Intensive care: Experiences of family & friends

Planned admissions

Most people admitted to ICU have an unexpected life-threatening condition but 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, their families and close friends know they will spend some time in intensive care after their surgery. Even so, everyone's experience is unique, whether they are patients or relatives.

Here people talk about what happened when a partner, relative or close friend was admitted to intensive care after having surgery.

People are admitted to ICU after many different types of major surgery, including heart operations and surgery for cancer. Two people said the ill person had been admitted to ICU after surgery for cancer of the kidney. 


After having tests, his 83-year-old father was booked for surgery to treat cancer of the kidney...

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After having tests, his 83-year-old father was booked for surgery to treat cancer of the kidney...

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Male
My father was 83-year-old at the time and basically he had been losing weight and becoming anaemic. He was being seen at the hospital by a gastroenterologist who eventually picked up a large mass in his abdomen. They initially thought it was an aneurysm but scans revealed it to be a large kidney tumour. He was booked for an elective operation to remove the kidney, which went well and he was electively booked to come to Intensive Care postoperatively.


Her partner hadn't noticed any symptoms before he was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney, and...

Her partner hadn't noticed any symptoms before he was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney, and...

Age at interview: 79
Sex: Female
You mentioned that he [partner] had cancer of the kidney. So that date to go into hospital had already been booked? 


Had he had to wait a long time for that?

That was December, about mid-December when they discovered it through a scan. In 2005. And he went in at the end of January 2006. So he had about four or five weeks, five weeks I think it was. 

Had he had any symptoms?

He had no symptoms. This was point you see. It was purely because he had something in the blood. He had blood tests. 

He had no symptoms? 

He had no symptoms. 

When he went to see the doctor, did he -?

We asked what sort of symptoms should he have noticed and he said, 'Well none at that stage because it is, when you get the symptoms it is usually too late.' But it was because there was irregular white platelets and the blood count was high and they were just trying to find out what had caused it. But he had been quite fit.

Fortunately the cancer was totally enclosed. And the surgeon was very delighted once they had got the analysis of the biopsy. His face was a picture when he said that it was totally enclosed and it hadn't spread. And then the day he was getting better and I was just going out to get something and his daughters were visiting, he met the surgeon in the corridor. He had just come from the theatre. He was still in his gown and his face was grinning because he had the message from the Intensive Care people that he was getting better. 

In many 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. 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'd been shown around the ICU by nurses so that they could prepare themselves for the equipment the patient would be attached to later. One woman said her husband had been admitted to ICU after a kidney transplant operation and they'd been given lots of information beforehand as well as the opportunity to visit ICU. 


She and her husband were really pleased when doctors told them he was eligible for a transplant...

She and her husband were really pleased when doctors told them he was eligible for a transplant...

Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
Well my husband has had diabetes since he was three or four years old. As a child, in those days it wasn't particularly well regulated, as it is now. And his health was deteriorated. By 40 his kidney problems had just about started and his health was deteriorating. By the time he was about 54, which is about three years ago, his kidneys were suffering greatly. He was on a lot of medication and he was considering kidney transplant list. Perhaps three years ago. He went to his local hospital and there was more discussion about kidney and pancreas, which was pioneering three years ago. Quite unheard of operations, but my husband was very, very keen. 

He was very fortunate to have a doctor who was also very keen, pioneering doctor and he started looking into it, looking in all the websites, reading as much as he could. Most of the documentation at the time was actually from the States. But then it became obvious that this sort of operation was beginning to be done in England. And he went onto kidney dialysis about two and a half years ago and he had home APD which meant that he was on a dialysis machine, overnight, every night, seven nights a week, without fail. And also one dialysis in the day time at work, if he had the time to fit it in, he obviously benefited from fitting it in. He had to limit his fluids, which was very difficult because he had diabetes, which also makes you want to drink more. 

He became very depressed and our lives were really being lived around the dialysis machine, although at all times we had enormous support and back up from all our doctors, wonderful back up. We were able to have holidays and we always took the dialysis machine with us. We actually went on a cruise to the Caribbean and the dialysis fluid was all delivered to the ship, which was wonderful. We had a good time, but he still had to be on dialysis on the boat. 

In January of this year he spoke to his doctor, who said that he could be put forward at last for a kidney and pancreas transplant. He had been told before that he wouldn't be able to have the two, because he was overweight and beyond the age where they actually believed it worked very well. But things have changed and he saw his doctor this year. I believe, it was in January, and he said he could go on the kidney and pancreas transplant list and he went onto the list, I think probably March, April. February, March, April of this year. And we got a call on May 15th and he was called forward and he was tested, he was fine for the transplants.

Did you know what to expect or was it still a shock to see him in Intensive Care?

No. We were shown the Intensive Care ward before the operation, so we knew what to expect. And it is exactly as you would expect. It was spotlessly clean, full of absolute high tech machinery, computers, everything was computerised, lots of bleeping and one to one nursing, who sits within feet of you all the time. And it is exactly what it says it is going to be, which it is very good. 

So you were shown round the Intensive Care? 


And you knew which bed he would be in, or'? 

Which bed he would be in for the first operation.

Many elective surgery ICU patients will spend only a short time in intensive care before being transferred to a specialist unit or ward. 

Last reviewed August 2018.

Last updated May 2015.

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