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For Each Critically Ill COVID Patient, a Family Is Suffering, Too
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Post Intensive Care Syndrome for Families (PICS-F)
The number of Americans hospitalized with the virus is increasing again, reaching 41,000 late last week, many with a circle of loved ones holding vigil in their minds, even if they can’t sit at the bedside. A decade ago, critical care clinicians coined the term post-intensive care syndrome, or PICS. It describes the muscle weakness, cognitive changes, anxiety and other physical and mental symptoms that some ICU patients cope with after leaving the hospital. Those complications are fallout from the medications, immobility and other possible components of being critically ill. Now they worry that some family members of critically ill COVID patients may develop a related syndrome, PICS-Family.
Studies show that about one-fourth of family members, and sometimes more, experience at least one symptom of PICS-Family, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or “complicated grief” — grief that is persistent and disabling — when their loved one has been hospitalized, according to a 2012 review article published in the journal Critical Care Medicine. Dr. Daniela Lamas, a critical care physician at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, believes relatives and friends of coronavirus patients may be particularly vulnerable.
Hospital rules designed to prevent the spread of the virus have robbed them of the opportunity to sit with their loved ones, watching clinicians provide medical care and gradually processing what’s happening between physician updates, Lamas said. In pre-pandemic times, a nurse “would explain what they had heard [from the doctor] and help them come to terms with unacceptable realities,” she said.
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