Accompanying a patient in intensive care

During a loved one’s stay in intensive care, it’s not unusual to feel a little helpless in the face of the situation. The new world of intensive care, the uncertainty of the situation and the anxiety in which you may find yourself, are not easy circumstances in which to find your place and your role, especially in the midst of an expert team that is often very active and present in the early stages. In a society that values action and rapid problem-solving, it’s not always easy. Yet there are many useful things you can do to support your loved one.


What can you do for the patient?

One of the first simple things you can do for your hospitalized loved one is to bring a few personal items:

If the patient is conscious, don’t hesitate to bring them something to occupy themselves with in a restful way: even great intellectuals often have trouble concentrating on their books while being in intensive care! Simple reading, music, and even entertaining movies and TV shows can help them get away from it all.


Whatever their state of consciousness, it is always useful to bring them :

-Their favorite perfume,

-Personal toiletries (shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, razor, hairbrush…),

– Something to keep their skin moisturized (cream, massage oil),

-But also possibly a blanket or a stole (washable!) that he or she likes

This allows the teams to individualise care even if the patient is in coma, and it also allows your loved one to regain some familiarity as soon as they regain consciousness. This will be very valuable to them.


What to tell them?

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say at the bedside of a loved one who is in a coma or who can’t respond to you because of mechanical respiration. You can give them news about their friends, family, events related to their interests.

You can also share memories of vacations, common experiences, good times spent with him or her, or share plans for after resuscitation.

Talk to them

of everything and nothing, as if he or she was discussing it with you. Do not hesitate to tell them your daily life, unimportant anecdotes: everything that can help them to find again a foot in the reality or to escape from critical care is good to take!

Read them something

A book, a poem, a
magazine, messages from their
loved ones… Even if their condition does not allow them to integrate the details of your readings, a known voice is always useful in difficult moments.

Play some music

If you are a musician, you can play yourself of course, but more simply, you can bring them something to listen to music: small radio, headphones, …

Your sensitivity as a relative will be of great help to caregivers for better detection of possible pain and lack of comfort that the patient can suffer from, but it is also very important not to focus on this: the patient is immersed all day in the unpleasant world of critical care, your greatest asset will be to help him escape by thought in conversations or daydreams that you will know how to personalize according to his interests and wishes!


Even if your loved one is conscious, communication may still be difficult, especially if he or she is intubated because he or she will not be able to speak. In this case, if his condition allows it, he will be able to write or spell a word by pointing to letters or numbers or words that you have written beforehand. Don’t hesitate to ask closed questions (where the answer is yes or no) to allow them to answer simply.

You can also personalize the walls of the room, with the agreement of the nursing staff: bringing pictures and drawings can maintain a link with the outside world and provide some support.

Keeping a journal ( see the dedicated section ) can be a great help to your loved one if he or she goes through a period of coma, sedation or confusion.


Participate in care

You can help the caregivers provide simple care to your loved one, such as a foot or hand massage, styling their hair, perfuming them, or even helping to shampoo them depending on their condition. Unfortunately, this is not always possible for the safety of the patient, you will always have to ask the permission of the care team. You may also be asked to leave your loved one’s room if painful care is to be provided, to protect yourself from the distress that this may cause.

The patient’s reactions

The stay in the intensive care unit is a strange time for the patient, especially if he or she goes through one or more phases of coma or confusion. He or she may have hallucinations, or imagine things: it is not uncommon for patients to have delusions that are the consequence of the disease or of the treatments put in place. This will disappear as their condition improve, but they may have strange memories of it: don’t hesitate to discuss this with them.

Allowing them to verbalize hallucinations or anxieties by reassuring them can allow them to regain some calm during his stay and Talking about it after discharge can also reassure the patient that what is called “critical care delirium” is a sometimes unpleasant but completely normal event!

Learn more about the patient’s experience