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Intensive Care: A Guide for You and Your Family

Leaving the ICU

Planning for your recovery

After you’ve been critically ill, it may take several months to recover. The staff may talk to you and your family about physical or psychological problems you may face because of your illness.

Before you leave the ICU, the ICU staff will talk with the doctor and healthcare team in the area of the hospital you’ll be transferred to. They’ll let them know what’s happened so far in the ICU and what your plan of care is. Sometimes the ICU team may also get in touch with your family doctor. Often the team in the area you’re transferred to before you go home will do this.

Your new healthcare team will work with you to prepare a rehabilitation and discharge plan for you. What’s in this plan will depend on how long and why you were in intensive care, and what you need now. Sometimes you may go directly home from the ICU if you’re well enough. The staff will give you the information you need to care for yourself at home if this happens.

Leaving the ICU

As you start to get better, you won’t need the machines that were monitoring your condition, and helping to support your body’s normal functions while you were in the ICU. You’ll be very weak and will get tired easily at first. The physiotherapist and nurses will help you with exercises to help your muscles get stronger. This will help you move around on your own again.

As you’re able to do more for yourself, you may be moved to a different section of the ICU or transferred to another area in the hospital to continue your recovery. At this point the nurses may not be right at your bedside all the time as you don’t need to be monitored as closely.

Some hospitals have a step-down unit, where there are more nurses than in a general care area. Some people may be transferred from the ICU to the step-down unit as they get better while others will go directly to a general care area.

Moving to a general care area

This may be a difficult time for you and your family. You no longer will have the one- to-one nursing care that you had in the early stages of your illness. This may cause you to worry because you’re still far from being well. You may need to learn how to do simple things again such as walking, eating, drinking, or even breathing for yourself. Your nurse will have several other patients to care for so you may need to wait sometimes. This can be scary. These are normal feelings at this time in your recovery.

When you move to another area of the hospital the healthcare team there will get a detailed report that includes:

  • a summary of your care and treatment while you were in the ICU
  • a plan for ongoing treatment
  • your physical and psychological rehabilitation needs

You may find that the visiting times in your new area may be different than they were in the ICU. Having a family member with you may be important to you wherever you are. Talk to the staff if you have any questions.

The constant activity and sounds while you were in the ICU may have upset your normal sleep pattern. This does return to normal in time. Rest when you can. You may find that a personal music player with headphones or earbuds may help you relax. Eye masks and ear plugs might also help to lower noise you hear and help you sleep.

It’s important to be out of bed as much as possible during the day. Sitting in a chair for meals, and getting out of your room is good for your body and mind. This activity will also help you sleep better at night.

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