Today's Medicine

Critical care at Methodist: What to expect if your loved one is in the ICU

Published: May 1, 2024

It’s a situation no one wants to experience: A loved one has been admitted to a hospital’s critical care unit – also frequently called the intensive care unit or ICU.

It can be a time filled with uncertainty and charged with emotion as patients, families and friends wrestle with what the future holds.

Methodist’s critical care units are reserved for seriously ill patients requiring specialized 24-hour care. Our doctors, nurses and staff members are trained in the latest techniques to care for a range of conditions. Among the most frequent are:

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Postsurgical surgical patients requiring monitoring
  • Respiratory failure
  • Sepsis
  • Stroke

It’s true that many of our patients are facing life-and-death situations, but there’s reason for optimism. These patients and their loved ones are in the best place possible, surrounded by caregivers who are skilled at providing individualized and compassionate care. And patients have your support – something we value immensely. Your partnership is a key factor in your loved one’s recovery.

Here are some other things to keep in mind about critical care at Methodist.


More than doctors and nurses

Doctors and registered nurses specializing in critical care medicine are part of larger team devoted to meeting the varied needs of patients and loved ones. A patient’s care team may include:

  • Other physicians and advanced practice providers (physician assistants and nurse practitioners) with a variety of specialties
  • Nursing assistants
  • Physical, occupational, speech and respiratory therapists who see medically stable patients
  • Care coordinators and social workers who assist in discharge planning and continuing care plans
  • Spiritual Care Services staff members


This can be an unfamiliar environment

We understand that the ICU environment can be scary and stressful for patients and visitors. A series of tubes, wires and cables may be attached to a patient. Many machines have alarms that make noises. Please be aware that these sounds may not always signal a serious problem.

A patient’s recovery also may not take a straight path. They can have setbacks, and their condition can seemingly change by the minute. It’s not uncommon for a patient to have a great day of progress followed by a day without improvement or even a step backward. Our patients have complex needs, and our staff members are experienced in determining the best course of treatment.


Visitors are welcome

A patient’s success in the ICU involves more than just medical care. We understand how important the presence and support of loved ones can be, and we encourage you to be involved. Visitors can play an important role in promoting a patient’s wellness and preventing delirium.

Here are ways you can help:

  • Promote a quiet and calm environment to enhance patient recovery.
  • Respect planned rest periods, as undisturbed rest is important to healing.
  • Ask if it’s OK to touch, comfort and talk to the patient. It may help them to hear and recognize familiar voices, even if they don’t seem to respond.
  • Fill out the “My Story” poster where available or share details with our staff to help us get to know the patient.
  • Ask for a critical care journal. Studies have shown that writing daily in a journal at the bedside can relieve some anxiety and stress that families feel. Consider taking notes regarding provider conversations, writing down questions for later or simply journaling about your loved one’s stay and how you’re feeling.
  • Don’t visit if you aren’t feeling well.
  • Practice hand hygiene when entering or leaving a patient’s room.
  • Wear masks or other personal protective equipment (PPE) as directed by staff members.

Remember that hospital visitor policies are in place for a reason. Rest and limited stimulation are important for ICU patients, and our staff members need room to provide care. Don’t gather in the halls or at the nurse’s station, and be aware that we may ask you to leave the room while we perform certain tasks.

Please note that hospital visitor policies can vary by location and change suddenly to best protect patients and visitors. Current Methodist visitor policies can be found here.


Your questions deserve answers

Your questions matter. We want you to feel educated and empowered while your loved one is receiving care, and open lines of communication can help us learn more about what matters most to you.

Don’t be afraid to ask a nurse about the work they’re doing or other questions you have. Our nurses can guide you to get the answers you need from the right person, but bear in mind that they’re caring for multiple critically ill patients. We want to give you an accurate, thorough answer, so you may not always receive an immediate answer. Some questions may be best posed to doctors while they’re rounding.

Please note that for patient updates, staff members will communicate with the patient’s legal decision maker unless specifically directed otherwise by the patient or the patient’s legal decision maker.

Finally, please remember to be respectful and kind when interacting with staff. We know how difficult it can be to have a loved one in the ICU, and we want nothing more than to see them recover – just like you do.


Don’t forget about self-care

We treat our patients – and you – like we would our own family. We know that in this moment, your focus is on your loved one’s health. But you should remember that it’s OK to focus on yourself, too. In fact, it’s very important.

We often ask visitors to go get something to eat, take a walk, get fresh air or go home to rest for a few hours or overnight. You should also take time to drink plenty of liquids, keep in touch with family and friends, and try to find something that engages or relaxes you.

In the long run, your attention to self-care will better enable you to support your hospitalized loved one.


A team effort

We’re honored that you trust us to care for your loved one, and we value the unique role you have. Together, we can help patients recover and begin the next step of their journey, whether it’s leaving the ICU for less intensive hospital care, transferring to another facility or being discharged from the hospital to return home.

More Resources

About the Author

Christina Queen, BSN, RN, GERO-BC, is the service leader for the Critical Care Unit at Methodist Hospital and Methodist Women's Hospital.

See more articles from Christina Queen, BSN, RN, GERO-BC
Christina Queen