At the Coalface, but on the Receiving End
Journal of Medical Ethics. 1999 Dec; 25(6): 541-546.
In dealing with patients the doctor is very often paternalistic. No more so than when the patient is unable to help him -- or herself. Modern technology allows people to be kept alive in "intensive care" where they often become an "object" at the centre of proceedings. Fortunately for them, most patients who survive intensive care cannot remember the experience though this does not mean that they were not suffering at the time. There is a strong case for explaining things as much as possible and for making practical procedures as tolerable as possible. The relatives and families of the seriously ill often have great difficulty in understanding what is happening to their loved ones and, in these situations, suffer a great deal of stress and foreboding regarding the ultimate outcome of their illness. The stress on the staff who may become "attached" to their patients often shows through as an indifferent attitude. Peter remembers three out of fourteen days in intensive care and Jane, his wife, remembers the whole experience. Here we tell our stories in the hope that they may help our medical and nursing colleagues to manage better the patients under their care in this situation.
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