helped a little. I told the doctor I had to hide from my husband at times and he told me to keep doing it. My husband slowly improved mentally but there were times he was himself and times he was not but almost exactly 6 months later he was normal. I was shocked they sent my husband home in this condition. He was not only dangerous to his self but others as well. My dad recently had a stroke and the doctor was explaining what his brain was going through and I compared it to my husband and he said it is not as bad or last as long for stroke patients.Don't know if that helps anyone.


A fellow caregiver answered...

My uncle just underwent a 6 hour surgical procedure and I was quite impressed that he was alert and oriented the day after and the next. However day 3 was a nightmare. He accused me of trashing his home after I had a big party. He was waiting for the sheriff to arrive. I told him not so but he refused to talk to me and asked me to leave. I flew down to FL from PA to be there for him and to help him with personal issues while he is recovering. I heard about the delusional thoughts, but thought we made it through them. Not so. I hope it improves. He's alone in FL and I need to head back.


A fellow caregiver answered...

All of these stories sound familiar...my mom who is 77 years old had knee replacement surgery and sure enough had delusional thoughts after being sent to rehab. I always told her it was the morphine used that caused this and she would be ok. She got better every day but I always had to tell her it was an effect and she would be fine. I hope God will help her now and in the near future that this will wear off. Mom is a diabetic with arthritis.

After reading all these stories, why would anyone have surgery with this looming as a risk. It is very scary.

It sounds like everyone is rolling the dice on surgery and anesthesia. I would hate to have a loved one become mentally ill for simply having surgery to correct a problem.


A fellow caregiver answered...

My step father (age 76) just had spine surgery on his c2 thru c7 discs. We were told that the surgery went "well". We were led to believe that he would be able to go home in 1-3 days. Not so. He stayed in the hospital where he was moved from recovery to ICU, to Pulminary, then to the Spine Floor. After day 3, he began experiencing waking delusions (the ceiling bulging, images flying through the air, smoke coming from the cell phone I was using. Then it got worse. After day 11 in the hospital, he experienced delusional night terrors. He was moved to a "rehab" center and was trying to communicate to me, my mom and the hospital staff how terrifying his experience was. My mom freaked out. He has lucid moments then goes into a crying, panic state of mind. No doubt in my mind that the anesthesia is the cause. It is VERY disturbing to me that all of these well paid surgeons do not prepare loved ones and care givers for this possibility. I HAD TO GO ON THE INTERNET TO LEARN ABOUT IT! Thanks for all of your messages. At least I'm more informed.


Fknjr answered...

Sitting here in my mom's hospital room. She's 86 and just had emergency surgery to repair her hip after falling. Surgery was yesterday. After coming back from recovery she was mean and aggressive. This morning she was better just a little foggy. At lunch she went off the deep end. Pulled out her IV & catheter. She's been delusional all aftenoon. She claims that she got beat up by the nurses. I asked them to scroll back on the pain meds, but after reading the above comments, I'm a little freaked out.


Jehangir answered...

My father had an open heart surgery last Saturday. He stayed in icu for three nights. He was delirious after the surgery for 48 hours. Just when he started getting better, we realized that the graft that they took from his left leg is getting infected and ultimately he had hematoma. He was shifted back to icu. For another 72 hours. He got back from icu to the room and our very fine father was turned into a psycho. He kept talking to his dead family members. Kept on crying when talking to them and gazing in the air. He stays awake all night talking to them. He wakes up shakes hand with them, hugs them, cries, and talks for hours. He asked my brother to fold the wall. weird He thinks he's at home and we have brought hospital to our home. He keeps asking if the doors are locked and covered with bedsheets. He scares life out of us when he tells us that THAT woman sitting next to you, who is she? My brother would panic and shiver with fear as if my father is seeing ghosts and demons. One time he woke up from a deep sleep panting and said she made me run very fast. My brother would ask Who? And he'd say this woman sitting on a couch next to you. He's been having delusions at ultimate level. He hasn't seen any animal or reptile. But he's seeing people. Children. I had a girlfriend for a year who met my father only once when he went through surgical removal of gallbladder. This morning my father asked me where is she? Why hasn't she come? I said how could you even remember her? She only came once and for few minutes only. He said are you crazy? She's taken good care of me before when I was sick. And he started crying. Anyways. He's still in hospital. And hopefully he'll get discharged within few days. I hope he'd go home leaving all these nightmares and delusions here in hospital. I'm so relaxed reading all these stories. I thought my father has gone mad, but knowing that this is quite common, is apparently relieving. But yes I agree. It's the responsibility of our doctors to keep us ready for this side effect which is more common in almost every patient.


