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1st Person: The ICU: A Caregiver's Perspective


Erica Kosal's husband, Jim Young, has battled complications of chronic Lyme disease since his diagnosis in 2008. In 2010, Jim's hospitalization for respiratory problems took a turn for the worse, resulting in a 3-week ICU stay. While in the ICU, he underwent a tracheostomy, a surgical procedure to place a tube in the throat to aid in breathing. Erica offers this advice to caregivers of ICU patients:

Be confident even though you're so stressed, even though emotions are so high, and even though you feel like you can't make a decision without consulting the doctors.

The doctors would look at computer screens for a long time, and then spend five minutes with Jim, she remembers.

It was so frustrating to me. What about the whole medical history? They weren't interested in the whole story.

Eventually, Erica developed her caregiver confidence.

I had reason to be confident. I actually did know more than they did. I knew he was making progress and that he was doing better in several ways than he had six months prior...eventually, I told the general practitioner, "We're not stupid people," and at that point, they started not being so dismissive.

Erica developed a coping strategy to deal with the physical and emotional stress of an ICU stay or prolonged illness of a loved one:

I call it the "chunk it" approach. I teach college, so my life is lived in chunks. I think: ' I don't have to make it all year, but I can make it to the first test. If you keep the overall picture in mind - if you say, I can make it to Christmas time, and if my loved one is better at Christmas time, it can be more manageable. It's too overwhelming to think "one day at a time." One day at a time can be so miserable. I need a little bit longer to assess progress.

Young returned to the ICU in September 2011 for monitoring after experiencing breathing problems. He is now recovering from a punctured and collapsed lung, at his home in Raleigh, North Carolina.


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1st Person posts spotlight a patient’s or caregiver’s health care experience.

Tags for this article:
Medical/Hospital Practice   First Person   Relationships/Social Support   Communicate with your Doctors  

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