Intensive care: Patients' experiences

Planned admissions to ICU

People are admitted to intensive care units because they need constant, close monitoring and support from equipment and medication to keep normal body functions going. Various professionals, including doctors, nurses and physiotherapists, work in ICU to care for the individual. Although most people admitted to ICU have an unexpected life-threatening condition, some are admitted after planned (or elective) surgery because they need special support and care after an operation. Elective surgery ICU patients differ from emergency patients in that they know they will spend some time in intensive care after their surgery. Even so, everyone's experience is unique and how much an individual remembers of their ICU stay varies. How long they spend in hospital also varies, depending on the nature of the illness and the demands on the unit and ward. Here people talk about their experiences of intensive care after having major surgery.

In some cases, before going into hospital for planned surgery, people are given the opportunity to visit ICU. This is also a good time to ask questions and get information about the illness and treatments (see 'Information: planned admissions'). One of the most noticeable things in ICU is the amount of equipment used and this can be frightening to anyone who isn't prepared for it, including family members when they visit. Some people said they were offered 'a tour' of the unit so that they could prepare themselves for the equipment they would be attached to when they came round after surgery. Whether an individual wants to visit ICU before surgery, though, is a matter of personal choice. 

Many people discussed the operation they'd had and then their short stay in intensive care. Some had had heart problems. One man had been in intensive care twice before, after a heart attack. More recently, he'd had a heart transplant. Although he was given enough information about his treatment and hospital stay, he felt that was unprepared for all the equipment used in intensive care and hadn't visited the ICU beforehand. 

Another man, who'd also gone into ICU after heart surgery, had watched an information video beforehand and knew what to expect. His main concerns were about having a catheter

He also discussed his concerns about whether he'd survive major surgery and said that being ill and going into hospital can be a lonely experience. 

Some people had planned surgery because they'd had cancer. One of these men said he went into intensive care twice. He was first admitted after surgery, and this was a planned admission. Because of problems while he was recovering on a ward, however, he had to have another operation. Complications during this surgery led him to being admitted to ICU again - this time it was an emergency admission. 

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For one woman, surgery to remove her kidney was a particularly delicate operation because she had spina bifida. She explained how she felt whilst waiting for a bed to become free so she could have surgery. 

One man discussed how he felt when his first date for an operation was cancelled although he was already in hospital. 

Most people were happy with the information they received about their illness and treatments and many praised the staff who'd cared for them (see 'Information: planned admissions').

Last reviewed May 2015.

Last updated February 2013.

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