Should kids be allowed to visit the ICU?

[deleted account] ( 24 moms have responded )

Recently my cousin, Jason (34), ended up in the ICU after emergency surgery to repair the damage done after his colon/bowel burst. They removed part of his bowels,repaired the rest and cleaned out over 4 litres of waste. He's septic, fighting multiple infections in his chest/lungs and bowels, hooked up to tubes, and heavily sedated with a 24 hour around the clock nurse to care for him.

My question to you is, would you allow your children to visit him? Does their age matter? Does the type of relationship your children have with him (whether or not they're close with uncle vs. their dad etc.) make a difference? I want honest debate. Please don't sugar coat your feelings/answers because of this horrible sensitive tragedy. I'm really torn and I want a good debate.


[deleted account]

Sorry to hear Dana, I wish your family the strength to get through whatever this situation may bring.
As for the original question, I do think that children should be allowed into ICU to visit family (and even friends, depending on the strength of relationship and ICU policy, I have some friends that are more family to my son than some relatives). Yes, their age should be considered, as should their relationship with the patient. Also the child's current state of health, both physical and emotional. I don't think it should only be a matter of whether the patient is expected to make a recovery or not. To me, it is important that children be allowed to experience aspects of illness and death, especially in the company of an adult who is able to explain the circumstance to them and help them come to terms with what they are witnessing. This is all part of life and contributes to a better understanding of life, death, health and illness. Yes, children are "germy" creatures, but when I have visited family in ICU, you are always to wash your hands on arrival and departure, only bring in items of necessity and physical contact should be limited in accordance with staff instructions.

On a personal note: My Father-in law passed away very suddenly in ICU last year and we were all constantly being told that he was improving, then he would deteriorate, then improve etc and when he finally passed it was almost immediately after being told he was improving again. We almost didn't have time to gather all the immediate family to be by his bedside when he passed. My nephew (the only grandchild at the time, I was pregnant with his other) was given the opportunity to visit a couple of times (he was 7/8 y.o) and was present at the time of passing. If he had not been able to see his grandfather in ICU and develop an awareness of how sick he had become, then his death would have been very hard to explain. As it was he was aware of the whole scenario as it occurred and he even led the family in singing along as our patriarch passed away. It was a beautifully sad death, made all the richer by the fact that ALL family were there and involved and nobody was excluded. He was given many explanations of what had occurred, all led by his own curiosity, questioning and ability to understand. The association of hospital with death was removed entirely two months later when the same nephew was present at the birth of his first cousin (my son) at a birth centre and he now has a very good understanding of the many meanings of health and illness and how hospitals are incorporated in these in many different ways.

[deleted account]

Depends on the relationship. How close is your daughter to your cousin? I agree that there are so many issues about bringing small ones into the ICU and young children are not allowed for many reasons. When my BIL was hospitalized before he died, he was also in a heavy sedated state like yo uare describing. My sister waited for weeks before she brought her 5 year old in. The nurses were good with him though. They took his temp to make sure he was normal, and then put little kid scrubs and a mouth guard over. Just to be sure that the little ones aren;t the ones brining more infections into the hospital. I actually do think the relationship makes a difference. Some people respond differently to children, and others don't. Hospitals can be very scary for kids and they don't understand what's going on.

My advice: Talk to the floor nurse. Get his/her opinion on what would be best for your cousins' situation and prognosis. Maybe a video chat via cell phones might work best when your cousin pulls through the danger zone. But if you must visit, 5 minutes is all it takes to say hello, visit with the kiddo, and leave.

Amanda - posted on 09/22/2010




My brother passed away when I was only 13 years old. He was in the ICU for a week....I'm very lucky that I was allowed in to see him, because honestly if I wouldn't have been able to say goodbye to him....I don't know what I would have done, and how I would feel today. My niece and nephew also went to see him, and so did some really close family friends and their children. Everyone was really close to my brother, and I just couldn't imagine turning someone away because they are a child. Life is to precious to do that.

His passing was very, very sudden - and he was only 25.

My heart goes out to you Dana, and I'll be sending some prayers your way.

Kate CP - posted on 09/20/2010




When my MIL was in the hospital for a brain aneurysm (she nearly died twice) she was in ICU for about 2 months. Not once did I think to take my daughter to see her. My daughter was only 3 at the time. I didn't want my daughter's last memories of her grandmother to be her lying there with tubes coming out of her arm, crotch, neck, head, and mouth and not being able to move or talk. THAT'S SCARY. If my mother in law had died I would have explained it to my daughter the best I could have, but I didn't want her to see that. A young child doesn't need to see a person in that condition. If I were that ill and not cognizant of what was going on around me I would hope my family would know that I wouldn't want my child to see me like that.

