Intensive Care Med (2017) 43:1407–1408
FROM THE INSIDE
Storeroom 99: a place for words
to support families of ICU patients
and Alessandra Boratti
© 2017 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg and ESICM
“I cannot control things around me, but I can control
my thoughts about those things.” Nadia is a 38-year-
old woman and her husband had a massive brain bleed
18 months ago; she talks about the anxiety of not being
able to control her life: will the husband come back home
soon, will his condition ever improve, or might some
thing terrible happen again sooner or later?
Bruno says his daughter is much better now. She’s just
about walking again, but when she approaches a step she
panics and she shakes. A single bloody step can freak her
“at happened to my husband too!” Giovanna
exclaims as she had just found out the answer to an
impossible puzzle which has been bothering her for a
Nadia, Bruno, Giovanna, and three others are caregiv
ers of patients who survived from a critical illness; they
are talking about their experiences. We asked them to
do it. We do not know if this can be useful or not, but
it is sure that we know little about what they had been
through after the intensive care unit.
e venue of the ﬁrst meeting is a teaching room in the
old part of the hospital, but when we gather in front of
the door, we realize that the room is still under renova
tion and inaccessible. “Oh, God!” I think trying to not
panic. In that moment the ICU matron is crossing the
corridor toward the director’s oﬃce. She notices my mis
“Cheer up doctor, you can use the storeroom for your
meeting, if you like,” she says.
“What storeroom?” I ask and I’m sure she is joking (she
likes incomprehensible jokes).
“Storeroom 99; it’s still half empty. Get chairs from the
ICU and go there: it’s better than the aisle.”
So our project starts. In a storeroom (oh, boy!). e
location is better than expected, though: big windows,
well lit, a good view of the trees in the hospital backyard,
some scattered boxes, a bookshelf with medicine text
books, and one theatrical plastic skull.
e attendants do not seem bothered by the room
issue. We explain the project: no treatments, no clinical
examinations, no reviews of medical records, only space
and time to share experiences. ey look at us with inter
est, but I can not stop thinking we are in a storeroom!
Will they take us seriously?
Armando is the ﬁrst to talk. He’s thrilled to share his
story. He is pleased to be here and talks about his wife’s
condition: “Since she’s been back home, no one from the
hospital or the rehab has called,” he says. “No one asked
us how we were coping. We could have been dead and no
one would have cared. I was delighted when you called.
At least you care about us.”
His story is full of obstacles: it’s a never-ending journey
from one oﬃce to another, it’s a tiring hunt chasing infor
mation, it’s a long wait out of the clinics. e other stories
are not so diﬀerent; life has not been the same since the
ICU and even after, when treatments succeeded and mir
acles happened, nothing came back the same.
For us, ICU practitioners, discharging the patient alive
is the end of the task, the top of the mountain, but most
of the time, for families and patients, it is only the start
of a climb that never ends. ere’s a growing body of
evidence about post-intensive care syndrome; we know
surviving from ICU does not mean being safe and sound.
e burden of the critical illness often fades out but never
disappears. Relatives sometime struggle to care for their
loved ones; they ﬁght against the lack of resources and
knowledge. But what can we do about it? Problems seem
to be so complex and follow-up clinics do not improve
S.C. Anestesia e Rianimazione, Ospedale San Giovanni Bosco, ASL Città di
Torino, Turin, Italy