Intensive care: Patients' experiences

Sources of support

Many people who had been in the intensive care unit, either because of an emergency or after planned surgery, talked about the support they received while they were in hospital and then at home recovering. People received support from various sources, including family, friends, colleagues, health professionals and from their faith.

Support from family and friends
Many people described the support from family as wonderful, fantastic and overwhelming, and were grateful for the many ways relatives had shown their support: through love, taking time off work, looking after other relatives, providing support to children, reassurance, encouragement and hope. Most people said that it was the love and encouragement from relatives that pulled them through, especially when they felt tired, weak and didn't know whether they would ever get better. Others said their recovery would have taken much longer if they hadn't had a hundred percent commitment from their families through such difficult times. One woman noted how there was always someone from her family sitting by her bedside throughout her stay in hospital and said, 'Whenever I opened my eyes, there was somebody there.' Some said their relatives ensured that they didn't have too many visitors so that they could get all the rest they needed.

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Partners or spouses were particularly important to most people and were said to be the key element in their recovery at home - helping them with showering, cooking, cleaning and any other normal daily activities they couldn't manage themselves when they first came out of hospital. Young people usually got a lot of help and support from parents, particularly their mothers, and found it was best for them to move back to their parents' home, temporarily at least. One woman said that her mother helped look after her, her husband and their new baby when she first came out of hospital. She also praised the support she got from friends. Others noted how friends and neighbours had phoned, sent cards and flowers, and how they particularly valued help with household chores or looking after children if they needed to attend a hospital appointment during their recovery at home.

Support from health professionals
Some people recalled the support they received from physiotherapists, psychologists, nurses and other medical staff while they were in hospital. Several said they'd never forget what health professionals had done to help them recover from critical illness. Those people who had no relatives or close family nearby wanted to draw attention to the important role health professionals, especially nurses, had played in their recovery and how much they valued their support. One woman said her physiotherapist had 'become a friend' over the months they'd worked together while she was in hospital and as an out-patient when she was back home.

Support from spiritual beliefs
For some people, their faith and spirituality were great sources of support, comfort and 'inner strength' while they were ill in hospital and recovering at home. One man said his faith had 'sustained' him throughout his illness and recovery, another that he believed his survival and recovery was 'a miracle from God'. Others said they'd particularly relied on their spiritual beliefs during times of uncertainty, such as before surgery, and when they couldn't communicate or move in ICU. Some also said their experiences of being ill had strengthened their faith in God or in their spiritual beliefs.

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Support groups
Some people had found it helpful being part of various support groups associated with their particular illness, such as for heart or spinal conditions, and to talk to others who'd been through something similar. Others noted that they got a lot of useful information at the support group meetings and particularly valued being kept up-to-date about the latest treatments and medication. However other people said they hadn't felt the need to attend any of the meetings but were glad to know that a support group existed for their illnesses. 

As they were recovering at home, some said it would have been helpful if they could have talked to others who'd had similar experiences in ICU, but that they hadn't been able to find any relevant information about support groups specific to ICU. At present, very few support groups exist specifically for people who want to share their experiences of intensive care. Some said that they would have been interested in attending such a support group, even if only for one or two meetings.Not everyone who has been in ICU for an extended stay will want to join an ICU support group but one woman said she would have liked to talk to someone outside the family, though hers had been extremely supportive. She was now planning to meet someone through a friend who'd also been in intensive care.

One man said his ICU experiences had led him to want to help others who'd experienced something similar, and he was keen to set up an ICU support group in his area.

For more information about ICU support groups see our resources section.

Last reviewed May 2015.

Last updated November 2012.

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