Intensive care: experiences of family & friends

Hospital discharge and rehabilitation

Patients who are discharged from intensive care are likely to spend time recovering on a general ward before they are well enough to leave hospital. Here people talk about the progress the ill person made on the ward until he or she was discharged from the hospital back home or to a rehabilitation unit. 

Many people said that the ill person had made gradual progress and could do a bit more for themselves every day, including moving, gripping, lifting arms and legs, and walking. For a few people, the move to a ward was difficult because the patient had still been confused and hallucinating. Some recalled how the patient had become more aware and alert once on the ward. Others explained that the ill person had been hallucinating after coming round in ICU but, since being on the ward, the hallucinations had been wearing off or had worn off completely. 

Some people talked about the progress their relative had made after having serious head or brain injuries. Many described how the patient had mood swings or had become angry, agitated or frustrated very easily. As well as recovering physically over time, they'd also had to recover mentally as well. This can take time and many relatives explained how the patient made small progress every day and this had been extremely encouraging. One of these people said her husband had become very depressed and aggressive on the ward and she'd initially been worried about his recovery and what the future held. Every day, however, he'd been able to do a bit more for himself. 

Once the patient had started improving and becoming stronger some had needed surgery to help with their recovery. Although it is quite rare for patients to need amputations, one patient's serious infection spread and she needed two leg amputations. One woman was extremely surprised when doctors told her and her husband that, during the time he'd been sedated in ICU, his body had recovered by itself and the operation he'd been waiting for and dreading was no longer needed. 

One man said that his father remained on the ward despite making good, steady progress. Doctors hadn't yet known exactly when he would be well enough to go home because they were waiting until he was strong enough to perform another operation. 

Some people praised the support the patient had been given by physiotherapists, who'd helped the ill person walk using a Zimmer frame, stick or by supporting him or her on both sides. When the patient was strong enough, they were discharged home. Before someone is discharged from hospital, medical staff will have discussed their needs and made a discharge plan. Each hospital follows guidelines and will discharge patients only when doctors feel they are well enough to manage at home with the help of relatives or by themselves. Most people need to be well enough to walk and climb stairs before they can go home. Physiotherapists and other medical staff check and ensure that a patient can do these before discharge. 

Some people said the ill person stayed on the ward until they could be transferred to a rehabilitation unit either in the same hospital or another one, where they would receive extra care and treatment before going home, including physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Occupational therapists (OTs) help people improve their ability to perform tasks in their daily living or working environments. This includes helping people to dress themselves, cook and eat. 

One man said his wife needed so much care on the ward, he talked to several doctors and they'd agreed to transfer her to a rehabilitation unit, where she would have the support she needed to become mobile again. She also needed a lot of help with her personal care because she'd had many serious bowel problems.

One woman said her brother was still attending a rehabilitation unit during the day. He had been there for several months and had been making steady progress.

Last reviewed August 2018.


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