Days may go by with no change in the patient's condition. There may be nothing for you to do but sit by their bedside and wait. Nurses will often talk through what they are doing even if the patient is unconscious. This is because, even though they are heavily sedated, the patient may be aware of being touched, but they are unlikely to remember things as clearly as they would when fully conscious.

Helping the patient

The nurses may ask you to bring in some of the patient's personal belongings to help them recover, such as their favourite perfume or music.

Talking to your relative or friend may also help. Keeping up a one-sided conversation can be difficult, but talking about shared experiences of holidays and good times can make you feel better too. You could also try reading a newspaper, magazine or book to them.

Even if the patient is conscious, you may find it hard to communicate with them. If they can't speak, they may be able to write, or spell out words by pointing to some letters, numbers and common words you have written on a piece of paper.

Helping the staff

Some relatives find it helpful to be more involved in caring for the patient when they're recovering. You may be able to help by doing things such as brushing their teeth or massaging or moisturising their hands and feet. This will depend on how ill the patient is, and won't always be possible but if you want to help in this way, ask the staff.

You can help the intensive care staff by choosing a family member or friend to be the main contact. Staff can tell the main contact how the patient is doing and they can pass on the information to other family members. This will save time for staff and relatives.

Patient diaries

Often, relatives find it helpful to keep a diary of what is happening. It can help you to look back and see small improvements the patient has made.

A diary can also be very useful later on to help the person who is ill. They may have very confused memories of their time in the ICU or no memories of it at all. A diary can help them to understand what happened to them and fill in the gaps in their memory.

Preventing infection

Patients who are critically ill may have difficulty fighting infections and, because of how ill they are to begin with, this can be very serious. The staff will do all they can to make sure the patient is protected. You can help too by washing your hands and using the anti-bacterial creams, gels or sprays you'll see around the unit before you go near or touch the patient. You should also ask other visitors to do the same.