Mercuryblues answered...

My 83 year old father just had two surgeries for colon cancer. The second was complicated but successful. Up until the operation my Dad was active and still driving his car. He could do most things easily. It has been a huge change from the strong man I've always known. The sad part is his frustration with the seemingly overnight changes. I visited him yesterday in the hospital he had the second surgery December 29th so last Tuesday and he is having these hallucinations and delusions. Yet has moments of cognitive responses. Then flips back to the hallucinations asking if I can see what he is seeing. It's very real to him and he even try's to put things that aren't there in my hands. Last night when we we're leaving to take Mom home he was upset why she was leaving not realizing he was in the hospital. But understood and said good night. Difficult things to witness however I'm thankful to have such a loving supportive family. I pray he gets past this soon.


Lt answered...

While recovering from surgery I was given dilaudid (hydromorphyn) for pain management which made me hallucinate. I thought my room was full of people and I was talking with them and had my hand out, I though I was shaking hands with these people, and my wife grabbed my hand and as soon as she touch me I came out of it. I flew helicopters and before I could land I had to see a clock, which I could see from my bed through a slit in the curtains normally, then I knew I was in the right landing area. Sometimes I would go mud bogging with a full dress Harley m/c. It was fun lol. When I told a nurse about what was going on, they switched my pain meds to oxycoden. No more hallucinations:(


Albertf50 answered...

We just brought my mom home from having spinal surgery. We were told the surgery was a success. As she was recovering for 3 days in the hospital, she got progressively weird. Nothing too major at first, just a mild strangeness in conversation. Then, after getting home, she started talking about little things flying around her room and other mild hallucinations. She is in good spirits, but is definitely experiencing some kind of mild psychosis. I know it could be the anesthesia, the pain meds, the lack of sleep, etc, but I am still worried this could be permanent (in some form or another). In all the posts I have read, I didn't see any updates on whether the strange behavior went away or not. Can anybody comment on this?


Snowy bod answered...

I had a kidney removed oct. ,15. every morn. since,4-5 am. I wake to weird events. Started with small foliage covering all,inc., clock ,then as tho.I was in an unfilled grave, Rhino head on a plaque ,but to cap it all was a small roomsized elephant.They are totally harmless and disapear when the light is turned on,or it may be the suggestions I make to the offending vision


A fellow caregiver answered...

I had surgery in March 2016 I was in the hospital for two days and was given Dilaudid for pain every 4 hours. While there I talked, what seemed like talking to someone else or myself in my room and gesturing but there was no one there. I was aware that I was doing it. When the nurse would come in she thought that I was talking on my cell phone. I told her no that I talk in my sleep ( I actually do this in my normal sleep) because I was sort of paranoid about the fact that I was doing it but it was obvious that I was awake. When I was release my pain medication was Vicodin. My first day home I still talked or babbled to myself or someone. The next day it stopped. I don't know if I should attribute it to the anesthesia or the Dilaudid but I'm glad I found this site and am able to read similar accounts.


Colon patient answered...

I recently had diverticulitis with a purferated colon after CT---I stayed in the hospital for 5 days of antibiotics then had surgery....During surgery they also found an abscess and another hole on the opposite side of the purferation......the pain medication given was dilauted......before surgery I thought I left my bed and went to work down in ER .........I am a EKG tech. after I left the hospital I knew that could not of happened because I wouldn't even get out of bed to walk.....Post op I heard a dog growl when the nurse entered the room. I asked the nurse if there were any dogs on that floor , she said no.....this happen 2 times...I also heard dripping..i looked at the ceiling and seen no water and also asked the nurse to check the urine bag......the bag was fine...next I heart rocks hitting the window........many times....I also heard a womans voice in my right ear that sighed...when going to sleep, a different day, I heard a warping sound. I opened my eyes and the room was white. The only thing in the room was the bed and me.........this lasted for about 10 minutes. after it stopped I opened my eyes and everything was back to normal..........I did feel activity in my colon and air exited out of my rectum.....This was about 3 days post op....lastly I was going to sleep another day and the computer turned into a video of my 3 boys 5 years ago age wise........I called my son the next day to tell him what I say and he comfirmed the video. I tried not to believe everything that I heard and seen because I knew it couldn't be true...........I have talked to many other people who have had colon surgery and they also have had experiences.......