When a loved one is admitted to a hospital intensive care unit (ICU), family members need support, too.
“Families are totally unprepared for a sudden injury and overwhelmed when it is a very serious injury. Families need a road map to guide them through their worst moments, and that is my job,” said Kelly McElligott, a clinical social worker in the burn center at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill.
Each year, roughly 2.1 million patients are transferred from an emergency room to an intensive care unit, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
McElligott described several ways people can deal with the sudden hospitalization of a critically ill loved one, including:
- Take care of yourself. “If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of someone else,” she said. “Many family members, especially parents, feel they need to be at the hospital 24/7 with their loved one. Everyone needs to take time to eat, sleep, exercise and be with other people in the outside world.”
- Continue to live. “Life does not stop because someone is in the hospital. Other family members need attention and support also,” McElligott said in a Loyola news release. “Mom and Dad need to be role models more than ever at this time. The hospital team can help support and guide them. And they can feel strengthened and confident to continue to guide their families.”
- Let others help. “Friends, relatives, colleagues and others will offer assistance and it is critical to accept help. For example, coming home to a clean house and a meal in the refrigerator is very convenient and also comforting,” McElligott said. “Usually there are outgoing neighbors or colleagues who will serve as primary contacts to relieve the burden. People feel better when they have something to do; let them help and everyone will benefit.” Online programs, including those that coordinate meals, errands and communication with family members, can also help.
- Ask questions. “No individual could know what to expect when a severe injury occurs,” McElligott said. “That’s what medical professionals are for.” Write down questions or concerns as they occur to you, and take notes while meeting with doctors or other health professionals. “The more you know, the less you will fear.”
- Be open about your experience. “Reach out to people for support by sharing your experience or what you have witnessed. Often, this will help reduce anxiety and build confidence,” McElligott said. “Getting feedback from others also can be reassuring and supportive.”
- Find peer support. Others who have had similar experiences can help people understand that it’s still possible to laugh, socialize and enjoy life. “People are very resilient,” McElligott said. “The transformations that happen once the shock wears off are amazing.”
The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses provides insight on what to expect when a loved one is critically ill.