Visiting intensive care – what to expect

Whether your loved one is receiving care in an intensive care unit (ICU) at Fiona Stanley Hospital or Rockingham General Hospital (external site), the following information will help you understand the activities going on around you.

Patient confidentiality

When a patient is in hospital, their condition and treatment must remain strictly confidential between them and the staff looking after them. Information about your loved one will not be provided to anyone unless that person is listed as the next-of-kin of the patient.

To maintain confidentiality, no information can be given over the telephone unless a member of staff has contacted a next-of-kin directly.

Visiting your loved one

Please speak to our ICU staff about their specific visiting times. To enter the ICU, please ring the intercom bell. We will check with your loved one’s bedside nurse before letting you through. At all times please respect the privacy and confidentiality of other patients in the unit.

Please limit visitors to immediate family or special friends as too many visitors at one time can be very tiring for patients. Due to lack of space and to minimise disturbing other patients we may limit the number of people at the bedside to one or two people. Read about bringing children to visit the ICU.

Seeing your loved one in an ICU can be very distressing. They will probably be connected to a number of machines and drips and may look very different to how they normally look.

When your loved one is first admitted to the ICU it is normal to feel helpless and desperate to know all you can about their chances of recovery. Ask our ICU staff any questions you have about their condition and the care they are receiving. Our staff will explain what they are doing and provide updates as time goes on. They will answer your questions as well as they can but will not want to give you false hope.

Even if your loved one is unconscious, our nurses will often talk through what they are doing as they provide care. Even when people are heavily sedated, they may be aware of being touched, although they are unlikely to remember things as clearly as they would when fully awake.

It is important to understand that days may go by with no change in your loved one’s condition. It may be that all you can do is sit by their bedside, if you are comfortable doing that.

There may be times when our staff ask you to leave the patient’s bedside. This gives our ICU staff space to do their work and also because some medical procedures may be distressing for you to watch.

About infection control

Infection control is extremely important in the ICU because patients can easily pick up infections.

It is essential all visitors follow our hygiene rules, including:

  • using evaporative alcohol-based hand rub when walking in and out of the ICU
  • not touching equipment
  • not sitting on the patient’s bed
  • not bringing flowers and plants to the ICU.

If your loved one is being nursed in isolation, our staff will advise you on other special measures that may be needed.

Common ICU equipment

The environment in which we care for patients and their families is highly technical and patients often require access to specialised equipment.

Ventilators help a patient breathe by assisting their lungs to inhale and exhale air. If your loved one is being ventilated, their nurses will regularly clear their chest of mucus and fluid. This is done by putting a thinner tube into the breathing tube and sucking up the mucus. It can be quite noisy and can cause the patient to cough or retch.

Fluids are often given to ICU patients to keep them hydrated. This can make them look bloated and swollen but this will improve as the patient gets better.

Some items of ICU equipment have alarms to let staff know that something needs doing, for example if a drip needs to be changed. Usually these alarms are nothing to worry about and our staff are nearby to watch closely at all times.

Read simple explanations of medical terms you may hear in the ICU.

Behavioural changes

Sometimes ICU patients behave in ways that are out of character. This may be because of their illness or medication, or because they are agitated, confused, scared or paranoid.

Paranoia is a form of anxiety or fear that make you believe people are plotting against you or trying to hurt you. ICU patients may also hallucinate (see things that aren’t real) and experience nightmares that seem very real to them. Sometimes they believe the staff are trying to hurt them. This can be extremely distressing for you and your loved one, but it will improve as they get better and begin to recover.

Sometimes patients are given a medication known as a sedative to ease their agitation and help them be comfortable during some ICU treatments. If your loved one has been given a sedative, it will be reduced gradually as their condition improves. This process is called weaning.

Depending on your loved one’s condition, the sedatives they have been given and how long they have been sedated, the weaning process can vary from hours to days. During this time, your loved one will be drowsy and confused, particularly in the early stages, but it’s a necessary step and it means they’re getting better.

About ICU transfers

Sometimes ICU patients are transferred to an ICU in a different hospital. This could be because the patient needs more specialist care or because beds are needed for new patients who are more seriously ill.

Please be assured patients are not transferred to another ICU in any situation where it is not safe to do so.

We understand this can be very upsetting for you, especially if have to travel further to visit your loved one.

Advance care planning

Advance care planning (Healthy WA) addresses a person’s wishes for future care should they no longer be able to communicate their decisions at the time they are needed.

It is an ongoing discussion between a person, their family and carers and their health care professionals, about their values, beliefs, treatment and care options.

Advance care planning includes considerations such as:

  • Completing an advance health directive (Healthy WA), a legal document completed by an adult with full legal capacity which contains decisions regarding future treatment. It specifies the treatment(s) for which consent is provided or refused under specific circumstances.
  • Appointing an enduring guardian (Healthy WA) to make important personal, lifestyle and treatment decisions on your behalf, should you ever become incapable of making such decisions yourself.

For more information about advance care planning ask to speak with a social worker.

If you have concerns about your loved one's care

Our ICU staff do all they can to keep family members and friends informed about their loved one’s condition, what treatments are being given and why. Where possible, they will talk with both the patient and family members about what treatment options are available. If there is anything you don’t understand or want to know more about, ask our ICU staff.

If you are concerned about the care being given to your loved one, speak first with our ICU staff.

If you still feel your concerns are not being addressed by the ICU staff after that conversation, please follow the advice below..

For the Fiona Stanley Hospital ICU

In the first instance, phone the Patient and Family Liaison Service on 6152 4013.

If you are still concerned, make an Aishwarya’s CARE Call for Fiona Stanley Hospital (external site) by phoning 6152 8168 at any time to speak with a dedicated senior staff member who will listen to your worries and concerns and action these urgently

For the Rockingham General Hospital ICU

In the first instance, ask to speak with the ICU nursing coordinator.

If you are still concerned, make an Aishwarya’s CARE Call for Rockingham General Hospital (external site) by phoning 9459 4770 at any time to speak with a dedicated senior staff member who will listen to your worries and concerns and action these urgently.

Return to ICU information for family and friends

Contact our ICUs

Contact the ICU at Fiona Stanley Hospital or Rockingham General Hospital (external site).