Sharon - posted on 09/20/2010




1. Kids are terrible disease vectors. ICU patients are fighting for their lives and a sick kid could tip the scales in the wrong direction.

2. ICU patients are fighting for their lives and they may not win this battle and the children in their lives may not get a chance to say good bye.

I think it should be a judgement call determined by the family based on medical info presented by the lead doctor.

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Tara - posted on 09/21/2010




It would depend on how close my child was to the person in question and how close that person is to dying.
If my child was close to the person in question and it was unclear whether or not they were going to pull through than yes I would allow my child to see him. I would explain that "uncle mike, cousin bob etc." is sick and the doctors are doing everything they can, hence all the tubes and wires etc.
I would keep it short, and I would have them write a story or draw a picture etc. for the ill person as a way for the child to communicate his feelings.
I would only do this if the child were at an age when they can understand sickness. I wouldn't take a small child into that situation based on the fact that children take things differently. They can become fixated on one particular thing and that is all they remember. For instance if a four year old saw all the tubes coming into his body he might remember that part over seeing his uncle, being told what was wrong etc. the child could have nightmares or worries about the tubes causing him pain, or the tubes doing something to him.. or anything, young children have very vivid imaginations and even though we try to set them straight with our words, children remember feelings more than words.
I would also take it one step at a time. Allow him to see his relative through a window first and judge his reaction.
Tricky question, tricky answer. It depends on how well you know your child.

Lyndsay - posted on 09/20/2010




I think it depends on the situation. If the doctors couldn't tell me with almost absolute certainty that the patient would make it, I would want my son to be allowed to say goodbye. I think I would feel worse about potentially denying that last farewell because of some fear that my child will be psychologically harmed by witnessing such a thing than I would about letting my kid come to visit. My mother in law recently had a stroke and went into a coma, she spent 2 weeks in the ICU... my hubby went to visit her first to "scope it out", but my son did eventually go to visit because there was a possibility that she wouldn't come out of it. She would come around for like 20 minutes at a time, but she couldn't speak or move and eventually she would pass out again. She was hooked up to all sorts of tubes and, honestly, my son didn't even notice. He went in there and had a normal conversation with her, and the only interest he showed to her condition was his regular curiosity regarding tubes, plugs, and buttons. She has since made a full recovery and her relationship with my son has not changed at all, he is not uncomfortable or traumatized in any way.

Rosie - posted on 09/20/2010




i think that if the situation warrants a visit from a child like he is dying, then yes i think children should be allowed.
i'm sorry to hear about your cousin!! i wish him a speedy recovery!!

Sarah - posted on 09/20/2010




I'm so very sorry to hear about your cousins situation, Dana. I hope things are able to turn around for him.

I used to work in a hospital, and as far as I can remember, I don't think kids are even allowed in the ICU. (at least at the hospital I worked at). I think they had to be older than 13 or something like that. Those ICU rooms are so scary. So many machines, wires, and tubes. :(

Let us know how things are going.

[deleted account]

My neighbor, who my son's call Papa, was in ICU and had a staff infection and for a good while they wouldn't let kids in to visit because of the risk of infection: they climb places and touch things that you or I wouldn't... And when we were allowed to bring kids in I was kinda worried because my son was 2 and gets WAY too interested in things :) But he still came in to visit and generally speaking I think kids visiting patients can be a good thing because it lifts the spirits of the ill and that can be great for their health! My sister was in ICU for 5 dys and I spent almost every waking moment in there w/her or at the hospital! Had I had my child @ the time I think I would have wanted him to be there for her too, I probably wouldn't have spent near as much time by her side, but I wouldn't have wanted to leave my boys out of the loop either!!!

Nikki - posted on 09/19/2010




The ICU is filled with some very unhealthy people who can spread many infections to visiting guests. When I was pregnant with my son my uncle was in the ICU I was not allowed in to see him and when my son was born my gramma was in ICU, I went to visit her and had to be covered head to toe with a mask and gloves to enter her room in fear I could catch something even in that ward. So no I would not bring my son in there. Now if it was his father and I could fully protect him from catching everything that would be a different story but also depending on the state of their illnesses. When I saw my uncle he was in a coma it was extremely heartbreaking, my gramma was white as a ghost adn so frail it tore me apart , Im not sure Id want my children to have to deal with that it could cause them such emotional damage. But if they were old enough and asked I would explain and ultimately if it was safe not deny them.

C. - posted on 09/19/2010




Well, No. I don't think YOUNG children should be allowed in the ICU. Snotty noses and other illnesses that young children often carry, along with the fact that they usually don't understand all of what is going on. I just don't think it's a good idea. Maybe a QUICK visit at the most, but anything longer than a few minutes to tell the parents they love them and vice versa.. I don't think so.

If they're at death's door.. Then I may make an exception.

