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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

(Page 1 of 4)  

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 through this?

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 the ICU.

Communication

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 was said.

  • 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 with.

  • 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.

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