It is very hard to take in information at times of stress and staff are on hand to offer frequent recaps and updates on the patient’s progress. Never be afraid to ask a question if you don’t understand what’s happening, what you have been told or to clarify your understanding. Ask to speak to the medical staff for an update if you think it will be helpful. The medical staff will usually ask to speak with you if there are major changes in the patient’s condition. It is natural to want to know what is going to happen but often it is impossible for medical staff to be sure of how things will progress. They will keep you as informed as they can, and will be honest and clear about the chance of surviving or dying.
Staff will take a record of your contact details, and give you the unit’s phone number(s). It is especially hard to deal with this on your own, try and have someone there to support you.
It is understandable that many people may be concerned about the condition of a patient but to ease communication and ensure that information is correct, staff often ask for one or two key family members to act as family spokespersons and contacts. Equally it is appreciated that many people may want to phone for updates and to send good wishes but frequent interruptions to come to the phone can distract from the patient’s nursing care and large families are requested to liaise with these spokespersons. Confidentiality of information is very important and staff cannot give any sensitive information to anyone other than close family or next of kin.
Communicating with a patient on the ventilator can be frustrating for all concerned. Some patients can write, others can use boards with pictures and letters. Bringing in hearing aids and glasses will help. Some ICUs have televisions for patients which relieve the boredom and help the patient become more orientated.