The Value of Family Presence in the Hospital Room


When I was in a medically induced coma in the ICU, a lot of my physical pain was taken care of with the help of morphine and heavy sedation that was continuously being pumped into my nearly lifeless body. However, my parents didn't have morphine to take away their pain that began the moment they received a phone call from my hospital alerting them about my critical condition. That phone call changed our family, and as much as we have persevered over the years, the entire experience still lingers as if it were yesterday.

In my situation, as a patient clinging to life in room 19 of ICU, I did everything I possibly could to show any positive signs of life to my parents because I knew they were having a really difficult time. They did their best to stay strong. As a family, we experienced good days and bad days in the hospital regarding my recovery, and some days were just devastating. But, seeing my parents next to my hospital bed gave me hope.

When I was being weaned off the heavy sedation, I did everything I could to show them that I was aware of their presence because I could see how much happiness it brought to them. A smile, a blink of an eye, a twitch of the finger may have been just subtle signs of activity, but that was physical proof that I still existed and was desperately clawing my way back to life.

Having my parents there with me in the hospital meant everything to me. Growing up, they were my role models, my friends, my supporters -- and in the hospital, my guardian angels.

I often reflect back on my time in ICU as a team effort, between myself and my care team, and also with my parents, family, and friends. The loved ones of a patient are an integral part of the overall care plan, and that is why I believe in patient and family centered care. In this day in age, the patient experience is a very important focus and discussion. But, we must always be willing to look one step further and be aware of the experiences of both the patient and their family in the hospital setting.

When a patient is admitted into the hospital, whatever their age or background, they are not the only one who is suffering. Their parents, guardians, and loved ones are experiencing pain as well within that hospital room. The family has a voice in how the patient will be cared for and looked after, and from personal experience, the family knows the patient best. A parent and guardian has spent years around the patient, before they were a patient, and are aware of tiny behavioral characteristics that can have a significant impact on the progress of a patient. The loved ones of a patient may not have a medical license or healthcare background, but their voice and presence matters in the hospital room.

As the patient is recovering, this is only the beginning of the journey for the family. They have questions, thoughts, and concerns about how the life they once knew has now gone on standby. Including the family in the treatment plan is important, and I have learned over the years that just taking the time to listen to the questions and concerns from the patient and family means so much. Even if an answer can not be given, just the fact that their concerns were listened to and addressed goes a long way with the healing process.

My favorite care providers -- my "dream team" members -- were the men and women that came into my room with a positive presence, spoke to us, got to know me and my parents, and made a sincere connection with us as a family. This engagement meant a lot to us because it built a foundation of trust and friendship, which was a comforting sense of familiarity in an unfamiliar environment.