Intensive care: experiences of family & friends

Support and information

Here people talk about the support they received when someone close to them was discharged from hospital after being critically ill in an intensive care unit (ICU).

Many people said that, when the ill person was recovering at home, they'd received a lot of support from family. This included help from siblings, grown-up children and grandchildren. A few said that grown-up daughters had often helped look after the ill person as well as taking care of the home, and this had been extremely supportive. A 79-year-old man said that his wife's critical illness had made him and his wife realise just how much support they needed in times of crisis so they decided to move closer to their daughter. One woman said she'd had a lot of support from family throughout the time her husband had been in hospital and, when he'd come back home, either her nephew or her niece had stayed with her in case she needed help. 

Some people said they couldn't have got through without the help of friends. One woman said a friend and neighbour had been extremely supportive and had listened and offered advice whenever she'd been anxious. A few said that some friends had been more supportive than others and that these friendships had been strengthened by this. For some, colleagues had been as helpful as friends, giving support and encouragement. 

A few participants said that other people who'd been in a similar situation had been very supportive. The partners of two people had to have leg amputations. They'd found it extremely helpful getting practical advice from others who'd gone through something similar several years earlier. It had also helped to know that they weren't alone.

Some people said they'd found it helpful talking to others who'd been through something similar and had joined support groups. Some support groups had been specifically for intensive care patients and their relatives. Others had been specific to the patient's condition, such as cancer support groups. 

Some said that, although they hadn't joined or attended a support group, it had been helpful talking to someone from a support group over the phone for reassurance or information. A few people said that, although they hadn't joined any support groups, they'd been given information about them by nurses and just knowing such groups existed had been helpful. One woman said she preferred not to join a support group in case it adversely influenced her or the way her son was recovering.

Some people said they'd received support and information from health professionals. For some, ICU nurses had been particularly helpful and they praised the information and support they and the patient had received when they'd attended an ICU follow-up clinic. The aims of ICU follow-up include providing support and guidance for those patients who have had an extended stay in intensive care, often over two weeks. Medical, nursing and psychological support may be offered for up to a year after hospital discharge where appropriate. In the UK, there is no uniform ICU follow-up service and each hospital decides whether to have a follow-up clinic and how to run it, depending on time and resources. Many ICUs don't have follow-up clinics at all and, at present, these clinics are a relatively new though growing service.

A few people praised the support and information they'd received from occupational therapists and GPs. One woman said that her GP had referred her for counselling after her son's illness, which she'd found extremely beneficial. Another said she'd received counselling from a service provided by her employers. This had helped her discuss tensions in the family that she'd found difficult when her husband had been in ICU.

For some people, their religion, spirituality or faith in God had helped them when the patient had been in ICU as well as afterwards. Many said friends and family had been praying for the ill person and they'd found this supportive. Some said their faith had been strengthened because they felt their prayers had been answered or because the patient had made a miraculous recovery after being so close to death. One woman, whose husband had died in ICU, said she'd become more interested in Buddhism and Spiritualism and both had helped her accept what had happened andmove forwards gradually. 

One woman described becoming 'less religious' in terms of attending church, although she still felt she had a spiritual faith. 

Last reviewed August 2018.


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