Sources of support for family members

On this page partners and family members of people who have been critically ill with Covid talk about:

  • support they received during their loved one’s hospital admission
  • support they received after their loved one’s discharge from hospital

For patients’ experiences of sources of support see ‘Sources of support after coming home from hospital’.

Support for family members during their loved one’s hospital admission

The period during which a loved one had been critically ill in hospital was highly stressful and at times traumatising for family members. Not only because of the worry, but also because the experiences had been so isolating. People we interviewed found support through phone calls or walks, often with people who lived close by. Paula commented on the time when her husband Victor was in the ICU, whilst the UK was in lockdown: “People couldn’t come round, you couldn’t have people round, that was hard as well, whereas sometimes, in a previous life, you would have someone come round and sit with you. … My sisters would phone me, obviously my son was there… I would walk with my neighbour across the road. So, I could talk, we could talk.”

Some people had online prayer meetings to help them through the difficult times.

One of her friends helped Dana organise a daily zoom meeting for prayer for her husband whilst he was on the ventilator. These provided hope and a structure for her day.

Many told us their children had been of immense support to them, although they did try to protect them from their emotions.

Rani’s children helped her through the time when the doctor had told her Nahied may not survive.

Support from others was vital in emotional and stressful times.

Paula tried to continue her everyday life as best she could after she had heard that Victor may not survive.

Deborah and Stephanie were able to see their husbands in the hospital garden, which made a big difference. Deborah recounted: “We had the opportunity on two occasions, to meet Sean in the hospital garden, which was unbelievable, it’s a fabulous space there.  And so they would wheel him down, he had to have like two to three nurses, ‘cause he still had to have a little bit of oxygen, and by this time, they hadn’t taken the trachy out, but he didn’t need that support there.  And we sat in the garden for ten minutes, and it was lovely to see him.  But, you know, he was still very weak. I think we went into the hospital garden twice.”

Support for family members after their loved one’s discharge from hospital.

The time after their loved one was discharged home was also challenging for family members, but in different ways. Some family members we spoke to felt there was nowhere to turn to for help.

Some felt that there was no acknowledgement for what they had gone through during their loved one’s admission. Kate, whose husband had been in ICU, said: “It just felt like there’s no acknowledgement that as a family member going through that, which is not as bad as him, it’s not, that we’re not going through it. Once he’s home that it’s all sunshine and daisies. And it really isn’t. It really isn’t.” When asked about what would have helped her, Kate answered: “I think it would be useful just to talk about it … just being able to sit and talk about it, and say this is how it made me feel”. She emphasised that this support should be separate to support for her partner, because she “would not want to re-traumatise him”.

Some family members felt as if they did not have the right to find things hard, as others “had it worse”: for instance, Kate continuously compared her story to that of others, which made it hard to take her own suffering seriously.

It would be helpful for family members to have someone to talk to about their experiences, Kate suggested.

In the absence of any formal support structures, others such as Sadia found online support groups helpful.

Sadia, whose husband and father were in hospital with Covid, found sharing her experiences in a Covid survivors’ group on Facebook helpful.

Some family members were offered support through their work. This was the case for Stephanie, but she found it difficult to take it up.

Occupational health of her work offered support to Stephanie, but she felt sufficiently supported by family and friends.

Even long after their loved one had come home from hospital, some family members continued to struggle with what had happened and its impacts on them. Kate struggled with anxiety a year after she had first called an ambulance for her husband. She found little relief from the medications she was prescribed by her GP and felt that what she needed most was somebody who listened to her.

Kate long searched for what would help her when she experienced anxiety and panic attacks long after her husband had gone back to feeling that things were normal again.

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