Recovering after the ICU


Saudi Gazette

“Good health is a crown on the head of a well person that only a sick person can see.”

Sometimes we are so preoccupied with our busy lives and our day to day problems that we fail to thank Allah for one of the greatest blessings He has given us, the blessing of good health.

A recent and sudden life-threatening illness in my family was a loud wake-up call for me. It made me realize how much we all take for granted. With every new morning sun that rises, I thank Allah for all the bounties He has given me.

We each have a responsibility to use our time, our youth, our mental capacities, and our physical strength in ways that bring us closer to Allah, to worship Allah better, to be of service to others, to learn more about Allah and our religion, and to teach others.

If someone you love is recovering after admission into the ICU, this article may help you get through this difficult time and know what to expect.

Initially my brother had been admitted to the hospital with a case of H1n1 virus, but complications quickly arose. He developed pneumonia and other breathing problems. As his condition worsened, the team of doctors had to induce a coma with powerful sedatives and put him on a ventilator. He was under the drug-induced coma for two weeks. Once his blood tests and chest x-rays improved, the doctors, gradually decreased sedation and began to wean him off the ventilator, and wake him up.

Undergoing a medically induced coma can be an extremely traumatic experience for the patient and family members. The recovery process is slow and thorny, but you can help your loved one feel more comfortable and ease the recovery process.

While in ICU, visit your loved one as frequently as possible. Talk to him/her. Tell her the date, what day it is, what the weather is like outside and what is going on in your family. This helps him/her remain connected to the real world, and may reduce the disorientation and confusion they experience when they wake up. Try to keep the lights dimmed down at night and brighter during the day. At night, keep the lights low; the nurses can turn the lights on when they need to check something or monitor the patient and then turn them off again. Blaring bright lights all night long can mess up the body’s circadian rhythm which increases the level of stress and confusion for the patient.

Speak to your loved one in a calm, clear manner. Make short positive statements that help them make sense of what is going on around them and gives them hope. For example: “You’re in the ICU and you have a tube to help you breath. This is just temporary and the nurses will give you some medication to make you more comfortable. You are doing great and making progress.” Keep reminding your loved one that this is only temporary and that they are getting better.

Hold hands. Stroke your patient’s arm, or rub his feet. Massage his legs. Acknowledge that you understand that he/she is in pain and discomfort.

Often times, what distresses ICU patients is that they feel cut off and unable to communicate, especially if they have a breathing tube. So you have to come up with alternative ways to communicate. Instruct them to nod their head if they are in need of pain relief medications. I would hold my brother’s hand and tell him to squeeze my hand if he wanted me to stroke his legs, or give him pain relief medications.

Simple things can help the sick patient in bed feel a little better. Make sure pillows prop up his arms and feet to make him more comfortable. If a tube was used for breathing, you will notice cracked and dried lips, spread a bit of Vaseline on your loved one’s lips. Move your patient’s position as frequently as possible to avoid bed sores, with the help of the hospital staff. Take permission from the staff to place a few cool drops of water in the patient’s mouth regularly, because they experience extreme dry mouth due to the breathing tube and sedatives. Brush his/her hair.

When your loved one wakes up and begins to recover, do not be shocked if he/she has terrifying nightmares and bouts of fear and panic. This is very common and it is called ICU psychosis. Sleep disturbances from the beeping machines in the ICU, nurses coming in for monitoring, stress and pain, the feeling of lack of control over their own body, and the effects of some drugs administered can all contribute to ICU psychosis. It can last for 24 hours after waking up in the ICU to up to 2 weeks. Do not be alarmed, and calmly talk your loved one through these frightful nightmares and hallucinations. Tell him that he is safe and is recovering from an illness. Do not abruptly walk up to their bedside, rather slowly approach them and let them know that it is you, because they may have flashbacks of nurses poking them with a needle or suctioning if they were on a ventilator.

To help your suffering loved one cope, remind him of the rewards from Allah for being patient and that his status in Paradise is being elevated for patiently enduring this illness.

When visiting your sick loved one, be sure to say reassuring words that inspire faith and hope.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “No Muslim is afflicted with harm because of sickness or some other inconvenience, but that Allah will remove his sins for him as a tree sheds its leaves.” (Sahih Muslim and Bukhari)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whenever a Muslim is afflicted with a hardship, sickness, sadness, worry, harm, or depression - even a thorn’s prick, Allah expiates his sins because of it.”

Do not complain or speak negatively in the presence of your sick loved one. Positive energy is what your loved one needs. Play a melodious recitation of the Holy Qur’an in the hospital room and later at home. As Muslims, we believe that the Holy Qur’an has healing properties which help sick people recuperate and recover, and will also calm and relax an agitated mind. Put your hand on the ailing body part, and recite verses of the Qur’an.

“And We send down of the Qur’an that which is healing and mercy for the believers.” (Chapter 17, verse 82)

Soothing sounds and words are helpful. Make supplication for your sick loved one, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) did when visiting the sick. Repeat seven times, “I ask Allah, The Supreme, Lord of the magnificent throne to cure you.”

Say this prayer, “O Lord of the people, remove this pain and cure it. You are the one who cures and there is no one besides You who can cure, grant such a cure that no illness remains.”

You can also expect that your loved one will need intensive physical therapy on a daily basis for a few weeks after an induced coma to regain the strength and the function of their body’s muscles. In essence, the muscles have been put to sleep for so long that they have become lazy and wasted away. It may seem frustrating at first, but with regular physical therapy and exercises you can do with your loved one, he/she will regain movement, control, and function of his/her body once again.