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Resource type: Article

Mobility issues (walking)

Once you are transferred to the general ward and are beginning to become more active, you may be surprised to notice that you are perhaps not quite as able to do the things you thought you would. There are a number of reasons for this, not least that you are still in the very early stages of recovering from a serious illness, an operation or an accident. Tiredness and general weakness are extremely common, even if you only spent a short time in Intensive Care or were previously fit and well.

In this section, we’ve provided some examples of what other people have told us about the things that interfered with them getting back on their feet. In addition to the tiredness and general weakness that many patients experience, other issues include muscle wasting, stiff joints and weight loss. These tend to be more severe among patients who have spent longer in Intensive Care, although everyone is affected differently. Psychological issues such as lack of sleep or feeling anxious or low can also have an impact on how able you feel to get back on your feet.

Muscle wasting and feeling weak and stiff

Patients can lose up to 2% of their muscle for every day that they are in Intensive Care,often leaving them feeling weak. Lying in for prolonged periods of time can also result in stiff joints.

“I couldn’t walk. I was very, very weak. It took me all my time to get out of bed. I’d lost a lot of weight and all my muscle was gone.”

Being surprised not to be able to do more

Because patients sometimes struggle to remember how they ended up in Intensive Care and may remember little of what happened while they were there, many don't quite realise how ill they've been. It can therefore come as a bit of a shock to find that they are not quite able to do the things they would normally take for granted, especially if they were previously fit and well.

“I think I’d just gone onto the ward. I had to wait ages for someone to help get me back into bed. I thought I’d be fine…but I didn’t have any concept of how weak my body was…even though, for all this time, I’d just been lying in bed. It just never occurred to me that I couldn’t use my legs and things yet”

"I didn't know anything about what had happened until about 5 days before I went home. I just couldn't understand why I couldn't manage (to do more for myself). Then one of the Intensive Care doctors..he took the time to tell me. He said, "Look, you don't know what you've been through", and the truth was, I didn't."

Losing your confidence

"You know, coming out of Intensive Care and going to the ward to discover that you've got to use a zimmer to get yourself to the loo is actually quite a shock.It kind of knocks your confidence."

Needing help from the nurses

Being weak can sometimes mean relying on nursing staff for help with basic things like washing and using the bathroom, which some patients find understandably upsetting.

“It's quite upsetting for somebody relatively young, still in their right mind, not being able to wash themselves and having to be washed, toileted and all the rest of it.”

Struggling with eating

Some patients struggle with eating after transfer to the general ward. Common issues include poor appetite, food not quite tasting as it should (with either a salty or metallic taste) and feeling full quickly. This can mean that you simply don't have the energy to get up and about, or get as much out of your physiotherapy as you would like.

Having problems sleeping

It is very common for patients to have problems sleeping after Intensive Care, even though they may feel very tired.You might struggle to get to sleep, have broken sleep, sleep for much longer than usual or sleep at different times than you normally would (including napping during the day). Some patients tell us that they have been frightened to sleep due to the frightening dreams, hallucinations and memories that many patients have during and after Intensive Care. All of this can interfere with your ability to do more for yourself.