Intensive care: Patients' experiences

Attitudes to life during and after recovery

Admission to an intensive care unit can have a huge impact on a person's life, as well as on their families. Most people said their experience of critical illness affected them in many ways, whether they'd been admitted to ICU as emergencies or after planned surgery. Critical illness can be a worrying, frightening event in a person's life and many said, although they were 'moving on' or had moved on, it wasn't an experience they'd ever forget. For some, the longer-term effects of critical illness included making changes to the way they lived their lives once they were well enough to do things. For others it involved making changes when they first recovered and then, over time, reverting to how life used to be before their illness. Yet others said that, while their illness had interrupted their lives, they were now 'back to normal' or looking forward to getting back to normal. Here people talk about the effects of their illness or injuries on their daily lives, aside from physical and emotional recovery. 

Many people said that being 'so close to death' had made them value life more and they now wanted to enjoy it and make the most of every day. Some saw their recovery as 'a second chance' at living life to the full. Many said they'd become less materialistic, realising how precious life was and that it could be 'taken from you' without any warning. Some noted that, when they were first able to do normal daily activities, they 'wanted to change everything'.

Some people said their hospital experience had made them realise just how important the people in their lives were, including partners, children and friends.

Some also discussed the personality changes they'd made as a result of being ill, a few saying they were now more open about their feelings.

Several said they'd made or were planning to make changes in terms of work, some wanting to do more meaningful work or 'give something back' (see 'Impact on work'). Others made changes to affect their physical health. Some stopped smoking, changed their diets or exercised more. One man, who wanted cleaner, fresher air because he had asthma, moved to a house by the sea. Another said that he'd gained more weight than ever before and looked better for it.

One woman said that, although she now appreciated life more and wanted to focus on enjoying it, her husband's experience had been completely different to her own and he was less keen on the changes she had in mind. She also felt more afraid of growing old and losing control.

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For some, the ICU experience strengthened or re-ignited their passion for their spiritual beliefs, re-affirming the importance of life and their purpose in it. One man said his experience had encouraged him to meditate.

Some people said that, when they first recovered, they made changes to the way they lived but had 'gone back to normal' with time. One of these people said that, often, it was only when he looked at his ICU diary that he remembered what he'd been through again.

Some people said their experience of critical illness hadn't led them to making any changes and that, after recovering, they were keen to resume life as normal. Others, who were still regaining full strength and mobility, said they looked forward to getting back to the life they had before their illness.

For some, other effects on daily life included fears about getting ill again. A few felt that they'd moved on from their illness but they didn't want to forget that it had ever happened. While difficult, it was a part of their lives and 'not something that ever goes away'.

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Last reviewed May 2015.

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