Intensive care: experiences of family & friends

Attitudes to life after the hospital experience

Here people talk about their attitudes to life after having a relative, partner or close friend critically ill in ICU. Experiences ranged from those who'd made lots of changes and valued life differently as a result of what had happened, to those who'd wanted to carry on with life as normal. 

Many people said the ICU experience had made them realise what was really important to them and put life into perspective. Having lived in the uncertainty of not knowing whether the ill person would survive or be brain damaged, disabled or paralysed if they did, had made small, trivial things in life seem unimportant compared to what they'd been through. Some felt they were now more relaxed about minor, every day concerns that might previously have bothered them. 

Many people said their experience of having a relative or close friend in ICU had made them value life more and they now wanted to enjoy it, live it to the full and make the most of every day. Others said, instead of putting off the things they enjoy, they'd realised the importance of doing them now because no one knew what the future held. One woman's husband had died suddenly and unexpectedly several years before and she'd decided then that she had to make the most of life and every day. After her partner's recent critical illness, this perspective had been reinforced. One man said that he and his wife were enjoying making the most of their life together but people around them had often found their new way of living difficult to accept. 

Many people said they'd become less materialistic and had realised not only how precious life was but so too were the people in their lives. Some said the ICU experience had made them value or be more grateful for their family, partner, children or friends. Others said they'd become more family orientated, similarly others said that they'd renewed relationships with siblings that had drifted over the years, especially if they'd had children. Several said they'd grown closer to their partners, and one man explained that he'd grown closer to his partner and her family and it had made him see how relatives can support one another. 

Many people said they'd re-evaluated their lives. One man said he and his wife had decided to move to the country and spend more time with their children and grandchildren. Several said they'd made or were planning to make changes in terms of work, some wanting to work less or in less stressful jobs or environments. 

Some people said that having a relative or close friend critically ill in ICU had changed them as people, a few saying they were now more open about their feelings. Some felt they'd become more patient, others that they were less bothered by minor problems. Some observed that not only had they changed but so too had the ill person and other family members. One woman said she and her husband had both become more relaxed since his illness. One woman said that her brother had become more grateful since his accident, he now valued his life more and the people in it. 

Some people had made changes, such as stopping smoking or eating healthier, either to improve their own physical health or because they'd wanted to help the ill person in making these changes.

For some, the ICU experience had strengthened their spiritual beliefs, which had helped them accept or understand what had happened (see 'Support and information'). 

Some people said that, when the ill person had first started improving, they'd wanted to make changes to the way they'd lived but, with time, had 'gone back to normal'. Others felt that their experience hadn't led them to making any changes and, after the ill person had started recovering, they just wanted to get back to normal. Some said that they would have liked to resume their former life but they couldn't because the ill person hadn't completely recovered and now needed a lot of care. After her best friend had been discharged from hospital, one woman said she'd become her carer and hadn't had time to think about whether the ICU experience had changed her attitudes to life. Her friend's health was worse than before her illness and this often left her close friend feeling depressed. Another said it was too soon to tell how her son's accident had affected her attitude to life because he was still recovering and needed her support. Several people, whose relative's health was now worse than before their illness or accident, had had to make many changes to their daily lives and this had often been difficult or stressful. One man said he'd become his wife's full-time carer and this had been extremely difficult because they had very little support (see 'Emotional impact on family and friends').

Last reviewed May 2015.

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