Admission to the ICU
When a patient arrives at the ICU
Patients who arrive at the ICU are often very due to serious health issues. These can include organ failure, infections and the health conditions that brought them to hospital.
When a patient is brought to the ICU it can take more than an hour for the doctors and nurses to assess their condition. This includes making the patient as comfortable as possible and attaching them to necessary equipment. It is normal for loved ones to have to wait during this time. This can be frustrating but it is important for ICU staff to address any immediate health issues and concerns about the the patient’s wellbeing. A member of staff will speak to you as soon as possible to explain what is happening.
A patient’s rights and consent to medical treatment while in ICU
When a patient is conscious in ICU they can agree to an investigation or treatment as part of their care. However, there may be patients who are unconscious and unable to consent to certain forms of treatment. At these times the person with medical decision-making rights for the patient will be contacted for consent. The final responsibility for determining whether a procedure is in an patient’s best interest lies with the health professional performing the procedure and the urgency of the situation. If you have any questions please talk to the Nurse in Charge.
Visiting the ICU
When you are visiting your loved one
Your relative may look very different from the last time you saw them. Their bodies may be bruised or swollen if they have suffered injuries. A patient in an ICU is often surrounded by tubes and wires. It is usually possible to touch your relative but it is sensible to check with a nurse first.
Patients in ICUs are often unconscious, especially during the early part of their treatment. They are often given medication to make them sleepy and comfortable. Medications can affect different people in different ways. A patient may be able to hear even if they cannot respond. Nursing and medical staff will talk to unconscious patients and tell them what is happening. You can talk to your loved one and let them know that you are there.
Practicalities when visiting ICU
For safety reasons we usually restrict the number of visitors around a patient to two at the bedside at any one time. During doctors’ rounds and procedures such as x-rays you may be asked to leave the patient’s bedside temporarily. At times you may be asked to leave during handover times so staff can relay important information about your loved one without distractions.
Normal reactions to seeing your loved one in ICU
Staff will let you be with your loved one as much as possible while they are caring for them in their recovery. The nursing staff will allow you to assist in their care as much as possible. Please check with the nurse caring for your loved one to know what you are allowed to do.
There is a variety of equipment in the ICU. This includes breathing equipment, fluid pumps, kidney machines and vital organ monitoring.
Noise levels are likely to be higher than on a general ward largely because of the operation of the equipment, which is often beeping or sounding an alarm. If you do hear an alarm, it does not necessarily mean something is wrong. It may just be alerting staff. Staff will be able to tell you what the equipment is, what is does and what the noises mean.
Caring for yourself and others
While your loved one is recovering
It is natural for family and friends to ask questions and we encourage you to do so.
Each patient is different so it is not possible to generalise. The doctors will give you as much information as they can about your loved one’s care.
It is common to feel different emotions and feelings but we are here to help and support you. Please talk to the ICU team and we will provide you with the appropriate supports and services.
While you visit you can help care for your relative. You may wish to comb their hair or wash their face. Many people find it helps to do something positive at such a difficult time. Please talk to the nurse at the bedside for ways you can help.
Talking to others
Fear of the unknown can cause worry. Do not be afraid to ask the staff questions if something is bothering you. The staff may be busy but please let us know your concerns and we will find time to talk to you or organise an appropriate time to discuss further.
A member of the pastoral care team can visit you if you wish or you may prefer to talk to a representative of another faith. Our Pastoral Carers can provide support to people of any faith or no faith.
Outcomes for patients in ICU
Transfer of recovering patients
Patients are usually transferred out of the ICU when they are medically safe and no longer need the specialist skills of the ICU team. The type of illness will decide which hospital ward the patient moves to next. In that ward, there will be fewer nurses, procedures and equipment compared with the ICU. This is because the patient does not require them any longer. The more ‘normal’ atmosphere is an important step towards recovery and rehabilitation.
If a patient dies
Sometimes a person will not survive their illness or injuries. Doctors can usually warn family and friends that their loved one may die but sometimes there is very little warning.
The death of a loved one is very difficult. It can take a long time to come to terms with your loss and to grieve. Family and friends can be a great source of support. The hospital can also provide support and guidance at this difficult time.
If you wish, you can stay to farewell your loved one after they have died. Nursing staff will be able to advise you on any formalities that are required at this time.
If you have any questions about your loved one’s condition before they died or their medical care, you can speak to ICU staff. If you still have questions, you can ask to meet the medical staff in charge of the ICU.
Last reviewed May 24, 2019.