Kate CP - posted on 09/19/2010




Just read the other posts and I am very sorry about your cousin, Dana. *hugs*

Kate CP - posted on 09/19/2010




Speaking as a woman who is frequently in ICU, had my MIL in ICU with a brain injury for 2 months, and has recently had my sister in ICU twice for a motorcycle accidents and subsequent complications I would have to say NO, children DO NOT belong in ICU. First of all, it's too scary for them. Second of all, the people are too sick and need rest. I don't even like having more than one person a day visit a patient (or me) in ICU. I have my patient advocate there and that's it. Kids don't belong in ICU.

Tracey - posted on 09/19/2010




When my uncle died in ICU the hospital refused to allow his grandchildren to say goodbye as they felt it would be too shocking for them - ages 10 - 15 at the time.
If a person is suffering multiple infections my worry about letting children in to visit is that by their nature they are more likely to be carrying germs by playing outside and with other children which could then be transferred to the patients?
If it any help my friend is an ICU nurse and he has always said that the human spirit amazes him, patients he thinks will die but have a strong spirit can pull through.

Jodi - posted on 09/19/2010




I'm sorry to hear that he may not make it. That is one of the situations in which I would think kids should go and visit :( I really hope that he has the strength to pull through against all odds.

[deleted account]

So, I just got a call from my mom.....we're not allowed visit my cousin anymore. Only immediate family and NO KIDS....his condition has worsened overnight. AWESOME, guess it makes that decision an easy one.

[deleted account]

Jodi, the expectation is not good. At one point he was getting better but unfortunately he has taken a turn for the worse. They have already suggested that there's a likelihood that he won't make it, which is why they called everyone in. Now I've chosen not to take Roxanne in. It's too hard to explain things at her age and she's probably has no clue who he even is. My nieces (4 & 7) on the other hand, are extremely close with him but my sister-in-law refuses to let them see him despite their constant requests. I do understand her concern but I can't help but think this is a great opportunity to expose them to these types of morbid situations in a controlled manner. She can prepare them beforehand and talk to them afterwards etc. and use it as a chance to "teach" them, so to speak, about these types of things. I don't think we should shelter kids.

Sara, I'm sorry you didn't get to say goodbye to your grandfather. For the same reason you're upset I think my sister-in-law should allow her daughters in to see him. I don't want anyone to have regrets and as long as she's there to talk about things after, I don't see there being any lasting harm. "Did it upset you to see Uncle Jay?"......"How did it make you feel?" etc.

Just for record, the nurses don't have a problem with children being there and they never even mentioned about the germs....WEIRD! They do require everyone to use hand sanitizer but that's about it.

ME - posted on 09/19/2010




I think that it's important for children to be able to see terminally ill family members to whom they are close...particularly if the patient is awake/coherent and the child is over 4 or 5 years. Have them put on a mask or something if the concern is about germs and infecting other patients, but like Sara has said, keeping children away can be damaging to them!

Sara - posted on 09/19/2010




I think that children should be able to visit sick family members in the ICU. When my grandfather was dying, I was 8 and was not allowed to see him at the hospital. He died wihtout me ever being able to say goodbye. I regret that to this day it was almost 25 years ago. If a family member is terminally ill or so sick they may not make it, take the kids to see them.

Petra - posted on 09/19/2010




If I were in the same situation, no I wouldn't bring my son in - mind you, he is only 9 months old. If my cousin begged me to bring him in so that he could say good-bye, then (and only then) would I bring him in.

If my nephews wanted to come see my partner in this kind of situation, I would consider it because they are pretty close. Again, it would depend on if it was serious to the extent that seeing them would be their good-bye and I think only the older boys would be able to grasp what was happening.

If cuz was going to be okay, then no. The kids could wait until his health is not so vulnerable and we could also spare them the stress of trying to deal with this kind of situation.

Lots of variables... you going to bring your little ones in to see him? I hope he's going to be okay... :-)

Jodi - posted on 09/19/2010




I wouldn't UNLESS there were expectations that he may not live, because I would then at least like the kids to have a chance to say goodbye. However, otherwise, kids are germy creatures, and my opinion is that they shouldn't be in the ICU because they are more likely to be carrying something which could be potentially detrimental to someone who is seriously ill. Another reason I wouldn't is that if he is hooked up to machines and looking worse for the wear it could become quite distressful for the children. If it is upsetting watching him for the adults in his life, imagine how much that may upset children, even if they aren't showing it.

And yes, the type of relationship would probably change my opinion. If it was their dad I would consider it differently than if it was a second cousin or an uncle. But at the same time, I would still question whether it was "necessary" due to the risks of infection to the him and the risks of emotional upset to the kids.

I am really sorry to hear about your cousin, and hope he has a full and speedy recovery.

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