Facebook Tweet Email Share

Main Content

Intensive Care: A Guide for You and Your Family


Your family member or friend may need intensive care because of an accident, illness, or for treatment after having major surgery. It’s normal that you’ll be worried about them.

You’ll find information here to help you learn what to expect, what you can do, and where to get help when you need it.

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU)

Your family member or friend has been admitted to the ICU because their body can’t work normally. If they don’t get special help, they may have serious long-term effects to their health or they may die. Seeing your loved one there for the first time can make you feel stressed and anxious. They may be connected to machines and intravenous (IV) medicines. They may also look very different from how they usually look.

Your loved one will need time to let their body rest and get over the shock of being so ill. At first they may get strong pain medicines or sedatives to help the healing process begin. You may be surprised to see your loved one awake but with a breathing tube in their mouth. If they’re awake they’ll often be able to participate in their own care and get out of bed. This can sometimes help them heal more quickly.

When your family member or friend is first admitted to an ICU, it’s not unusual for you to feel helpless. You may be desperate to know everything you can about how they’re doing and how complete their recovery might be. The staff in the ICU will answer your questions as well as they can but also won’t want to give you false hope. If you have questions about what is being done, ask the staff in the ICU. They’ll be happy to explain what they’re doing and give you updates as time goes on.


It’s important that you choose a primary contact person (the spokesperson) early in your loved one’s stay in the ICU. This person may be a spouse, child, other family, or significant other. Your family member who’s ill may have already decided who that should be.

The spokesperson will get information regularly about how your family member or friend is doing. They’ll be expected to pass this information to all others who need to know. Having only 1 person to give these updates to will help the ICU staff avoid multiple phone calls and telling the same thing to many different family members. This could take time away from caring for your loved one and also allows for everyone getting the same information.

Getting to know your loved one

You or your family members may be given an ICU welcome package. This package provides valuable information to help you start this unexpected journey.

You may get a form with a lot of questions about your loved one. Filling out this form helps the staff get to know you and your family better. It will help them give more personal care. On the form are things like what name does your family member like to be called, what did or do they do for work, and so on.


In the ICU room you may see a whiteboard on the wall. This is used to let everyone know:

  • the plan of care for the day
  • the plan for mobility – like moving limbs in bed or sitting up in a chair
  • name of the staff caring for your loved one
  • the date
  • space for you to write questions or concerns you want to talk about

Please check the whiteboard regularly for updates.


If your loved one needs specialist care that’s not available locally they may be moved to a different hospital. Or if they need a specific type of special care they may be moved to a different area in your hospital. Sometimes transfers are done because beds are needed for others who are more seriously ill. If there aren’t enough ICU beds in your hospital your family member might be moved to a different ICU in another hospital.

Any kind of move like this can be very upsetting. You may have to travel further to visit your family or friend. Patients are only moved to a different hospital when it’s absolutely necessary. The ICU staff and doctors always keep in mind your family member’s care needs before any move is considered.

Go to Top