Resource type: Article

How can I find out more about what happened to me in Intensive Care?

How can I find out more about what happened in Intensive Care?

It depends on the type and level of information you’re looking for. Some people would rather put their illness behind them, others are comfortable with a basic understanding, and some prefer to have a detailed medical explanation. It’s completely up to you. You may find that the type of information you would like changes over time. Here are some things you can do that might help.

Ask your family and friends

Having likely visited you in Intensive Care, they will be able to tell you more about what happened. For some family members, though, this may be a sensitive topic as they may still be upset by the experience and may not be ready to “relive” it. They may have been so upset during your time in Intensive Care that they can't remember all of what they were told. They may also be worried about upsetting you or they may worry that they’re unable to give you the answers you’re looking for e.g. in terms of explaining your illness or the medical treatments you received.How much they are able and comfortable to tell you may change over time, so try to be patient.

"I think when I first came home…that was all we seemed to talk about, what went on in Intensive Care." 

“My husband told me one time, how he’d battled through the traffic for 45 minutes to visit me, and had sat down…and 5 minutes later I told him to **** off, apparently (laughs). He'll only tell me things like that…”

“It took him (brother) a long time to tell me about the horror stories. They’re just coming out now….’cos I think he really got a fright. I have tried broaching the subject but he wasn’t really very keen on saying anything.  So I kind of left it. He could tell me in his own time.”

Diaries in Intensive Care

Some Intensive Care Units encourage the use of diaries,as there is some evidence that this can help patients  come to terms with what's happened to them. Diaries are not for everyone, though,as some people prefer not to hear about their time in Intensive Care, and whether and when you choose to read it is completely up to you

Diaries are a day to day account of what happened in Intensive Care and are usually given to patients after they've left.It is usually the nurses and family members who write in the diaries. It is completely up to the family what they want to include in the diary; young grandchildren, for example, can include pictures or cards..

Read your hospital discharge or GP letter

You should receive a copy of your discharge letter when you leave hospital. This should give a summary of your  illness and the treatments you received whilst in Intensive Care. The letter is for your GP, so it may contain medical and technical terms.

Ask your GP to explain things to you

He or she will receive a copy of your hospital discharge letter, but be aware that it can sometimes take several weeks to arrive. The letter can often be very medical or technical and may not help in answering all of your questions.

Having an illness that resulted in being admitted to Intensive Care is also quite uncommon, so your GP may not be fully aware of some of the physical, psychological and emotional problems that patients can sometimes have afterwards.

Sometimes patients themselves do not realise that some of the problems they have might be due to having spent time in Intensive Care. You will find out more about these common problems on this website.

Ask to visit the Intensive Care Unit

Some people find  it helpful to visit the Intensive Care Unit and others don't.It's completely up to you whether and when you'd like to do this.Some patients find it helpful in jogging the memory and understanding how ill they've been. Some find it helpful to speak with the staff involved in their care and some find it helps them to make sense of their dreams, hallucinations and nightmares.

Ask to see your medical notes

You are entitled to ask to see your medical notes. There will usually be a formal process to follow and, in some instances, a small fee involved.  It may be helpful to do this as part of your visit to the Intensive Care and/or your consultation with a member of staff as they will be able to explain some of the medical terms and treatments and answer any questions you might have.