How can I help my relative / friend?
It is helpful to bring toiletry items for personal hygiene and familiar things which are often comforting such as photographs, cards, pyjamas, and slippers. However, you should check with the nurse before bringing anything. Flowers are not usually allowed in the ICU.
Can I touch and talk to my relative/friend?
It is usually not a problem to touch your loved one, but it is best to check with a nurse first.
They may act in ways that surprise and distress you but this will pass as his or her condition improves. This may be a result of fear, frustration, or chemical changes in the body, which may be caused by their illness or medication.
If a patient is unconscious, they may still be able to hear you so feel free to talk to them. If he or she is unconscious, start with 'Hi, this is...' introducing yourself. However, keep in mind that the patient might not be able to respond to you, either because there is a breathing tube in place that does not allow the patient to speak, or because of medications or altered awareness.
It can be useful to keep a diary to record what you and your relative are going through. Some people find that keeping a diary focuses the mind and that collecting their thoughts after each visit helps them to remain objective and calm. A diary is also a useful referral point and can help the patient during the difficult physical and emotional road to recovery following discharge.
Patients who have been critically ill often remember little of the period of critical illness and sometimes when they do the memories may be delusional. Some critical care unit staff will encourage relatives to keep a diary for their loved one detailing their time in the unit to help them piece together "lost time" when they recover. A study based in Sweden showed that keeping a diary for patients, including photographs, helped them understand what had happened and helped them make sense of their stay in the unit. Some hospitals are beginning to experiment with nurses and medical staff keeping diaries for the patients, however, this is not common practice in the UK at present. Photographic records of patients whilst they are critically ill can be contentious issue largely around issues of patient privacy and consent, however many patients who have been able to see photographs of themselves when they were critically ill at an appropriate point in their rehabilitation have found this helps in coming to terms with their illness and fills some of the gaps in their memory.