Since becoming an ICU nurse, I have always sought simple ways to humanize life in the hospital for my chronically hospitalized patients. The following are several ways to better your patient’s life in any hospital setting.


Sunshine Therapy

Many ICU patients and chronically hospitalized patients go months without stepping outside. In fact, some hospital rooms do not even have windows. Simply, imagine not feeling or seeing sun for months. Sun increases our serotonin and vitamin D levels contributing to the “happy” feeling we get from sunshine. Although it may take a few people to get an ICU patient outside, make it happen. The look on your patient’s face will make it all worth it.


Okay, let’s be honest here, hospital food is terrible. Many of our chronic patients can’t eat, or have no appetite for what we have to offer. I have conquered this problem in several ways. One, if a patient requests a particular food item, I make it for them or find a way to get it (even if they want a beer). If the patient simply won’t eat I make my famous hospital “milkshake.” I mix vanilla/chocolate/strawberry Ensure with a vanilla ice cream and stir it until it is milkshake consistency. I have never had a patient deny me. Sometimes I even mix in peanut butter. Give it a shot for some serious smiles


Take this time to hang up pictures and decorate for holidays in your patient’s room. Posters with pictures of the patient and their family members can make the room a little homier. Last year, myself and several other nurses made huge, brightly colored, tissue paper flowers to hang up for a young patient (we also strolled in singing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” for effect). Additionally, I have printed large pictures of flowers and nature scenes to make the room look less like a hospital. Items from home are great too. Items patients have requested include: blankets, socks, a bible, and a sketchpad. Be creative!


One of my most memorable nights with a chronically ill patient, I played her favorite music on my phone while giving her a bath. Although she was trached, vented, had several IV drips, an LVAD, and a feeding tube, she tapped her fingers along to the beats of the Motown station on Pandora. It was the first time I saw her truly relax in weeks. Since that night, I ask my patients what kind of music they like and try to play it for them during my shifts. Just as music calms me after a long shift, it seems to do the same for my patients in a stressful ICU.


This, to me, is perhaps the most important of any item I have included in this article. After weeks of being “bathed” with bath wipes and rolled for a sheet change, patients need and appreciate thorough grooming. Using a basin of decent smelling soap and hot water with washcloths, fully washing their hair, brushing their teeth with real toothpaste, and giving them a fresh shave can produce a serious smile. Additionally, braiding hair and painting nails is always an extra special treat. When I worked nightshift, I used to try and have my patients bathed before 2200. While I have no scientific proof, I believe this helped them achieve a more restful night. Overall, in my entire nursing career, more patients have thanked me for a real bath than anything else (even if they initially claimed they didn’t want one).


Finally, chronic patients in the ICU go months without a hug or human touch. When I talk to them, I try to sit next to them, and actively listen. If I feel like they need a hug, I give them hugs, even if that means putting on an isolation gown to do it. Patients have thanked me countless times for treating them like human beings instead of science projects. Although, this may seem like a small gesture, it makes a big difference.


I’m sure many of you have stories of how you have made chronically ill patients feel special during their hospitalizations. If you do, please share them for all of us. While we all know how to treat our patients medically, sometimes smiles prove to be the best medicine.