Intensive care: Experiences of family & friends

Overnight accommodation

When relatives and close friends are caring for someone who is critically ill in ICU it is very important their own needs are remembered. For many people the long distances which had to be travelled to reach the hospital, and the long hours spent at the bedside, meant that they themselves risked breaking down from exhaustion, not to mention forgetting to eat. In the light of this problem, which was likely to affect many of the relatives who were visiting throughout the day and even at night, there was great appreciation of ICU departments where their needs had been though about. Sometimes accommodation was provided within the hospital or helpful lists of reasonably priced hotels were available.

Some ICUs have limited provision for the overnight stay of relatives in exceptional circumstances. Some people had stayed in the hospital overnight, either because they'd lived a long distance from the hospital or because they'd wanted to be close to the patient. Many had wanted to spend every second with the patient, fearing it might be their last, and had valued being able to stay at the hospital, even if it had been in a chair by the patient's bedside (see 'Suspending normal routines: visiting ICU every day'). 

One woman said she and her husband had come home for one night but had been even more worried then, knowing they might have had to return to ICU at any minute. Many people had slept poorly or hardly at all during this time and those staying at the hospital overnight had often felt unable to leave the patient in case they'd deteriorated or died. One woman said that, on her first night at the hospital, she'd been too worried to sleep, conscious of every sound she'd heard. Another, whose son had a very rare muscle condition and was in a paediatric ICU, said she and her husband stayed in dedicated accommodation for two months, even spending Christmas there. 


She and her husband tried to keep everything as normal as possible and celebrated Christmas at...

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Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
We stayed in [name], which is a, I don't know if many children's hospitals have one, but it's a house that's actually sort of, it's a unit in the grounds of the hospital. And they try and make it as much like a home-from-home. We stayed there. And you're sort of on call. 

So we didn't have Christmas, well, we did have Christmas 2003. Because my mother was very sweet and said, she took [my other two children] home, because it was the school holidays. They went back and saw grandpa. And my oldest son came up for Christmas. And we always spend it here, very traditional, you know, sort of turkey and all the trimmings and everything. And she said that she'd do it at her place and then bring them over to visit in the evening. And [my husband] absolutely insisted, no, we were going to have, [our son] was going to make it over from the ward. And my mother was made to bring the turkey over on Christmas Eve. And [my husband] took over the kitchen in the [hospital accommodation] and he did a full-blown, fabulous Christmas dinner. And everybody said, who was sort of staying there, we had a few people join us and things, and the staff all said that it was the first time any family had actually cooked a proper Christmas meal at the [hospital accommodation]. Which, you know, we were determined to keep it as normal as possible for the others. 

Some people had stayed in overnight accommodation with another relative who'd been able to provide support, though one man had stayed alone and had found it extremely traumatic.

Some people had stayed in hospital accommodation for a few days but, when someone else had needed it more, they'd moved to a hotel. Those who lived furthest away and whose loved one was in the most serious situation, had usually been given priority. A few people valued the information they'd been given by hospital staff on finding alternative accommodation. One of these women said she and her family stayed in a nearby hotel for almost three weeks. A few had wished they'd been given a list of suitable accommodation to choose from because, in the midst of such a traumatic event, having to arrange their own accommodation had felt like an added burden (see 'Emotional effects on family and friends in ICU').


Staying in a nearby hotel worked out well for her and her husband because it meant they could...

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
We didn't really know what to do on that first night because the other thing was we had no clothes with us. We had nothing. But again I don't think that was a wrong decision at the time, we just needed to go. What we were going to find we had to deal with. So for that night prior to this, because we thought we were going to have to stay local, if we don't stay here overnight, I mean it wasn't, they said we could've stayed in the room, but it's not the most comfortable. And within intensive care, a patient has one to one and they're never ever left. If they are left by your nurse, another one is always supervising, so there is never ever a time. So to be quite honest although in some respects it's good to stay, in another it's not necessary. They're in the best hands. And we needed to keep our strengths up. So if we'd kept the children it would have been, we'd all been irritable and you need to be on top form to actually cope with this. So you do have to get your rest, get your food, and be quite disciplined with it, not think, 'Oh I can go without', you can't. You need to do that. And it also keeps you busy, it keeps you thinking, 'Oh yes, food time'. So we managed to find a local Travel Inn, which was only ten minutes away, we could be there so quickly. 

And people were so helpful. I mean it was very difficult to find accommodation but they actually did bend over backwards to get us this. And it' 

At the hospital? 

No. Well the hospital have got, very often there's an information desk. So obviously we didn't know [the area or hospital] at all. The information desk were great. They said to us, 'Try this, this and this.' And because we were a family of four, there was a Holiday Inn locally but we needed two rooms. Well you have to think, you have to be a bit practical and think we cannot afford '100 a night. So the Travel Inn up the road was great. We could all fit in there, a lovely place for breakfast the next day and it was so convenient. We knew we could be there instantly. They had our mobile number so it was really good. We didn't leave until very late. But that was the right decision. You can look back and you can say, 'No that was definitely the right decision.' And then I found that, because they said the first twenty-four hours were crucial, so seven fifteen the next morning, which is exactly twenty-four hours after the accident, I rang. They give you an emergency' a number to contact where you go directly into intensive care, and there's obviously always someone there, and they're more than happy to answer the questions you have. And they said that he was stable through the night so that was a positive. We'd got through the first twenty-four hours. 

Last reviewed August 2018.

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