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When a Loved One is in the ICU

Visit your family member: Most ICUs encourage visiting patients with few restrictions. Families of ICU patients have found it helpful to sit with the patient, hold their hand, talk or read to them, or just be with them. Patients often feel comforted by hearing a familiar voice and sensing your physical presence. If you are uncomfortable or unsure about whether to touch your family member or friend, ask the nurse. If you are unsure how long to stay, the ICU nurse can help you decide. Families have found it helpful to rotate family members visiting at any given time, allowing the others a chance to rest.

Ask questions: Most people become anxious when they feel overwhelmed or unsure. Write down your questions or thoughts so that you remember them when the healthcare team meets with you. There are no wrong questions. We know that stress makes it harder for families to understand and remember new information. It is okay to ask more questions or repeat questions if you are still unsure of the answers. We want to help you to understand what is happening while your family member is in ICU.

Keep a journal. Keeping a journal of key events and experiences will be helpful to you and your family member. When patients wake up after their critical illness, many of them have no memory of what happened in the ICU. Many patients find it very helpful to review these events that occurred during the ICU stay so a journal will be helpful in remembering what happened. It also may be helpful to you to process these events and make sense of what is happening.