Tips from a Nurse—When Someone You Love is in the ICU


When you have a loved one being cared for in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), it can be very “intense.” Elizabeth Hlebak, RN in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at St. Elizabeth Edgewood, understands the journey you may be on and has some advice for you. She said, “The first thing to understand is there is an entire care team taking care of your loved one. It is a very busy place and people will be in and out of the patient room all day and night.”

Most families feel overwhelmed in the busy atmosphere, and they are often intimidated by all of the information given to them. Elizabeth added, “The family plays an important role in the healing process of the patient, so we want to make sure they are comfortable when they are in the ICU.”

5 Tips for Families Members on Coping with an ICU Stay

A stay in the ICU can seem like a roller coaster. There will be good days and bad days. Most families feel like they are on information overload. To help cope with the ride, Elizabeth has some tips.

  1. Take care of yourself – How the family is feeling plays a big impact on the patient’s healing process. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your loved ones. Set up a visitation schedule so that undue burden is not placed on one family member. Sleep at home if possible. Not only do you need your rest, but it is important the patient maintains a sleep pattern as much as possible.
  2. Designate one or two family members to get all news from doctors and nurses – By assigning just a few people to communicate to the care team you can make sure the entire family knows the same information. It can also cut down on the amount of time your nurse or doctor is on the phone with family members, so they can be at the bedside with your loved one.
  3. Communicate with the care team when visiting – Effective communication with the care team can help you cope with the stress of the situation. If you have any questions, you can ask the nurses, doctors, social workers, or even the chaplain.
  4. Remain calm when in the patient room – The patient can sense everything happening around them, so it is important you remain as calm as possible. Softly hold their hand and explain to them what is going on. Always use simple language and a reassuring tone. One of the goals during healing is to not overstimulate a patient—if you need to have an important conversation with other family members, leave the bedside and find a quiet room in the hospital.
  5. Bring a piece of home to the hospital with you – Bringing a photo or a blanket with you to the hospital can often give you the comfort of being home

If you are in the ICU more than a few days, you will start to be more comfortable with the flow and you will start to see familiar faces. To learn more about the ICUs at St. Elizabeth, visit our website.