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5 Things You Need to Know
When Your Loved One is in ICU
By Susan Montminy, MSN, RN and Meredith Dodge, MSN, RN
It is the middle of the night and the
phone rings. Your family member has been in a car
accident and is rushed to the hospital. He is
currently in the intensive care unit (ICU). You
race to the hospital and are met by the intensive care
doctor. All you hear is “critical, unstable, and
surgery.” Later, as you sit out in the waiting
room, you wonder, What can I do to help my loved one
This article contains key
information on assisting family members survive when a
loved one is in the intensive care unit. Communication,
decision making, multi-disciplinary meetings,
pain/comfort, and sleep are discussed. Hopefully,
knowing this information will help you and your loved
one have a positive experience and survive your time in
Thorough communication is the best tool
that you have when your loved one is in the ICU. You are
going to be overwhelmed with information from many
different people. Here are some tips to help you
understand everything that you are being told.
Write everything down. During this stressful time, it is
difficult for you to process all of the information you
are given. If you write everything down, you can read it
at a later time and absorb what you are reading.
Have someone with you. If you have a second set of ears to
listen to what you are being told, then you can discuss
it afterwards to be sure that you heard everything that
Nurses are excellent resources and can assist you in many ways.
If at all possible, make sure that the nurse is present
when having discussions with the doctor. The nurse can
help to explain medical terminology or translate what
was discussed so that you can understand it better.
Keep an open line of communication with your nurse. Nurses
are patient advocates and can help make sure that the
patient’s wishes are carried out. Communicate
openly and honestly with your loved one’s nurse; let him
or her know your questions and thoughts. Nurses can
better assist you if they know what you are struggling
The Internet is not always the best resource. While
looking up information on the Internet may be helpful
for you to better understand certain things; the
internet can be overwhelming because it has so much
extra information on it. This extra information can
leave you confused and stressed; often the worst case
scenarios are included in your search results. Listen to
what the doctors are telling you about your loved one.
They are looking at the entire picture, not just the
specific disease or injury.
The bottom line is that open communication with all
members of the healthcare team will help you to better
understand what is going on with your loved one.