I am writing this from my perspective as a nurse and understand that it will conflict with the viewpoint of a family who has a loved one in an intensive care unit and possibly many others, even (gasp) some healthcare workers.
From my experience in ICU, patients are generally not able to “visit” with family and friends. A majority of our patients are either intubated and sedated or completely exhausted and weak from illness. We also frequently care for patients that are what we call “no info” patients which can be anything from gunshot wounds to someone who has been beaten or abused and needs to be protected. I feel that set visiting times only add stress to the day in the ICU for all involved. In the unit where I work we have visiting times four times a day, each lasting an hour. Three of these occur on the day shift…which is when I work. We do have the authority to call visitors out at any point if there are procedures to be done or if one of the patient’s conditions suddenly worsens. This is helpful, but not always practical.
During the set visiting times it is not unusual for doctors and nurses to avoid family contact. I do go visit with family initially and give updates when I have them, but I am not a nurse who will hang out in a room with family there. I once overheard another nurse tell family “the more you are in there, the less I will be.” I thought that an interesting statement. It is true. If the family wants us to do our jobs and take care of the patients, we need to be in the room and doing what we are there to do.
Now I am not against all family contact in the ICU, I think it can be decided on an individual basis and for limited times. Of course all pediatric patients would have a parent present at all times. I do not believe family should be kept from a dying family member or that they should be kept away at all times. I understand a family’s wish to be there to care for and show their support for a loved one in critical condition, but it is not always advantageous to the patient. These patients are attached to monitors, have multiple wires, tubes, lines coming from their bodies.. ..they are not dressed, and typically look a mess despite our effort to make them otherwise.
As a side note…
In the 1800’s visiting times were instituted for those that could not pay their hospital bills in an attempt to encourage families to pay. Those that were paying customers had unrestricted visiting times. This still happens today in a way…we have those patients that the hospital recognizes as “VIP” patients. These patients get whatever they want, including family at the bedside if so requested….this is in my opinion completely unethical. How do you explain to the terminal man’s wife next door that she can’t stay but it is ok for the patient in the next room to have his mom, dad and sister at his side at all times, you can’t because it doesn’t make sense!